Archives for posts with tag: architecture

Originally posted on Spacing Toronto

Facing each other across Spadina Avenue just north of Adelaide, the Tower and Balfour Buildings frame a striking entryway into Toronto’s Fashion District.

Previously known as the Garment District, the neighbourhood was home to many of Toronto’s textile workers, who were predominantly Jewish immigrants.

Masterpieces of Art Deco architecture, the Balfour and Tower buildings were originally built to house those garment businesses and their showrooms, raising the prominence of the industry, and the city with it.

Designed by Benjamin Brown in the late 1920s, their towering elegance was symbolic of Toronto’s transformation into a modern metropolis — a financial, cultural and transportation hub with a swelling population over 200 000.

That elegance extended to several other Brown-designed buildings nearby including The Commodore on Adelaide, The New Textile Building on Richmond (now an OCADU building) and the Hermant Building at Yonge and Dundas Square.

Despite defining the city at a critical point in its history, Benjamin Brown has remained relatively unknown.

At a time when people weren’t interested in Toronto’s architectural history, let alone the work of a single architect, Brown’s entire collection of drawings were forgotten about in the architect’s garage and left to deteriorate.

When Brown died, he left the collection to fellow architect Jim Levine, one of the only people who recognized the value of the work.

The Ontario Jewish Archives took over the collection in the 80s and has painstakingly restored it, ensuring that a valuable archive of drawings that document the emerging modernity of Toronto was not lost. Highlights of the collection are now on view in an exhibit of Benjamin Brown’s work at the Urbanspace Gallery on the ground floor of 401 Richmond, until April 23.

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The exhibit is an opportunity to get an up-close view of Benjamin Brown’s expertly executed hand-drawn plans and renderings. Brown was a master of lines. His incredibly detailed drawings even include the buildings’ ornamental windows and decorative stonework.

Brown’s drawings are also poignant portraits of Toronto in the 1920s and 30s, where the aerodynamic shapes and sleek lines of Art Deco and Art Moderne dominated architecture and fashion. In the rendering of the Tower Building, Spadina is bustling with crowds in stylish coats as streamline automobiles motor by.

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Brown was one of the first Jewish architects to build and sustain a successful practice in Toronto despite the discrimination within the city in the early 1900s. As a result, he was the architect of many spaces for the Jewish community, including Beth Jacob Synagogue (today, a Russian Orthodox Church) and the Primrose Club on Willcocks, a social club for Jewish men (today, it’s the University of Toronto’s faculty club).

As an artist and urban geographer, I was delighted to participate in the exhibit by illustrating many of Brown’s best known buildings, tracing over his lines and creating a map showing the geographic expansiveness of his life’s work. Indeed, Benjamin Brown has hundreds of commissions spread throughout the city.

CommMy illustration of the Commodore Building on Adelaide. Unlike Benjamin Brown, I didn’t use a ruler!

Looking at Toronto through the lens of a single architect is an opportunity to make connections between the city’s disparate neighbourhoods and styles. Benjamin Brown’s designs range from the Art Deco towers downtown to utilitarian garages in the west end, storefronts on Bloor and Georgian, Tudor and Colonial Revival houses in midtown.

Through the work of Benjamin Brown, an intelligible thread runs through Toronto, a city indebted to the grandeur he helped established at the turn of the twentieth century.

See the exhibit of Benjamin Brown’s work at the Urbanspace Gallery on the ground floor of 401 Richmond, now until April 23.

 

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Benjamin Brown is one of Toronto’s most important, but least well known architects.

Practicing in the 1920s and 30s, his Art Deco towers defined the Toronto’s Garment District when the city was emerging as a modern metropolis.

Beyond the downtown core, Brown’s work can be found throughout the city – store front designs, residential homes, synagogues and community centres.

To illustrate the expansiveness and character of his work, the Ontario Jewish Archives commissioned me to illustrate 15 of Benjamin Brown’s buildings, along with a giant map featuring  a selection of his commissions.

The illustrations and map are up at the Benjamin Brown exhibit at the Urbanspace Gallery on the ground floor of 4o1 Richmond until April 23.

Enjoy digital versions above and samples of the map below, and be sure to check out the exhibit to see the mastery of Brown’s plans and renderings in person!

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As you may know, I recently moved to Guelph, and am spending lots of time getting to know another corner of the Southern Ontario industrial lands.

