SOUND PROCESS

We are back with STRANGE PROCESS – a podcast series by dpai architecture inc. and Mohawk College, where we explore and demystify the process of how multidisciplinary artists produce their work.

We were lucky to chat with the highly talented, Gemma New, Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO). The New Zealand born conductor made her debut with the New York Philharmonic of a Young People’s Concert Program and has since conducted Symphonies across the globe.

Check out the full interview with Gemma below on Youtube or SoundCloud.

Keep up with all things HPO, here and follow Gemma on Twitter @gemmanewmusic

WOOD IS GOOD

Sarah Fox

In Japan, there is a wood temple built by Buddhist monks which has been standing since 607AD. That’s a 1413-year-old building still standing at five stories tall. Wood is an ancient material and looking as far back as we can into Canadian civilization, wood was the material of choice. Indigenous builders observed and understood the material’s properties so well that they would create bentwood structures crossing the strands creating the strongest configuration for the least amount of waste. The material would come from the earth and go back to the earth. Once Colonizers discovered Canada, they exploited the land through fur trading and logging. Not too long after, industrialization took off and steel and concrete structures took over. Now we are experiencing the next revolution, the digital age, and with advances in computer-aided tooling, timber is making a comeback.

Where did timber go?

In the early ages of industrialization, factories along the rust belt were made from mass timber. There are many examples in Toronto of these timber beam and brick buildings with nail laminated timber floors. Chicago was also full of mass timber architecture and was subsequently the reason the city burned to the ground in 1871. This infamous fire resulted in regulation for fire spread prevention and formed the national building code as we know today. Mass timber buildings ceased to be designed – it was expensive to meet code and the organic nature of wood made it difficult to find large enough blemish-free spans. But advances in digital tooling have now made structural wood much easier to fabricate. European and Scandinavian countries have invested heavily in wood technology schools and more recently Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) can be seen emerging in North America.

What is CLT?

CLT is cross-laminated dimensional lumber made into large panels – almost like giant sheets of plywood. The cross lamination creates strength in both directions and is much lighter than typical steel and concrete structures, allowing foundations to be cheaper. Currently, Canadian CLT uses glue for lamination, but a company in Germany is producing one hundred percent wood product fastened by just dowels [1]. This company even goes so far as to ensure trees are logged during a waning or new moon to harvest the hardest wood [2]. The natural strength of wood is fascinating; it does not use its own mass- to be stacked like blocks of cheese- rather the fibers are like-bunched like rope so its true strength engages when in tension. Mass timber is also uniquely efficient in the way it is constructed:

  • Since parts are prefabricated in a shop and transported to site, they are cost, time and material efficient.
  • Openings for thresholds and services are all pre-milled, requiring far fewer trade workers to work on-site.

Residents near the Brock Commons 18-storey CLT tower in Vancouver were pleasantly surprised by how quiet its construction was. This change in construction style has been a challenge for the building industry but is an inevitable change to be embraced.

If that’s not enough to motivate you to support mass timber, here’s the most important factor:

With the current climate crisis we need to reduce our carbon footprint more than ever. Local growing and manufacturing greatly reduces embodied energy and requires no fossil fuels. Forests in Northern Ontario with world-leading sustainable forest management[1] have the potential to become big commodities for our economy, like they once were in the early years of colonial Canada. This time, instead of clear-cutting forests, the land can be sustainably harvested to preserve biodiversity. Railway infrastructure from Northern Ontario exists from the logging-turned-mining industry. I optimistically anticipate that mass timber manufacturers will set up alongside the railway near sustainable forests and sawmills, reducing transportation pollution. Supporting local products means money generated stays here, and can return in the form of research and land stewardship.

Not only is the carbon footprint of local wood very low – it’s negative.

Any carbon created by production is neutralized, and like the impact of planting trees in a city, timber continues to absorb and trap CO2 throughout its lifetime. The embodied value is more than just its cost; timber’s value extends to cultural heritage, community wellness and land stewardship. No one material is the best choice for every application- concrete and steel are still needed. But if you’re looking to invest in well-being, then wood is pretty good.


