Blog: entries tagged with "building"

Bringing back the Don

Artist's conception of a renaturalized Don River mouth, from the MVVA proposal.Monday night I caught the presentations by the four design teams chosen as finalists in the TWRC competition to create a plan for the Lower Don Lands - the area west of the Don Roadway, between the railway yard north of the Gardiner and the shipping channel. All four presentations had some great elements, and some were downright inspiring. (It was a stark contrast to the city’s street-furniture tender, a shabby excercise that seems to get worse the more we hear about it.)

The mouth of the Don River was once the largest wetland on the Great Lakes, according to one of last night’s presentations. 19th-century development and industry reduced it to a cesspit, and engineers finally confined it to a narrow concrete-lined ditch to prevent floods and channel sewage straight into the lake. Goal one of the competition, therefore, was to renaturalize the river mouth - a task that most of them handled well.

Here’s a rundown of the four proposals:


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And in with 2007

It’s January, and this year, that means a new office for Spinglobe. We’ve spent a lot of the past month building a new space at the Merchants of Green Coffee building (you can see it from the Don Valley Parkway; it’s midway between Dundas and Queen), with the help of our new neighbours: putting in studs and drywall, mudding and painting, and generally turning a raw space at the back of an old warehouse building into a new home for our crew of oddballs.

174 Spadina IMAGE

Above: the old Spadina office (left) and the new office on Matilda. Toni, the more gregarious of the building’s two cats, comes to pay Sean a visit.

We’re still moving in, but we love it already. For one thing, we can actually walk around the place without tripping over one another. We have a meeting room, and space for all kinds of plants, and some wonderful neighbours in the building, including two cats and two cockatoos.

Lots more to tell. I have a few book reviews to do, for one thing, and possibly some television as well.

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A week

Monday - worked like mad on a new blog-based web site for Spinglobe, and several other projects.

Tuesday - more of the same; nearly burned myself out. Largely self-inflicted. Must remember to take breaks. At least I didn’t spend ten hours straight at a desk again. Blog is looking good though.

Wednesday - jammed and hung out with the gang out High Park way, which made everything all better again. I didn’t have my bass with me, so among other things I tried to get as many different sounds as I could out of one cymbal and one gong suspended from a radio-style mic stand.

Thursday - recorded bass tracks for Ellen Carol’s upcoming CD, at Don Kerr’s brand new basement studio. I’ve recorded myself a lot, of course, and been in lots of studios, but it was my first Actual Recording Session. And it went quite smoothly, too. Afterward, went bowling as part of a fundraiser for Gallery 44‘s youth programs. I am a terrible bowler.

Friday - All a blur. I think I worked on the company blog some more.

Rockit RP6 monitorSaturday - much sleeping in. Also headed in to the new office-to-be to help install some receptacles for the network. In the evening, some very adventurous jamming with Roulette and friends (I played mostly bass and drums).

Sunday - sore as hell. Must have been playing like a maniac last night.

Monday - met up with office mates at the new space again. It’s gonna be pretty cool. And as a sort of reward, I finally snagged those monitors I’ve had my eye on for months. Lots of work to do on the studio now to get it into shape. But: progress!

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Human spaces: Hallowe’en, a new office, and a book or two

This summer we moved to a house just north of the Danforth, near Chester station. It’s a cozy neighbourhood, an old “streetcar suburb” from the early years of the 20th century, fairly well off, mostly single-family homes on snug little lots. And holy geez do they do Hallowe’en. It was a lovely mild night last night, and the sidewalks were absolutely crammed with parents and kids. Every other house seemed to have elaborate decorations. It really felt like a celebration, a time for neighbours to mingle, chat, try to outdo one another, and generally have fun. As a non-parent, I was very much an outsider, but it was still cool to see.