Guelph is made up of many neighbourhoods that each have their own distinct feel. (Dare I say, Guelph is a City of Neighbourhoods?)

I live in The Ward.

The Ward was first developed to house factory workers and is characterized by humble brick houses scattered between factories.

Some of these factories are still active, like Owens Cornings Reinforcements on York Road, which putters and sputters all day manufacturing something I still don’t quite understand. Other factories have been long decommissioned, and remain semi-abandonded, with only a barbed wire fence signalling anyone still cares about them. Others have been demolished, leaving behind huge brownfields that have yet to be remediated, subdivided and developed.

Compared to Guelph’s wealthier neighbourhoods, The Ward has always been a bit neglected — but this is a good thing. Without much attention paid to it, its obvious from its ramshackle built form that The Ward was left unzoned for the better part of its existence. This left a lot of space for its historically Italian residents to expand their homes willy-nilly to accommodate their needs – whether that was to add extra bedrooms to their upper floors, or an entire front edition that would house a store front.

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The result is an incredibly eclectic neighbourhood, where every house is completely different from the next, each DIY renovation facilitating a need, each random addition representing a very specific human desire.

In The Chronology of City Repair, Mark Lakeman talks about how we are all villagers, and modern city development with its homogenous, top down plans and developments prevent us from expressing ourselves in the places we live, taking away our “villager” status.

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Its evident from its ad hoc shacks, its piece-meal additions and its random store front editions, that the villager spirit is very much alive in The Ward.

At least it was alive, at a certain time. With many of the commercial additions now inactive, and many unimaginative new homes, it’s hard to say if the villager spirit still remains as strong as the marks it left in its historic architecture.

Like many neighbourhoods similar to it in cities across the world, The Ward is changing. Its Italian residents are aging, their families living in other, shinier parts of town. Young families are moving in, and housing prices are rising.

Will the new residents of the Ward continue inhabiting this place in an ad-hoc basis, and be able to express their specific needs in the architecture? Do the by-laws, the DNA of the city, allow for a continuation of The Ward’s independent spirit?

Even if the by-laws changed, I believe that the places we live strongly effect who we are. And if there’s anything we can learn from the ramshackle, ad hoc architecture of The Ward, it’s that we can make our architecture work for us.

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As we approach the end of 2014, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on a very exciting and productive year as your Urban Geographer. I’ve grown a lot since this time last year. I had a short stint living on Toronto Island, and I’ve had the opportunity to create maps, host events, facilitate workshops and write about my love of place, architecture, urban planning and ecology!

Please join me in remembering some of the highlights from 2014.

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  • The year started with a bang, as I moved to Toronto Island with Chris Foster to participate in the pilot Work Exchange program at Artscape Gibraltar Point. The residency went extremely well. On top of getting a job at Artscape (a phenomenal organization in Toronto that is committed to creating good urban space), Chris was hired as Superintendent, and I was able to contribute to the Island community and AGP as an interpreter of its history (as tour guide),  and an ambassador of the building. I was extremely inspired by the Island and its history, and helped come up with a new design for AGP that referenced its history, but remained elegant and contemporary.

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  • My partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series – a storytelling event taking place in overlooked and unconventional spaces across the city. On the heels of two incredibly successful events, we are excited to get the ball rolling on indoor lectures for the first and coldest months of 2015.

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Mobility Rings

  • After a widely embraced article for Torontoist, I began working as Communications Coordinator for Charlie’s Freewheels, an amazing organization that empowers youth from Regent and Moss Parks by teaching them how to build, maintain and ride their own bikes. The campaign has been a great opportunity to employ my skills as a geographer, planning, graphic designer and writer – and another attempt to master the elusive internet by trying to go viral. The campaign is still going on! Check out our indiegogo! (until January 6 2015)

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  • I spent the last few months of summer visiting and drawing every branch of the Toronto Public Library – a journey to all 6 corners of the city that taught me a lot about the social and architectural realities of my city. Get ready for its release in early January!

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  • I debuted Geomancy, my version of the ancient practice of fortune telling with maps, to receptive audiences at the Algonquin Island Christmas Boutique and Long Winter. People loved it, and I thoroughly enjoyed helping people gain geographic insights into their being. The project has generated a lot of interest, and will be appearing in unexpected places in 2015!

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  • Along with the ASEED map, I expanded my reach as a critical geographer, illustrating map-themed political cartoons to go alongside articles for the Dominion, a grassroots, alternative news outlet with a mission to go beyond mainstream coverage of political and environmental situations.

