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.

KNOWLEDGE, DESIGNED

Arthi Suthaharan

We live in a world where information is easily accessible for many. Search engines like Google will tell you everything you need to know, with hundreds of sources and reviews. It’s become a common reflex and response to anything you want to know or learn. Just “google” it!

Google is a basic tool in our day-to-day lives, but where did it come from?

Back to Land

In the sixties, in the midst of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war, there was a rise of a counterculture that favoured individual empowerment and self-sustenance. With this came the “back to the land” movement, where people moved to communes with the goal of slowing down and simplifying life. At the heart of this movement was Stewart Brand’s publication of the Whole Earth Catalogue

The Whole Earth Catalogue

In 1967, a NASA geostationary weather and communication satellite captured the first colour photograph of the whole earth. People’s perspective of the earth changed and for the first time, people could see the earth not as the world we live in but as the planet we live on. The earth was no longer our entire world; it was a thing of its own, both finite and delicate. It was a powerful symbol: regardless of who we were and where we were, we all lived on the same planet and with that, shared a common future and destiny. Brand used this picture of the whole earth as an icon for his publications, an image he used to help shape people’s views and way of thinking to see the earth as a finite entity that needed to be protected.  

The contents of the Whole Earth Catalogue were catered to people who were involved with the “back to the land” movement. It was a paper database of the skills, tools and information they needed to survive and succeed, all within the pages of a few catalogues. It was meant to empower individuals who were tired of being controlled by the government and big corporations and wanted to shape their environment and future.

To access this knowledge, you needed the physical catalogue. There was no internet, libraries were restricted by their size and television content was limited. The catalogue was a new concept, a place where anything you needed to know, find and learn about a single topic or idea was in one place. It was regularly updated and changed as the creators received reviews and feedback, just like the search engines we know today.

The Digital Age

Unlike the catalogues, which we can see in physical space filled with a finite quantity of knowledge, Google exists on the infinite digital plane of the Internet. We cannot see or even begin to understand all the information this entity can hold. It has no physical form; it is a space we cannot physically see nor touch. It is designed using computer code, using algorithms and sequences, to pull the information we are searching for from that infinite digital space. Today, the way we get our news, communicate with one another and share knowledge is via the digital plane. It is no surprise that the way we collect data and search for information happens the same way.

Information Overload

With unlimited access to information comes an overload. The abundance of information has created difficulty in understanding issues and making decisions around them, largely due to the uprising of “fake news”. Twenty-first-century libraries are evolving from primarily housing books on shelves to taking on the self-proclaimed role of “fake news debunkers”. Some modern libraries are also developing programs they call design thinking to promote creative processes for problem-solving, helping their clientele to develop the skills needed to process information in this “overloaded” climate.

Unlike the days of the Whole Earth Catalogue, libraries have gone from transactional to relational interactions with users. Libraries are no longer places where users simply come to consume information, they have also become places where the public comes to create their own content.

Described by Steve Jobs as the “paperback Google”, the Whole Earth Catalogue gave rise to the way we access digital information today. Understanding how the knowledge you are receiving has been designed and disseminated is arguably as important as the knowledge itself.

This is why libraries are so critical to our communities. They are bastions of democracy, making sure that the development of critical thinking and creation are available to all.

A WOONERF SOLUTION

How a Woonerf Could Anchor Redevelopment of the James-John South District
Paul Shaker

Good, proactive urban planning reimagines city spaces that may be overlooked but hold great potential. This is the case in the area just south of downtown Hamilton.

The James-John Street South district (SouthTown) is a diverse commercial area in Hamilton, south of the downtown Central Business District. The area contains a variety of land uses, such as St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Hamilton GO Centre as well as nodes including the restaurants and pubs on Augusta and the retail Terraces on James South. Functionally, the district extends east to the other major corridor, John Street South and includes the connecting streets such as Augusta, Young, and Charlton.

While other commercial districts around the city including Locke Street South, James Street North, and Ottawa Street North, have gone through impressive revitalization, SouthTown has remained relatively stable in its vibrancy, experiencing small cycles of decline and renewal over the past decade. There are distinct nodes of vibrancy, but the district lacks continuity and connectivity between these nodes that would help the area achieve greater prosperity.

In this context, Civicplan and dpai teamed up a few years ago to develop a concept plan for the district. Central to the plan was the creation of a focal point for the area: the Augusta Street Woonerf.