[1] https://www.thoma.at/wood100/?lang=en
[2] https://www.thoma.at/moon-wood/?lang=en
[3] https://www.ontario.ca/page/choose-ontario-wood#environment

DIGITAL REVOLUTION

Arthi Suthaharan

In today’s digital age, there are millions of people who have never experienced life before computers and the internet.

This wasn’t always the case. In the early days of personal computing, there was an issue with the efficiency of storing data. Floppy disks would go down in computing history for helping to enable and advance the personal computing revolution, transforming the world into today’s technological era.

The Floppy

Floppy disks made their big breakthrough in 1977 when Apple introduced the Apple II, its first mass-produced computer that came with two floppy disk drives. Apple knew it needed smaller, cheaper and better portable storage systems, so they included two floppy disk drives. The idea was one would hold programs and one would hold data.

Their Success

Floppies allowed ordinary people to distribute software, transfer files, and store data. They were even used to store the operating system of a computer when hard drives were still expensive. Not only did the floppy disk advance the user-friendliness of computing, but its most significant impact was on both the existing nature and structure of the IT industry at the time. Floppies gave rise to many companies and the software industry itself!

The floppy disk continued to evolve into smaller sizes with greater storage capacities, but other portable storage technology like CDs, DVDs and USBs began to surpass it. Today, a huge portion of our information is stored and transferred through the cloud, which exists in the digital plane.

Our world is totally shaped by our personal devices. Much our lives are stored, accessible and connected through the cloud, or more specifically, the internet. Many of us can’t imagine leaving the house without our phones; how will you get anywhere without google maps or know whether a restaurant is good enough to eat at without reading the reviews?

For better or worse, through the advances and evolution in information transfer and storage, working our way through devices that got smaller with greater storage capacities, to digital storage, personal computing and devices have changed our lifestyles drastically.

Their Legacy

Although they are no longer commonly used, floppy disks represent a specific time in our history with computing and technology. Even today, the icon we see for saving our work is a floppy disk, reminding us of its significance and contribution to the evolution of personal computing. Without it, our world of computing and software would not be where it’s at today.

HOW DO YOU SHAPE THE WORLD?

It was almost six months ago that we launched Shape the World blog. In that time, we’ve explored topics such as progressive urban design, social housing, public art and virtual reality, just to name a few. We also hosted four podcast episodes and an urbanXchange event.

The blog was created to promote the impact and importance of design. Although most of us aren’t urban designers, architects or city planners, we all have a major impact on the world around us. Every decision we make shapes the world in some way.

Now we want to know how YOU shape the world. We will be participating in Supercrawl 2019, in Hamilton, ON on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 2-4 pm. Stop by and let us know!

Can’t make it out? Let us know below, how YOU are shaping the world:

RETHINKING SOCIAL HOUSING

Ala Abuhasan

Cities around the globe have been planning and building social housing projects for decades. Focused on maximizing the number of units, the quality of dwellings is usually overlooked. Generally, certain typologies have driven the way we design social housing. For instance, a top-down planning philosophy—or a military planning philosophy—is evident in many projects. This method of approaching social housing usually leads to the design of endless rows of depersonalized dwelling units. No attention is given to the quality of life nor to the community aspect of such spaces.  

An Illustration of Military Planning Philosophy

Most of these schemes are built in rural areas—far from cities and job opportunities—making them socially isolated, dehumanizing and unsustainable. Therefore, changing our approach to the design of social housing will ultimately create more sustainable communities.  

An excellent example of successful social housing is Goldsmith Street, in Norwich, England. The street is a high-density social housing scheme by Mikhail Riches. The project re-imagines social housing as an opportunity to create a highly efficient, economical, community-driven fabric within the city. The Passivhaus design of dwelling units drastically reduces fuel bills for tenants. Communal gardens and planted alleys allow for safe areas for children to play and for residents to engage in social activities. The design enhances the wellbeing of occupants and establishes a strong community.

Other examples of successful social housing include Savonnerie Heymans and Le Lorrain by MDW Architecture. The designs focus on creating a variety of spaces to accommodate different family needs. In addition, each complex houses a children’s playground and areas for events and social gatherings.  