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Thank you to all my readers for your support over the years. While 2014 is almost behind us, 2015 promises to be incredibly exciting for my professional development, art and writing practices. Get ready for more Geomancy, the release of All the Libraries Toronto, and more editions of Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series. I also may be finally making it to grad school….maybe!

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

This year, we’re marking five years of blogging on The Pop-Up City. To celebrate, we’ll be hosting The Pop-Up City Live on May 21st. The event is a great opportunity to celebrate the best of what blogging can do to shape the cities of the future. We’ll be reveling in what we’ve learnt from five years of pop-up, DIY, and bottom-up solutions for the cities of the future with exciting performances, guests, discussions, visuals and drinks.

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City blogging is a great tool to share ideas around the world toward better urban futures, but it’s also a potent tool for hyper-local community development. In the Netherlands, many community blogs have popped up and we’re excited to be inviting the founders of three Amsterdam community blogs, IlovenoordBoloBoost, and Nice Nieuw West, on stage to discuss the importance and potential of local blogging efforts.

Taking a look these examples from Amsterdam, we can see that community bloggers play a very important role in the city making process. They are the promoters, ambassadors and defenders of the neighbourhoods they represent, acting as the social sensors of their communities. With many of them representing gentrifying neighbourhoods in Amsterdam, these community blogs are also addressing an urban and social need for participation and inclusivity in formal planning initatives for all residents of these areas.

Ilovenoord

Ilovenoord

Amsterdam Noord, a short ferry trip across the IJ from the city-centre, is the frontier of gentrification in Amsterdam, home to a mix of hipster artists and immigrant communities. Ilovenoord features daily news and events about all the happenings in the neighbourhood. It could be said that the blog has been a catalyst for gentrification in the area, but it also has established an important forum for all locals to express their experiences/concerns regarding the development of the neighbourhood. The high visibility of the blog has meant that the opinions expressed on the site have reached the ears of the formal policy makers and have actually affected the decision-making process. For now, gentrification in Noord has become more inclusive, with greater initiatives in participatory planning.

BoloBoost

BoloBoost

Based in Bos en Lommer, or Bolo as its residents affectionately refer to it, BoloBoost is the ambassador of this neighbourhood in Amsterdam West. Peacefully tucked away from central Amsterdam, Bolo is home to 127 of the 189 nationalities that live in the city. Cheaper rents also attract many students and artists. BoloBoost has emerged as a central platform for residents of Bolo, highlighting events in the neighbourhood and places to live, work, shop and play. Established in 2011, BoloBoost arose from a feeling that the people who live in ’Bolo’ are living in a great neighbourhood, but it could be better and it “should avoid getting worse”. BoloBoost is also involved in community-event planning, such as the Bolobooze (a neighbourhood pub crawl).

Nice Nieuw-West

Nice Nieuw West

Nieuw-West is a large residential area comprised of many neighbourhoods with a centrally located park. Like the other Amsterdam blogs, Nice Nieuw West is a platform for the community, with events, markets and business listings highlighting hotspots in the neighbourhood. It is exhaustive in its coverage of the happenings in this relatively large part of the city. Nice Nieuw West actively seeks neighbourhood ambassadors  to contribute to its blog, another way it is actively ‘making community’ in this part of the city.

Join us on May 21st for The Pop-Up City Live to hear from the founders of these three community blogs in Amsterdam about their initiatives, their vision for community blogging, and their exciting future projects!

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This post originally appeared on the Pop Up City

Urbanism and sustainability undeniably go hand in hand. What first comes to mind is the prototypical ‘Green City’ — a cityscape rich with parks, trees and productive vertical farms draped over high rises.

As cities are incredibly complex, so must be any sort of urban sustainability, which can come in many more forms than a ‘Green City’. With so much going on in an urban environment, there’s bound to be some excess energy flows. So why waste that energy, if you can turn it into something that’s better, fun, and productive? That’s what we call Parasite Urbanism — strategies and urban interventions that creatively make use of spaces or energies that otherwise would be neglected or would go to waste, contributing to a wider concept of urban sustainability. Let’s take a look at three of the best examples of urban parasites that we’ve highlighted on the Pop Up City. They all make use of a variety of otherwise neglected spaces or energy, launching them into places that are more useful, more productive and more fun!

