January 24, 2017

Most Millennial App of 2016?

In case you missed this post, and before 2016 falls too far into fond memory, I would like to honour its passing with an award for the Most Millenial App of 2016.
Millennials have a steep hill to climb to make it in Vancouver, with crushing student debt, rising housing prices, and increased struggles in the job market serving as three prime examples. To make ends meet in such conditions, we Millennials have to find ways to be efficient with our time throughout our busy day – and Dominoes Pizza struck gold in 2016 with an App that, once pressed, gives you 10 seconds to not order a pizza.
You read that correctly. Once opened, the app uses a pre-selected pie as your assumed order and automatically pays from your credit card if you don’t cancel within 10 seconds.
This company has found a way to give time back to Millennials – time best spent fighting for a way to keep calling this city home. We don’t have a hot second for pizza.

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A close friend of mine from my days at the University of Waterloo’s Civil Engineering program is now completing his Master’s degree, with a focus on concrete. Jeffrey Ianni, P.Eng, describes a way to reduce carbon emissions in concrete production by up to 15%:

Concrete is the most used building material in the world. In the face of rising CO2 emissions due to human development and increasing global populations, any effort to find material efficiency can contribute to the solution for attaining global sustainability as a species.

In 2007, CO2 emissions from cement production represented 4.5% (377 million metric tons) of the global CO2 releases. Current concrete supply practice typically uses only two grades of aggregate: fine and coarse, causing “gap graded” or “poorly graded” concrete pours.

“Well graded” aggregates can save up to 15% of cement paste required. Therefore, aggregate selection can potentially reduce 15%*4.5% = 0.675% of global CO2 emissions.

The above image represents what “well graded” aggregate looks like: a perfect amount of every size of stone from sand to pebble. Well graded aggregate can reduce porosity, permeability, and shrinkage, which improves performance and durability. It also makes for a more consistent finish, which I hear architects love. Furthermore, A reduction in cement content can lower crack vulnerability, making concrete less susceptible to corrosive damage and future repairs, which reduces the life-cycle CO2 costs of concrete  and litigation costs due to failed concrete.

If you are an Architect on a project and you can’t get around using concrete, you can require your contractor to provide this kind of aggregate to reduce on emissions. Concrete with exposed aggregate finishes illustrate whether or not the pour was “well graded”; I would love to have included a photo of what “well graded” concrete looks like, but its use in the field is exceedingly rare due to the aggregate industry primarily supplying mostly two sizes of stone to contractors. This could conceivably be addressed by changing our energy codes.

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As the son of a musician who has played in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for over 30 years, I couldn’t help plug this article from Wired. The future of classical music and the spaces in which we experience it may change forever because of an Uber-meets-travelling-symphony hybrid venture called Groupmuse:

Each Groupmuse consists of two 25-minute sets of instrumental music: the first set is always from the classics, and the second is up to the performers. “We’ve had Dvorak and then string quartet arrangements of Guns and Roses, we’ve had Chopin on the piano and then Brazilian choro music,” says Bodkin.
Professional musicians and those studying in conservatories can upload samples to a Groupmuse profile, which an internal team approves. Next, the Groupmuse team pairs performers with hosts who volunteer to host strangers and musicians in their home: a soloist for 10 people, a quartet for a house that can fit 50 listeners. Around 20 Groupmuse shows happen across the country every week, mostly in Boston, New York, Seattle and the Bay Area. Groupmuse suggests each attendee pays $10 for the show; musicians go home with an average of $160.

Added interest in the medium could provide financial stability for musicians and could provide opportunity for more interesting and substantial collaborations.

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Photograph taken this Monday afternoon, with the poster in the foreground likely put up by The Chinatown Youth Coalition during their SAVE CHINATOWN Block Party held that same afternoon. The event aimed to oppose the third attempt by Beedie Development Group to rezone 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia Street.

The following is a media release from the Coalition:

May 12, 2016

Chinatown youth leaders oppose 105 Keefer rezoning application; Call for halt – and checks and balances – to new development through social impact study

Vancouver, B.C. – The Chinatown Youth Coalition is calling for temporary halt to all new market development project applications in Chinatown – including the current revised rezoning application for 105 Keefer – until a social impact study is conducted. The Coalition believes the current level of unchecked development is destabilizing the neighbourhood by threatening the viability of small ethnic businesses and affordable housing options for vulnerable Chinese and other residents, especially seniors.

The full media release can be read here.

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This photo was taken during sundown from Lost Lagoon. I typically find Vancouver’s sea of blue-green glass to be an eyesore, however during those fifteen minutes when the clouds turn that brilliant shade of pink the aquamarine condos stand out as bold and beautiful.