As architects, we work to sustain our communities. We are obliged to design good spaces that promote healthy living.  In successful housing projects, residents build emotional ownership of the place, they connect to it, they love it, they maintain it.

THE STRANGE PROCESS OF A THING MAKER

Photo by Hamilton Farmers’ Market

We are excited to share our latest podcast episode! This time we talk with Dave Hind, a local thing maker, visual artist and sculptor on his creative process and how he brings his ideas to life.

Strange Process is a series by dpai architecture and Mohawk College where we explore and demystify the process of how multidisciplinary artists produce their work.

“I’m a big fan of the process because it never follows a particularly straight line,” says Hind. Listen to the full episode to learn more about the methods of this local creator, whose collaborative and public art works can be seen around Hamilton.

Listen below or watch on YouTube
Follow Dave Hind @davehindthingmaker
Visit his website, davehind.com

WHY I DON’T LOVE GLASS BLOCK

Patty Clydesdale

My colleague Petra loves glass block. Ok, full disclosure, I don’t hate it. I love glass block when it’s used in a clean façade of a building against a backdrop of white stucco, and with an interior space that’s minimal and strategic. The play of light and shadow on a clean backdrop of a wall is to be celebrated. Just watch Agatha Christie’s Poirot for glass block that is on point and in context.

It has its advantages. It’s inexpensive (kind of), it can be easy to install and it provides limited privacy. Most importantly, it lets in glorious, beautiful natural light that is refracted into an interior space through the inherent patterning of the glass. What’s not to like about that you ask?

In my opinion, these qualities do not redeem its ugliness when used out of context.

Although glass block can provide access to natural light while covering up an unsightly wall or exterior view, there are many more effective ways to do this, like installing an operable window, or a sliding or overhead door. If that is out of the question, work with your neighbour to beautify your view: paint a mural, build a community garden wall, hire a graffiti artist if you wish to celebrate an urban landscape and your neighbourhood. Chances are if you could haul away the unsightliness, you would. If you can’t, make lemonade out of lemons. But, please don’t hide away from humanity and context – embrace it.

Glass block imposes an inherent grid pattern obstructing the view and casts a gridded and mottled pattern into the interior space.  It can limit you to embrace the shadow cast as the main event. As a designer, nothing drives me crazy more than when a door or small window is removed to be filled with glass block, or worse, like when an original stained-glass window is replaced with glass block.

If I’m being honest, glass block is not the issue. The issue is in its application. Glass block has become a tragic victim that I cannot continue to blame. When it comes to glass block, and all good design, there is a need for knowledge and advocacy.

WHY I LOVE GLASS BLOCK

Petra Matar

There is something poetic about glass block – its intrinsic paradoxical materiality, scale and depth. 

Inherent in its name, glass block combines the heaviness and opacity of masonry and the lightness and transparency of glass. This intrinsic paradoxical materiality is probably one of my favourite properties of glass block. Like masonry, the size of the block is human in scale and has an inherent modularity giving it a familiar logic. Even though it is glass, most glass block is not perfectly see-through. This translucency allows freedom to build privacy into spaces without compromising light. It also allows for diffusing direct light that hits it and depending on its shape and composition can cast beautiful shadows. Glass block has a visible surface depth which adds to its complexity; expressed through the material itself, the shadows it casts, and the shadows and colours of figures beyond it that translate through.

Glass blocks of the past

Most people have experienced glass blocks in tacky applications like in the dentist’s office waiting rooms with a dusty plastic plant sadly leaning against it; the small sad window in an underwhelming washroom; the curved glass block wall near the principal’s office, but a material’s potential should not be judged as such.

Give glass block a chance!  

It has been used in numerous beautiful and inspiring buildings for close to a century. How can you hate the glass block in Maison de Verre? It was built from 1928-1932 and is still a modern, relevant, and iconic piece of architecture. Glass block has even been used in great contemporary buildings such as Maison Hermès by Renzo Piano, Dumas + Horacio by Central De Arquitectura, and Termas de Tiberio by Moneo Brock Studio to name a few.

Next time, give glass block a second glance. See it with fresh eyes. Don’t hate it for how it has been used but love it for how it can be used.