Softwalks, New York CitySoftwalks, New York City

1. New York City’s Softwalks

In New York City, over 6000 ‘scaffolding sheds’ cover the city’s sidewalks at any given point in time. Taking advantage of the shelter they provide, Softwalks is an initiative dedicated to improving the pedestrian experience in New York City, transforming these sheds from passing through spaces to pleasant places to relax, sit, and eat. Softwalks are a DIY urban parasite: packaged in a convenient kit to let people turn local scaffolding into their own temporary hangout spaces. Have a seat, hang around a counter table or enjoy the planters that’ve been attached to metal beams. All Softwalk elements are easily attached and removed when you want to continue your walk. Now that’s what we call pop-up!

Stairway Cinema, Auckland

2. Auckland’s Parasite Cinema

In Auckland, New Zealand, a small movie theater was constructed over an exterior stairwell as an extension to the rest of the building. This small parasite cinema was made by the architects of OH.NO.SUMO and uses the steps of a staircase as seats. Right on the side of a busy street, the theater has place for approximately seven people. This clever construction is made out of a timber frame covered with three layers of fabric that provide a waterproof exterior, and a real cinema-like experience. OH.NO.SUMO designed the cinema in response to the lack of social interaction happening at bus stops and launderettes on the corner, with people increasingly absorbed in their own world within their mobile phones. The program of the Stairway Cinema is curated online by the audience itself, making the project embedded in both the physical and digital worlds. The great thing about this parasite is that it sheds a different light on a common urban space, transforming an everyday spot into a place that can be used completely differently.

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3. New York City’s Pay-Phone Libraries

Making use New York City’s ever present pay phones — a dying breed in the streets of of cities around the world, the Department of Urban Betterment took the parasite strategy to transform this a ‘problem’ into an opportunity. New York City has 13,659 pay phones spread throughout its streets — most of them are hardly used. This parasitic urban intervention is repurposing phone booths into communal libraries or book drops. Although we’ve seen several efforts to transform old phone booths into book shops, this project is interesting as it is a parasite that uses the existing construction while leaving the phone itself untouched and fully operable. Furthermore, the installation is easy to remove. The meaning of a pay phone might be lost to the new generation of smart phone users. Pay phones can be considered relics of a time in which shared public facilities were characterizing public spaces. With this miniature library, The Department of Urban Betterment uses a parasite strategy effectively to imagine a new public use for these intriguing artifacts.


Stadsklas

In a series of six articles we’re exploring new forms of urbanism where bottom-up, DIY and spontaneity are key. Become a new-style city-maker with the Stadsklas (City Class), an action-driven summer course in the Netherlands organized by Stroom, that gets you ready to tackle urban issues in the 21st century.

 

This post originally appeared on Volume

Ja Natuurlijk (Yes Naturally) is a collaborative art manifestation that is taking place at GEM,Fotomuseum and Gemeentemuseum in The Hague until August 18, 2013. Yes Naturally embraces the increasingly ambiguous space between our ideas of nature and society. The exhibit teases at this contemporary ambiguity, linking the diversity of works on display to two essential questions: What is natural? And who or what decides?

With Artistic Direction from Ine Gevers of Niet Normaal, Yes Naturally showcases international artists’ perspectives on the merging of natures and cultures, making its mission to “not distinguish between human[s], nature and technology.” Establishing at the outset that nature and culture are highly intertwined phenomena — more connected than discrete — the exhibit swiftly departs from old-school Western notions of society as wholly separate from nature, diving into a highly experimental realm between the fields of art and science. The viewer must quickly accept these basic principles –  that there is no such thing as artificial, that nature and culture are one in the same, that cities are ecosystems — or else be left out of the logic and insight provided by the exhibit.

Ja Natuurlijk

While the pieces that make up Yes Naturally range from the silly to the serious, they are all undeniably full of humour. Onslaughts of laughter are inevitable, and will lead to moments of clarity and a deep understanding that humanity and technology are indeed a part of, not apart from a broader terrestrial ecology. The jocularity of Yes Naturally brings with it hilarious and liberating cognizances.

While taking the traditional form of an art exhibit, Yes Naturally is more of a hybrid-species: an art-gallery meets science-museum meets fun-house. The exhibit is spread within the museum, with installations spilling over the walls and spread throughout the museums’ stately grounds. Visitors are first greeted to the exhibit by playful sculptures made from discarded plastic materials, adding colour to the museums’ ornamental pools. These large, floating artworks by Filipino artist-duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan are made up of thousands of waste materials that have been ritually transformed into fetishized objects made to protect species and places in nature.

