December 11, 2007

A is for Absurd

Brent Toderian sends along a book review:

In Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber dares to peek behind the curtain of “genius” architects and expose their willful disdain for their clients, their budgets, and the people who live or work inside their creations. Absurdism in a painting or sculpture is one thing: ­if it’s not to your taste, you don’t have to look­.  But absurdism in buildings represents a blatant disregard for the needs of the building, whether it be a student center, music hall, or corporate headquarters.

No doubt Brent meant to add another provocation to the discussion of “iconic architecture” (and Vancouver’s presumed lack of same) when we bring together a City Program panel to discuss the issue on February 1 at SFU Harbour Centre.  Along with an update on the City’s Design Studio, that will be the start of next year’s ‘Paradise Makers’ series on the first Friday of each month.

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This Friday,  I’ll be interviewing Ray Spaxman – Vancouver’s City Planner from 1973 to 1989 – as part of the City Program’s Paradise Makers series. 
[November 2 at SFU Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings) at 7 pm. Email or call 778-782.5100 for a reservation.]
This should be an extremely informative evening for anyone interested in how the Vancouver of today came to be.
I also talked with Ray last week – and wrote a few comments as a result:

These days, developers and their marketing departments all want something iconic – at least the imprimatur if not necessarily the architecture.  Some will simply name the building after the I word and call it a day.  But assemble a gaggle of architects and be sure that they’ll bemoan our icon deficit.  Too much green glass, not enough titantium. 
Some architecture students even held an international competition – ‘pototype’ – to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of the ‘Vancouver Style.’  At a panel discussion, all agreed: Vancouver may be good at background buildings but how about something gutsy in the foreground?
Or at least something taller.  That was the option Vancouver pursued at the beginning of this century, when the traditional downtown height limit was shattered in return for a commitment to more adventurous architecture.  You’ll be able to judge for yourself on Georgia Street, when at least three new super-talls open by the Olympics.
But one voice is already urging caution – and it’s a voice worth heeding.  It comes with perspective.
Ray Spaxman was recruited as the City Planner by Vancouver’s leadership in 1973, when the public was in full flight from the excesses of modernisn and out-of-control development.  Only a decade and a half previously, the tallest building in the West End was the Sylvia Hotel.  (“Dine in the Sky” said the sign on the roof.)  And not many people thought several hundred concrete slabs had really improved our urban ambience all that much.
Spaxman was responsible for changing the way planning and development was done in this city – and he summed it up in one word: “neighbourliness.”  A building had to be respectful of its neighbours, and of the citizens on the street.  Nothing expresses it better than the canopies which now make it possible to walk downtown on a rainy day without having to take an umbrella. 

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Join me for this Friday’s City Program  “Paradise Makers Lecture Series – Those who shaped Vancouver in the Post-war Era”  This month, we profile Rand Iredale (1929-2000): Pioneer, Architect, Mentor.”
October 19 at 7 pm – Fletcher Challenge Theatre at SFU Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings).   Reservations required. Please call 778-782-5100 to reserve.

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October 15, 2007

Don’t forget: This Thursday at Robson Square, a panel discussion on the potoptype – the international competition to come up with alternatives to the standard Vancouver podium-and-tower typology:

Where UBC Robson Square Room C150 – (free admission)

When Thursday, October 18, 2007 6:30 pm

Who Moderator: Trevor Boddy

Jury: James Cheng, Oliver Lang, Patricia Patkau,

Brent Toderian, Dr. Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe,

also potogroup and competition winners.

Why As the podium tower typology becomes more than just a little typical in Vancouver’s

cityscape, a group of intern architects asks the world for their opinion of this phenomenon.

A successful exhibition attracted hundreds of interested onlookers to view the entries in the

AIBC Architecture gallery as it was displayed between September and October. As a follow

up, a critical discussion between the jurors, competition organizers (potogroup), and

competition entrants continues the dialogue. A brief introduction of the typology will be

given by moderator Trevor Boddy. Visit for the competition brief.