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I have really enjoyed my week on Price Tags and I hope you have too! For my last article as guest editor I have been weighing some thoughts about the form and material of architecture in our city. I have noticed that certain forms and materials breed a sense of attachment to Vancouver and the West Coast. Consider how you feel when you sense cedar, old growth timbers, salmon, local granite or sandstone, copper roofs (sorry, the Sun Tower is just teal paint!), rain, or a long house. What similarities do these have with each other? Can we learn anything that we can apply to architectural design?

A recent book, titled Vancouver Matters edited by Christa Min, James Eidse, Lori Kiessling, and Joey Giaimo, investigates a collection of materials and moments novel to Vancouver in “a study of the city’s urban discourse to see how it can be changed to help Vancouver live up to its legend”. I highly recommend that local designers should read this book. City of Glass by Douglas Coupland follows a similar trajectory: identifying important and intangible aspects of the city.

I have continued the themes of these books with my own research. As part of my exploration I made a series of “cognitive maps” in an attempt to identify what captures the essence of our city. I have attached a few related images from my work below:

In an extension of this research, I attempted to map some of these moments onto two unsolicited, speculative designs for the Vancouver Art Gallery (with the assumption that the project will go forward at Larwill Park). My first design was inspired by the work of architect Alvar Aalto, a master of evoking a shared memory in his home country of Finland. The design included local andesite and copper (inspired by the Hotel Vancouver and Marine Building), with cedar interiors and sandstone floors, logs, tall conifers, and dappled forest light.

The second design was a challenge to the weakest characteristics of the city. A tower with minimal glass, artists-in-residence sharing floors with market units, no poor doors, a shared lobby, a penthouse dedicated to the art gallery, a diverse public realm electrified by the arts scene, and most importantly (for me) an institution well positioned to highlight a progressive urban agenda through the medium of art.

I hope some of my writing has got you thinking about our architectural scene in Vancouver and its prospective future. Best,

James AV Bligh


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Recently, a number of developersponsored articles have surfaced on Vancitybuzz. Sponsored content is certainly not a new phenomenon, however its advent within this particular news source gives me pause to reflect.

Vancitybuzz is the largest digital publication in Western Canada, and has over two million monthly unique visitors (many of whom are young). VCB is uniquely postured to monopolize itself as the go-to news source for our next generation, and this leads me to speculate on how we will use the news to perceive our city in the future.

At the moment, no major publication in the city has managed to elevate itself to a point where one can expect consistent, critical reviews of architecture or homes in our city. The news often appears entirely controlled by the real-estate industry; one need only take a cursory glance at The Vancouver Sun’s Homes section to read between the lines. Is it not suspicious that Architecture is a subsection of Business on Vancitybuzz?

Where will people turn to in the future for the dissemination of critical discussion towards our urban arena?

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An interesting article discussing pedestrians distracted by their cell phones and the automotive industry was found courtesy of Ian Roberston:


The story goes on to propose that smartphone manufacturers should be held responsible for creating a product that endangers people’s safety when they’re on foot. Not, you know, the companies that make cars that hit and kill the people.

-Alissa Walker, Gizmodo

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The recent opening of a George Costanza themed bar in Melbourne, Australia got me to thinking about Vancouver’s relatively pedestrian café and bar scene. Vancouver does have its fair share of flavourful establishments (a few come to mind, including our wildly successful cat café, a late-night grilled-cheese hole in the wall, dining in the dark, and back alley tacos), however…

Across the Pacific Ocean, our neighbour Japan is crushing all of the competition when it comes to zany cafés and bars. There are so many, in fact, that I am finding it impossible to create a comprehensive list. Here are a few worthy of consideration: an owl café, maid cafés, a toilet café, a bunny café, a back to the future café, a cuddling café, a café between train tracks, a goat café, a ninja café, a reptile café, and a falcon café. I do not necessarily suggest that some (or any) of these might be worth transposing to Vancouver, however it does reveal that we could be a lot more imaginative when it comes to designing our most outlandish dining experiences.

Can the readers of Price Tags imagine any unforeseen opportunities to add whimsical establishments to the Vancouver scene? Personally I would love to install a night club between the two SkyTrain tracks. Perhaps as part of the expansion down Broadway a courageous club owner on Granville could pack up and move in? It would certainly liven up the commute as you scream through on the last train.

To indulge my imagination one more time: during the closing of The Cannery, Port Metro Vancouver investigated the possibility of lifting the restaurant onto a barge and floating it to a new location. Consider an alternate universe where the cannery was left floating derelict (or in use!) along Burrard Inlet for the next thirty years… Does this sound familiar?

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