Within the museum’s walls, Finnish artist Antti Laitinen’s video installation Bare Necessities is a humorous critique of the highly romanticized ideal of ‘going back to nature’. Laitinen takes this idea to its bitter end, and shares his experience of going into ‘the wild’ without supplies. Along with capturing humorous images of Laitinen, stark naked and struggling to make a fire, the videos include more solemn moments where the artist, staring blankly over the tree-topped horizon and into space considers the brutish and unforgiving reality of a life ‘back in nature’.

Bare Necessaties

Further into the exhibit, Bio-artist Egied Simons’ works are small aquatic ecosystems, complete with water, flora, and microscopic water-insects, and neatly contained within three aluminum boxes. The lids of the boxes reflect and magnify their contents, creating a luscious and fine grained pattern that looks like a romantic landscape painting when viewed from afar. Simons brings microscopic subject matter typically relegated to the realm of biology and life sciences to a wider audience. His work allows the viewer to gaze into the scientific/organic world of the micro, offering a powerful experience of the incredibly small beating hearts of snail embryos. With his highly contained ecosystems, Simons explores how science and magnification “makes the small tangible, instantly endowing it with significance and emotion”.

Egied Simons

Also making use of ‘living art’ but with a decidedly more political tone, Simon Starling’s Island of Weeds is a refuge for plants. Responding to the Scottish government’s regulation of the growth rhododendrons — introduced from Spain in 1763, and thus deemed a non-native species to be eradicated — Starling has constructed a safe asylum for the offender-organism. In doing so, Starling deconstructs the flawed concept of a ‘native’ plant species. In the context of a highly globalized world — where plant life need not yield to human-defined borders — Starling renders the Scottish government’s policy cruel and ridiculous.

Island of Weeds

While the humorous tones of the exhibit range from hopeful visions of the future, cynical critiques of the present, and appeals from social and environmental activists, Yes Naturally is above all an exercise in absurdity. Within this absurdity, its tricky and ambiguous subject matter is given room to breath, allowing its radical principles to be more readily accepted by its viewers. At the end of the exhibit, gazing over a sun-baked mass of plastic – a piece of the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch retrieved by Maarten vanden Eyed, the viewer is mentally prepared to accept  that plastic from this horrid pollution is natural, a sort of 21st century formation of coral. And while plankton are adapting to this new nature-culture rapidly, physically incorporating the plastic’s nutrients into their metabolism, so should we – conceptually.

Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

As the visit to Yes Naturally comes to an end, visitors get a chance for final reflections with Finnish artist Tea Mäkipää‘s Petrol Engine Memorial Park. Lining the museum’s western wall, abandoned, rusty cars have been ornamentally transformed into large garden beds. Set in the near future, the installation’s plaques playfully proclaim the end of the ‘age of oil’. The car-garden beds triumphantly embrace an unmentioned new world order, fanciful flowers and plants grow organically upwards, embracing the sky – the antithesis of a world of pollution, petrol and plastics. As today’s cars rumble by on the busy city streets, the viewer can contemplate how a change in the order of things — from petrol-economies to something more sustainable, perhaps — necessarily must grow out of the old world order. Shedding the skin of the petrol age, this new age will take up its refuse and trash as resource, and make new out of it.

Petrol Engine Memorial Park

Petrol Engine Memorial Park

Many more works make up Ja Natuurlijk (Yes Naturally), each exploring how culture and nature can reinforce each other and in the process creates conditions for a better world. The exhibition, at the GEM Museum for Contemporary Art, Fotomuseum and Gemeentemuseum, is open until August 18.

The program for Yes Naturally consists of several events and exhibitions at several locations in The Hague. Be sure to take a look at the agenda since there’s a lot to do, see and explore.

This post originally appeared on Volume.

The Third Lisbon Architecture Triennale begins this September in the context of a crisis-filled and uncertain country. In response to this, a concurrent program of innovative small grants projects made a call for proposalslast December. The aptly titled “Crisis Buster Grant” for architects has stimulated a wide variety of opportunities for civic engagement, unsolicited urban interventions, and bottom up solutions to crisis in the city of Lisbon.

We are excited to share with you the ten recipients of the Crisis Buster grant. The response was impressive, and Crisis Buster welcomed 152 submissions from as many as 19 countries. The grant-winners come from all over Europe, and their projects demonstrate a wide variety of actions in direct response to the catastrophic social impacts of recession and the cultural and civic deficit created in Europe.