I really love it when the sound of people drowns out the sound of traffic, especially on a warm night. I strolled down Baldwin early this past summer, on the first “patio” weekend, as the sound of clinking glasses and cutlery and soft conversation drifted across the road. Between that and the lights on the trees (for some reason I love the sight of artificial light filtering through tree branches at night) it was really magical.

Floor planIn other news, we looked at a great new potential office space today, near Queen and Broadview. Many cool possibilities. The hot water’s already partly solar heated, and there’s talk of a green roof, solar and wind power, and other initiatives; we’d have a lot of freedom to shape the space; they’re planning to rent out other parts of the building to other like-minded initiatives (architects, artists, and ‘green’ companies). It would be really cool to work on building a community of little workplaces there, both socially and physically, in the built/landscaped environment.

So I’ve been raving about Christopher Alexander‘s A Pattern Language, which talks about the sort of ‘building’ I mean. It’s an approach quite at odds with modern development practices, one that seeks to create spaces that have a real, genuine life, that instill a sense of wholeness, wellness, humanness, and do so at all scales, from regions to streets to rooms to windowsills. We can only do this, Alexander has argued, by allowing people to shape their own spaces in a real and direct way. I can barely do it justice in a short entry. Go read his books - they completely deserve the term “classic”.

Worldchanging coverSpeaking of books, I ordered a copy of Worldchanging, the book for the office, and it arrived today. It’s a hefty little compendium of ideas and resources for making human civilization more sustainable, filed under Stuff, Shelter, Cities, Community, Business, Politics and Planet. I’ve heard it compared to the venerable Whole Earth Catalog series, and it’s not a bad comparison - page after page of useful and inspiring stuff from all over, aimed at bettering the world. Go buy it now.

(And it just so happened that when I opened it at random, the first page I came upon was the one about “Place-Making” - complete with a discussion of A Pattern Language...)

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Dan Gibson, nature sound recordist. He actually died over a month ago, but I hadn’t heard until now. When I was a kid, we had the very first Solitudes LP, back before his son talked him into adding music (a smart commercial move, I’ll grant you, but no thanks - I’d rather have just the sounds).

Jane Jacobs, author and champion of neighbourhoods and cities as vital entities. Her book The Death and Life Of Great American Cities spurred me to study urban planning (I discovered it, in turn, through Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn). (via Spacing Wire)

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Recently Sean, Stephen and I visited Everdale, an organic farm/education centre near Erin, this side of Guelph. We may be doing some neat work on their web site, and part of the visit was to discuss that. Part of it was just to see the place, though…  which was quite thrilling.

We’d never seen a real straw-bale built building before, and they have several. The main one is Home Alive!, a cozy little two-story house with a well thought out heating and cooling system, a rainwater catchment system, plus photovoltaic and wind power, and radiant heating in the floors and bathtub(!) The thick walls give it a wonderfully snug feeling, and deep reveals for the windows… so much of it is straight out of Christopher Alexander and co.‘s A Pattern Language. The beams are made out of recycled timbers, for an extra rustic touch.

Floor planAnyway, that got us excited all over again about the idea of building. Sean’s started talking about building a small set of offices that could serve as an “incubator” for green businesses. Sean suggested a music studio too. I’m picturing a network of people to hang out with, a room for coffee and hanging out, perhaps a little quiet space for people to do yoga or nap… I still have reservations about moving out of town, but all these ideas have me a bit more optimistic about the prospect.

Of course, the more elaborate it gets, the more time and money it takes. So I’ve been wondering what sort of stages we could go through to build something. We could start by getting land with a conventional building on it and living there, or using it as a retreat.

The initial buildings could be little detached cabins, usable later if we decide to offer the place as a retreat… but simple enough that it’s not a catastrophe if there are some mistakes. We’ll learn as we go.

The office could grow piece by piece too: one room, with some tables and a comfortable couch, a desk. Then build a second section, this one with plumbing, a two-piece bathroom and kitchen. And keep growing from there. The third section might be two stories… and so on.