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Admit it, as much as we may admire the winners of prestigious architecture awards, what we love are the losers – those projects so bad, they are worthy of their own kind of recognition.
Hence, the Carbuncle Cup. 
Launched last year by “BD” – an architectural website in Britain – “the Carbuncle Cup is to the Stirling Prize what the Golden Raspberries are to the Oscars.”  This year’s nominees are here
A sample:

It’s Opal Court in Leicester, by Stephen George. 
And another, “More London,” an office complex by Foster and Partners:

It was nominated by Edwin Heathcote, architecture critic of the Financial Times, who writes:

Reasons to hate More London: More Toronto, Less London. Corporate facelessness, slick and facile glass and steel in a sea of ill-conceived and sinister public space, all CCTV, chain sandwich shops and overchlorinated fountains.

More Toronto?  That’s pretty low, Edwin.

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… to find out what’s happening in Vancouver.
Here’s a report from one of the coolest named papers in the States:

Four Cleveland designers among the winners in global design competition in Vancouver

Cleveland Plain Dealer architecture critic Steven Litt
Four architectural interns from Cleveland emerged as winners in an international design competition in Vancouver, along with designers from Rome and Toronto.

The competition was meant to generate ideas and to stir debate in Vancouver – not to provide a concept for an actual construction project.
The winners were Jonathan Kurtz, Kevin Stitak, Kyle May and Dru McKeown. All work for Westlake Reed Leskosky except May, who left two weeks ago for a position in New York.
“I think it’s great,” Kurtz said today. “We assembled ourselves collectively outside the office. We saw it as an opportunity to engage a wider architectural audience..”
May and McKeown hold architecture degrees from Kent State University; Stitak is a graduate of Miami University; and Kurtz holds an architecture degree from Harvard.
The competition, organized by a group of architectural interns in Vancouver, sought new ideas about how the city could move beyond the “podium-tower,” a type of building that has become ubiquitous on the skyline.
A podium tower consists of a tall tower set upon a low base, perhaps several stories high, which fills most of the block on which it sits. The terms of the competition are outlined on the “Poto” website.
The winners — who submitted the best of 45 international entries — earned $2,000 prizes and high praise from the “Potogroup,” which said their proposals “demonstrated equal merit in their solution and presentation of their schemes.”

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September 12, 2007

Dave Peterson passed along news of this intriguing competition from “The Official Google Blog”:

Show us your university campus in 3D

Posted by Allyson McDuffie, Google SketchUp Education Program Coordinator
Today the Build Your Campus in 3D Competition begins. This spring, you and your (presumably equally artistic) friends can honor your campus turf as you hone your 3D design skills just by modeling your school’s campus buildings in Google SketchUp, geo-reference them in Google Earth, and submit them through the competition website to earn lasting online glory. And the winners get a visit to Google, all expenses paid.
You’re eligible if you’re a higher education student in the U. S. or Canada. You can team up with other students, or take the project on yourself. (To do the best work possible, we suggest you have a faculty advisor.) The deadline for entries is June 1, and the winning entries will be posted to the 3D Warehouse by July 10.
We’re pretty jazzed that our panel of judges includes Bobby Brooks from Walt Disney Imagineering, Ken Harsha from Electronic Arts, Janet Martin from Communication Arts Inc. Paul Seletsky from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Gary Smith from Green Mountain Geographics LTD, and Ken M Tse from HKS Architects, Inc.
We hope to see your stomping grounds soon.

Dave thinks “there could/should be some kind of community-based climate-change mapping exercise, somewhat similar to this Google SketchUp
contest.”  Great idea.

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Michael Geller, who’s on a world tour at the moment, reports in from Albania:

Gord, I came across these buildings in Albania….yes grey Albania, and thought you would be amused. Unfortunately, I had to take most of the shots through a window, since I was told I might lose my camera if I ventured into the streets. After all, they got George Bush’s watch!

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