A brief overview of the winning projects demonstrates a sea-change in architectural approaches to political and economic problems. The grant-winners represent small scale approaches to architectural problems in the city, emphasizing and to giving visibility to local projects. The recipients’ site specific installations will be launched in Lisbon in September through to December, in conjunction with the Third Lisbon Architecture Triennale. Congratulations to all the recipients.

1. Beautiful, Low Tech & Do-It-Yourself Solutions by Terrapalha, Portugal
Set in a public garden in Lisbon, the project is an open laboratory that will carry out practical workshops, discussions and presentations on natural building and alternative energy solutions. The central themes of the project are to empower and inspire people in practical workshops, equipping them to stimulate change in their greater communities.

2. South Entrance – Bairro Alto da Cova da Moura by Associação Cultural O Moinho da Juventude, Portugal
South Entrance is meant to regenerate Cova da Moura, a run-down, low-income neighbourhood in Lisbon. The South Entrance to the area, a crossroads of functions and facilities such as a sports pavilion, a local nursery and plots of cultivated land, is neglected for the most part. Working in close collaboration with the neighbourhood locals, the South Entrance project will regenerate the entrance point and return it to the community as a functional public space for informal gatherings and planned activities.

3. Genius Loci by The Gargantua Collective, Portugal
Restaurants play a central role in urban Portuguese social life. Genius Loci will suggest a number of “restaurant trails” in the environs of the Triennale’s main venues, using the event’s guidebook as a venue for detailing and mapping the culinary journeys. Eating at one of these traditional establishments will be proposed to visitors of the Triennale as a unique experience of Lisbon: an authentic culinary experience that is unique to the socio-spatial context of Lisbon. What the “eaters/explorers” don’t know is the restaurants they’re visiting are all going out of business due to the crisis. The Gargantuan Collective ensures that Triennale visitors enjoy local eateries, contributing to the local economy, while raising awareness to their tangible and intangible heritage.

4. The Object that wanted to keep being itself bynormalearchitettura, Italy
This week-long workshop will facilitate collaboration between Lisbon artisans and students, focusing on simple techniques to extend the life of everyday objects in a variety of imaginative reuses. In response to the tight wallet disposition induced by the crisis, this initiative explores how we can make objects last longer, without losing its original function or effectiveness, transcending “planned obsolescence” of a throw-away culture.

5. Pátio Ambulante by frame collective, Portugal
Pátio Ambulante is an ambitious proposal for a patio-network in Lisbon. Lisbon’s patios are potent public spaces that facilitate the interaction between users, dwellers, passersby and local businesses. The network will be linked together by a repurposed fire truck equipped with a starter patio to promote the network. There will also be an exhibition on the typologies of patios Lisbon, swap market, and live performances of music.

A Cozinha da Casa do Vapor by EXYZT Collective, France

6. A Cozinha da Casa do Vapor by EXYZT Collective, France
To improve the quality of life by helping local businesses and promoting social cohesion, Cozinha da Casa do Vapor will see the construction of a sustainable, communal kitchen at a site developed by EXYZT Collective. The kitchen will make use of “surplus food”, that would have otherwise be thrown away. The space will invite locals and visitors for communal meals, and will also be used as a venue for workshops on cooking and the culture of food.

"O ESPELHO" Newspaper by O Espelho, Portugal

7. “O ESPELHO” Newspaper by O Espelho, Portugal
The O Espelho (The Mirror) Newspaper will involve the publication of two issues, which will be distributed traditionally as a broadsheet, but also will be pasted all over the walls of Lisbon during the Triennale, making its content radically accessible. O Espelho will become a bottom-up tool to inspire debate and critical thought in public space. Referencing the soap boxes of Hyde Park, the newspaper’s “old school” format will be able to engage with present issues with a novel approach.

Agulha num Palheiro (Needle in a Haystack) by Artery, Portugal

8. Agulha num Palheiro (Needle in a Haystack) by Artery, Portugal
Agulha num Palheiro is a widely accessible, online catalogue of the vacant houses and neglected buildings in Lisbon’s old quarters. The spaces will be systematically organized and categorized, facilitating easy navigation. The project intends on facilitating the identification, renting/buying and reuse of these spaces for potential users. An accompanying film exploring 3 vacant properties in Lisbon will engage visitors in discussion on the rehabilitation of Lisbon.