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The Walker Terrace, 2003It’s been really weird watching them tear down the central part of the Royal Ontario Museum to make way for what they’re calling the Lee-Chin Crystal. To me, the Walker Terrace (the mild-mannered 1980s addition that they’re now demolishing, pictured above) was always there, like the CN Tower or Maple Leaf Gardens. It’s pretty weird to see it torn out.

The Crystal is a jagged explosion of metal and glass designed by Daniel Liebeskind, the flashy musician-turned-architect dude who did the Holocaust Museum in Berlin and is now working on the New York World Trade Center site. (His entry in the ROM’s so-called redesign ‘competition’ was scribbled on napkins from the museum’s chi-chi upstairs restaurant.)

I have some pretty strong reservations about the new design, most of which boil down to maintenance. All those weird angles and custom-fitted panels are begging for leaks. And they’ve already had to revise the plans, replacing a lot of the glass with metal. Memo to architects: windows that face up collect dust, snow and bird poop and look like hell in pretty short order. I forsee great gobs of money having to be spent annually just to keep the thing together - money which could be better spent on running a good museum. On the other hand, it does a lot of good things, starting with re-orienting the building to face Bloor Street (a ritzy shopping street) rather than Queen’s Park (a relatively barren car thoroughfare).

I had a bigger shock a few blocks away, where they’re building a new expansion to OCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design. There, rather than extending horizontally, perches an entire new building a couple floors above the roof of the existing building, propping it up above the park to the south (so as to keep it sunny). People have likened it to a matchbox standing on toothpicks, and it’s completely true. I’d seen renderings of the building-to-be, but to actually see It looming several stories above McCaul St was pretty damn freaky.

The architecture critics tell us that this is all a good thing, that these audacious new buildings will get people excited about our city and its institutions. And I suppose that’s true - people do have a certain fondness for our New City Hall, which was built in the 1950s and still shows up in movies as some sci-fi government or corporate HQ. I have to feel sorry for the people that are going to have to work in these places, though. (I could go on and on about this, but Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn says it better than I could.)

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There’s nothing like winter to make you appreciate spring.

Starting a list of things I’ll miss if we move out of this neighbourhood. Number one is Kensington Market. All the wacky secondhand clothing stores have their racks of colourful Stuff out on the street again, and the fruit markets have reclaimed good stretches of the sidewalk. The sound of an impromptu Saturday drum circle echoes across Dundas from the African drum shop. The Moonbean is packed, and its patio is back in full force.

Well, maybe we can get a place along Gerrard or Broadview so it’d be an easy ride from home…

We haven’t even found a house to buy and already we’re discussing what we want to do after that. More and more we’re attracted to some form of cohousing. I’ve always been attracted to the sort of community found on the Islands, for example - progressive, close-knit, homegrown, collaborative, the product of many happy accidents and acts of generosity - and wondered if it’s possible to build such a place deliberately.

In essence, I think it’s a little like the community where Sean’s Mom lives near Charlottesville, but I think I’m after something a little more compact and village-like.

As much as anything, I think it’s a kind of insurance. The challenge is this: I’m going to die. Not only that, I’m going to be old at some point. Do I want to be alone when that happens? No. I’d rather be somewhere with cool neighbours whom I trust; in a comfortable, walkable setting; with the opportunity to help one another out in all different ways - cooking, helping design a house, teaching music on the side, supporting someone who’s lost a loved one, whatever. So the idea of cohousing has really struck home (pardon) for me, as well as the writings of Christopher Alexander.

I just had a vision of our various houses as successive chambers in a nautilus… perhaps ranging from crib to room to apartment to house, each one a little bigger than the last. But not necessarily bigger in terms of space… space is for stuff, not for us. Rather, it’s more a kind of psychological sphere, at every step more integrated with whoever and whatever surrounds us.

Maybe it’s just me coming to realize that we can change the world - just not in the most obvious way. :D

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