Woonerf: A Living Street

A woonerf is a concept first developed in the 1970s in Holland. The concept is to transform a street by prioritizing pedestrian and cycling over cars. It allows for street space to be flexible, used in multiple ways, for cars, parking, cycling and pedestrians. The Dutch employed the planning model in residential areas, but it is becoming more common, particularly in North America, to see it employed in commercial areas. It is also known as a “living street” and is aligned in North America with the idea of complete streets.

Common elements of a woonerf are the elimination of sidewalk curbs, and the blending of pedestrian and vehicle space. Additionally, the woonerf is designed using a different material or pattern than traditional streets to differentiate it from a traditional street, for example paving stones instead of asphalt. The benefits of a woonerf are primarily traffic calming, pedestrian safety, and bringing life to a street. It encourages commercial spaces to connect with the street through the use of patios and outdoor spaces.

The Augusta Woonerf

In the SouthTown district, the Augusta Street Woonerf would transform the underdeveloped street into a pedestrian-friendly civic space connecting the two major north-south arteries (James and John) together. Augusta Street has an excellent cluster of restaurants and pubs, giving it a base to grow street vibrancy.  However, street design and the prevalence of street front parking lots are limiting further growth. Some of the opportunities for the Augusta Street woonerf include:

1. Redesign Augusta making the street a pedestrian-friendly civic space better connected to the James Street and John Street South commercial nodes.

2. Encourage scaled infill design consistent with existing building massing at the street.

3. Introduce more landscaping and tree planting to provide some green/open space for the district.

4. Target high potential sites for initial catalyst development.  Focus on uses that are attracted to the district’s demographics, character, assets and vibrancy (e.g. post-secondary).

The SouthTown Concept Plan

This was just one element of the SouthTown concept plan, which had the goal to not only articulate a vision for the future of the area but to help guide public investment in order to kickstart development. Other key elements of the plan include:

About the author

Paul Shaker is a Principal and co-founder of Civicplan. He is a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a Registered Professional Planner in Ontario.

MICRO-HOMES: A SOLUTION

Wendy Yuan

micro-home plans by pinuphouses.com

Homeownership has long been the “American Dream”. Achieving this dream often requires people to put their entire savings into real estate. With housing prices skyrocketing and the threat of global warming, micro-homes or tiny houses have become a suitable alternative for some.

Micro-homes refer to any residential structure under 400 square feet (37 square meters). They can range from cob houses and shipping containers to buses and even boats.

I was first introduced to micro-homes in an Architectural Technology course, where students were required to design Net-Zero Energy tiny houses for single families. The main benefits of micro-homes that appeal to me, include:

Affordability

Because of their sizes, tiny homes cost much less than the traditional options. It is less likely for people to be handcuffed to long-term mortgage loans. For example, this Japanese Tiny House on Wheels cost $30,000 USD in construction. Aside from the small purchase price, micro-homes also demand a relatively low cost of upkeep and insurance fees.

Customizability

Customizing a micro-home is more manageable than renovating a standard single-family house. Many have built their homes from found materials, others have tailored their space to their needs through DIY projects. However, what fascinates me the most is the ingenious solution to the limited space: shapeshifting. With pulls on handles, the walls slide across this 344 square feet (32 square meters) Transformer Apartment in Hong Kong, to create more “room”.

Sustainability

Tiny houses are environmentally conscious. Often constructed out of recycled materials and converted from “undesirable” spaces, they have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Some owners prefer an “off-the-grid” lifestyle, which means they must source their own water, electric and plumbing services. Introducing water recycling system, solar-integrated roofs and compost toilets!

micro-home plans by pinuphouses.com

Micro Homes in Canada?

Although interest in micro-homes is high in Canada, municipalities are slow in accepting them. Some set a minimum square footage requirement; some even specify the colour and type of building materials. No city yet provides adequate zoning description or building by-laws to encompass tiny houses.

Progress is slow but present. Some cities, such as Vancouver and Edmonton, are softening restrictions for secondary suites. There have been plans to build communities of micro-homes in towns such as Okotoks, Alberta. The City of Hamilton has recently shown it’s progressive side by approving a zoning by-law that permits the construction of laneway houses on inner-city lots containing a detached single-family home. In this case, the size of the units are limited to 50 SM in area and 3M in height, adding much needed smaller units to the mix. This allows residents to age in place, or simply add some more affordable units to the retail stock.