9. Mundo Mouraria by Baga Baga Studios
The project makes use of digital platforms to facilitate social business models and community building projects, such as a communal kitchen located in the multicultural neighbourhood of Mouraria. The digital component will archive and share the happenings and stories that result from the cooking and eating sessions, putting a hyper-local project into an international spotlight, especially within creative, civic-minded social networks.

Juventude na Street by Inês Neto, Portugal

10. Juventude na Street by Inês Neto, Portugal
Juventude na Street aims to create a youth group for girls from a social housing project, aged 10 to 17 years old. Identifying that there is not much to occupy the neighbourhood youth’s time, the youth group will participate in activities that encourage cooperation, courage, problem-solving and social skills. The project will be based out of a neglected community room, and another aim will be to revitalize this space.

Last week, I took the bus from Paris to Amsterdam, and watched as France slowly became the Netherlands.

The cultures of Europe are a spectrum over the land, and while some major reference points have emerged, like Dutch or French, there are certainly a lot of in-between cultures. You notice this in the language, the architecture, the agricultural methods. In Belgium especially, I saw French architecture slowly give way to Dutch styles — with so much lovely and interesting inbetween-cultures to vibe on.

As you know, readers, I am returning to Toronto in June to present at the Urban Ecologies conference. I have decided to fly home from Italy — Rome, specifically. I look forward to traveling over land from Amsterdam to Rome. With so many cultures and mountains and rivers inbetween, my question will be, how does the Netherlands become Italy?

I’ve noticed another common shape in my negotiations of Amsterdam — the tall triangle.


Tall Triangle

The tall triangle appears mostly in the “inner suburbs” of Amsterdam, that is, the residential areas outside of the 17th Century Canal Belt. You will see the tall Triangle in neighbourhoods characterized by the “Amsterdam School” of design and architecture.

The Amsterdam School is the Dutch contribution to the broader movement of Art Nouveau in France and Modernisme in Catalonia. It at once embraces modern lines, repetitions and scales, while being nostalgic, whimsical and at a human scale.

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Amsterdam-school architecture is defined by bulking forms, embedded sculptures, unconventional patterns of fenestration leaving distinct negative space, and the use of unusual, often narrow shapes for windows and ornamentation. Enter the tall triangle.

3D Tall triangle

One of my favourite uses of the tall triangle is not in the formal, massive structures of the Amsterdam school of Architecture. I like its use in the more temporary form of a playground slide. These narrow, tall, triangular slides are peppered throughout Amsterdam, and every time I see one my heart sinks with whimsy.

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IJburg

IJburg is Amsterdam’s newest neighbourhood.

Though the Netherlands is known for its land reclamation projects, IJburg is built on soil and sand that has been transported and piled up along the Eastern banks of the IJ (pronounced like eye), the major waterway that runs between North and Central Amsterdam and eventually to the North Sea.

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IJburg

As it is the focus of much current development in Amsterdam, IJburg is home to some very experimental (/cutting-edge/progressive) architecture and urban design. A lot of it comes from the schools of urban planning and architecture that are viewed as best practice today: the avoidance of single developers and monotonous housing projects with little architectural variance, and the championing of mixed-use, diverse and walkable settlements — the tenets of contemporary urbanism toward the realization of a “livable city”.

One way these lofty ideals are being achieved is the allowance for people to design their own houses.  As peoples’ preferences are unsurprisingly varied, there is a lot of diversity in housing-form. Classical Amsterdam Canal-houses are set alongside dramatic post-Modern homes. (For example, an entirely yellow facade, articulated by small windows on the upper floors). The result is a highly varied and engaging streetscape and a whole-hearted departure from the traditionally homogenous suburb.

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A starkly yellow facade, alongside less extreme post-modern homes

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Urban Planning, a relatively new, and constantly self-justifying discipline has yet to fully heal its reputation from the misguided and heavy-handed plans that defined the field in the 1960s. The success or failure of IJburg, and the urban plan that is guiding its growth, will make a strong statement about the legitimacy of the theories of Urban Planning — and indeed of the entire discipline – today.

Grey

I visited IJburg on a grey March day. The cold wind blew fiercely, making biking difficult, especially on the bridges between the neighbourhoods and islands of Indischebuurt and Zeeburg along the way.

That despite the weather, I felt good in IJburg, is a real testament to the quality of this housing project. A good place feels good in the shimmering days of mid-Summer, but also on the greyest, coldest Winter afternoons.

As a place of urban experimentation, IJburg inspired a lot of thought. Here are some notes on the neighbourhood that I jotted down while exploring earlier today.

☉IJburg is a strong skeleton for a city. But because it is intensely planned, it unavoidably feels that way. People react negatively to places that feel over-planned: spaces that are sterile and uninspiring. With time, however, the messy urbanism that makes cities spontaneous, dynamic and desirable will find its way into IJburg. Once the buildings and infrastructure begin to decay, and the neighbourhood is truly lived in, this has the potential to be an exciting part of the city. IJburg is healthy bones.

☉(Another related possibility is that if there were an economic collapse, and developers/the city became no longer able to continue with its development, informal ways of engaging with urban space becoming the norm, IJburg would provide a good setting for creativity & experimentation)

☉The newest parts of IJburg, those developments at its edge that are mostly vacant or are in the process of being constructed also feel full of potential. Unlike that ghostly feeling you get from the newest phase of a gated community in Florida or empty towers in resort condominiums built for time-share users, the emptiness of the newest parts of IJburg feel like they will soon be home to a busy and well-used city. The potential-energy in IJburg is palatable.

☉IJburg is built strongly in the tradition of a early 20th century North American urbanism. It is cozy, and people-sized, but is makes space for car use. The scale reminded me of Rosemount or the Plateau in Montreal.

☉Rather than thinking of IJburg as an extension of central Amsterdam, it might be better to conceptualize it as its own world: a nearby, highly connected village. IJburg’s communications with Amsterdam are strong. The 26-Tram runs every 6 minutes mid-day, and commuters are invited to bring their bikes on board (the only tram in the city to allow this). At €1.95 per trip, the ride is affordable. The 26 also takes an interesting journey through the city from its Eastern edge to the centre. More of a commuter-train, the tram’s route is equipped with level railroad crossings that stop traffic until it passes. This makes the journey to Centraal Station quite fast.

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Toward the end of my exploring, I found a part of IJburg that has not been built on yet. It is a heap of sand that protrudes out into the IJ. It is a wild, desertous dune-scape, that, though empty now, feels alive with the city that will grow over it. I walked to the edge of the sandy peninsula and stood, facing the water and the wind. I thought to myself: the Netherlands is a present place. Not too caught up in its history, it embraces and is playful with growth and change.

>> Brief notes and impressions on Rotterdam after my first visit to the city last evening.

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Rotterdam is a digital city.

Since it was flattened by bombs in World War Two, Rotterdam lost the constraints of history that often come with a heritage built environment, giving space for the emergence of a highly experimental city.

Whereas Amsterdam is analog, Rotterdam expresses the essence of 21st century digital urbanism.

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The Erasmusbruge spans over the Maas

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Building a new home in Rotterdam. Netherlands

In Rotterdam, striking structures that betray their origins in digital architectural software are layered over 1960 modernist apartment buildings and retail strips. Enormous buildings make post-modern statements about space and identity. Digital clocks and screens are common, adding noiseless flashing light to the city’s electric aura.

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I visited Rotterdam last night, and experienced a version of the city that I felt to be quite honest: a grey February day gave way to a blustery, snowy evening – the perfect backdrop for a city of futurist metal, steel, and concrete. I was in Rotterdam for a party at the Drijvend Paviljoen – a series of 3 geodesic domes that were lit-up with neon colours and emitting a low electric hum, muted house music that could be heard from outside.

Comparing Amsterdam and Rotterdam is as irresistible as doing the same with Toronto and Montreal. In the Netherlands, these two cities went two very different ways, expressing extremely different elements of the Dutch psyche.

Amsterdam was the capital of design and progressive urban planning at a time when prevailing technology was analog, and so the city is characterized by the physical and mechanical: canal networks, rope pulley systems to ease moving furniture, manual signs announcing the times of the next tram (the mechanism spins hypnotically when the sign changes), and public analog clocks.

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Manual tram signs in Amsterdam

Given Rotterdam’s history, it has had a very different experience of design and planning. I’ve heard that more and more of Dutch culture comes out of Rotterdam, and I get it. Rotterdam is the city of the now: a thoroughly digital urbanism. Despite Rotterdam’s extreme digitization however, it holds remnants of analog Dutch design. As in Amsterdam, the crosswalks in Rotterdam tick mechanically, building up to a rapid clicking that audibly signals it’s time to cross.