Micro homes can offer refuge to the homeless, improve social wellness and contribute to the fight against climate change. Most importantly, they offer some simplicity to life. We can live for ourselves, instead of living for our houses.

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 ART OF PLACEMAKING

Drew Casford

First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.

Jan Gehl, Professor of Urban Design at the School of Architecture in Denmark

Placemaking is a multi-faceted, people-centered approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. For the most recent instalment of urbanXchange, dpai’s quarterly panel discussion series tackling issues concerning Hamilton and the city’s urban fabric, we looked at the role of public art for placemaking in a civic context.

“First off, we need to define public art,” said panelist and dpai architect Petra Matar. “Whatever the answer is, its role is to express who we are as a society and who we aspire to be.”

After graduating from architecture school in Dubai, Petra relocated to Hamilton because she saw the city’s potential.

Hamilton is a real city. People are invested in where they live here,” she said.

Panelist Robert Zeidler, managing partner of the Dabbert Group and owner of the Cotton Factory, a multi-use, commercial and artist studio in Hamilton, also sees opportunity in this city, believing the economic downtown following the decline of the city’s steel industry in the 1980s has made many opportunities possible.

“Without the downturn, buildings like mine [the Cotton Factory] wouldn’t exist. So much of downtown Hamilton wouldn’t exist,” said Rob. “We are in a lucky spot. We have an opportunity to ask what kind of city we want to live in.”

When it comes to placemaking, Rob says it takes more than just beautifying a place with a mural or sculpture: “It’s about using art as a driver for innovation and community building and development.”

For panelist Lennox Toppin, the purpose of public art is to provoke.

“I want a big reaction – I want it to open a discussion,” said Lennox, Board Director with the Hamilton Arts Council, which works to strengthen the role of the arts and culture in the City of Hamilton by making the arts accessible and relevant.

Also weighing-in on the panel was Ken Coit, program manager of public art and projects with the City of Hamilton, who said for public art to thrive, community members need to buy in.

“We start every initiative [with the city of Hamilton] with a focus group asking the community what is important to them. You can’t make place without the social stuff, or without the history.”

The history of our city includes Indigenous art, which panelist and Indigenous Fashion Designer, Angela DeMontigny, said the city is heavily lacking.

“Indigenous art has a story. It reminds us where we came from,” she said. “We could use a lot more visibility in the city.”

urbanXchange offers opportunities for audience participation, this time hearing from Mary Lou Tanner, Deputy City Manager at the City of Burlington, who said we all need to do better when it comes to public art and placemaking.

“If we are not paying artists for their work or investing in our cities, we are not building the connectivity that takes us from being good to being great,” she said. “There is a long history of cities disinvesting in their cores. Artists push us to think better, do better and be better.”

urbanXchange is moderated by Laura Babcock, a nationally established communications professional and community expert and hosted by dpai principal & CEO David Premi. Portions of the urbanXchange series are available for viewing on The O Show on Cable 14 and live-streamed on dpai’s Facebook page.

An exchange of ideas on urban issues affecting Hamilton

Urban design and the built environment significantly influence the lifestyle and quality of life of city dwellers. However, those who interact and experience cities every day don’t always get the opportunity to be heard and impact the decision-making process.

We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.

Winston Churchill

urbanXchange is a panel discussion and community gathering that looks at Hamilton’s current socioeconomic challenges, giving people the chance to express their views and suggest solutions. In a City under financial, social and cultural transition, questions and concerns have the tendency to grow rapidly and eventually replace positivity and optimistic thinking. Citizens have the need and the right to receive information directly from decision makers, pose questions and discuss matters from their own point of view.

urbanXchange discussions do not take sides nor present a subjective reality. The aim of the panel discussion series is to give people the opportunity to explore urban issues, based on panoramic views that are inclusive of all opinion.

Established industry professionals from Hamilton, the GTA and beyond, are invited to share their knowledge, express their views and discuss specific urban issues and concerns. Laura Babcock, a nationally established communications professional and community expert moderates the panel, hosted by dpai principal & CEO David Premi. All urbanXchange series panels can be viewed at The O Show on Cable 14 or on Facebook.

To date, topics have included gentrification or renewal, the future of transportation, intensification, sustainable cities and most recently art and place-making. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, please reach out to us at info@dpai.ca