Canada’s future

serious snap
Any injury that does not kill you is superficial, right willow? Trees that get scuffed may not be as symmetrical but always grateful when people don’t decide they must die if they crack or lose a limb.

water dragons
Meanwhile the water dragons continue to guard the hat tree. The harvest is nearly ripe, falling.

Blackberries. How I’d love to grow this bit of home. Funny, what I most want to bring forward from the first 20 years of life are the plants, and my grandmother’s compassion. I saw her in my dream last night. Sometimes I think all my unconscious does is dive for her wisdoms. She was Christian but it didn’t prevent her from seeing into people, past skin tint or sexuality or age or the way their intelligence presented.

The old train station in Carleton Place is now a vegan buffet/yoga studio. Who would have thought. That rough and rumble town of gangs, powdery drugs, chop shops and pot stops.

How to find unity in this notion of a country when no matter how you subdivide there is no commonality in nation, province, city, neighbourhood, room of 60, of 12, of 6?

Whole worlds apart even within a person.

It is a social lubricant to insist we are one people in good intention, even when we have no intentions towards each other.

What is someone who values peace to do when our nation top-down is rewriting itself as war mongers, praising divisiveness, imposing a militaristic zero sum game, taking lakes and rivers from protected status, blindering by removing census and gun registry, muffling scientific funding and cutting research, advocating the god of oil money, ignoring the trend of the world to move away from coal, oil, and nuclear into solar and wind, through NAFTA permitting water to be sold south.

Oh, we’ll have lots of water anyway, since all the ice is melting. But then our Minister of Environment doesn’t believe in climate change and didn’t show up to a Climate Summit, instead ribbon-cutting to open a park that opened 12 years ago.

The world moves towards more equitable treatment for indigenous people and women, while we have females in government as puppets to demonstrate how women shouldn’t be trusted with such positions.

For the last few years immigration has wanted to skip language training and turning away more refugees in favour of already trained fluent people without bridging programs to resume their careers. Especially those from white countries.

Those with the possibility of having another citizenship are 2nd class citizens with the option of having their Canadian citizenship revoked. A government minister who is Chinese descent is accused of being, effectively a spy, with loyalty to China first. Is this the cold way, part 2?

The RCMP musical ride is usually a calm spectacle, but this time with an opening show of a mock takedown with weaponry. The tulip festival positioned as we gave refuge to a princess while her country was at war and flowers are the thanks was sold as get your picture taken with the victory tanks. Bill C-51 of anti-terrorism lumped in as a Christian?

Certain members of the country’s loose alliance of well-meaning people have gone mad. Normally in history there needs to be much more of an economic crash before Them and Us starts to raise its helldog neck.

When will it become mandatory to be a member of an evangelical Christian church? When does it come to the biblical thing of divorcing foreign spouses, putting away the women and children to slave drivers, killing the men, for the racial purity of Anglo-Saxon Canada. Y’know, Anglo-Saxon English-speakers, like Christ was.

At least Christians don’t believe in circumcision so there wouldn’t be forced docking of all the males. But paranoia is part of the game of control and power. To think rationally and to be circumspect is to survive.

With luck and pressure the UN will oversee the 2015 elections and this slow ship headed for all the wrong ports will get turned around and move us back towards a compassionate equitable society that protects its weakest members and prides itself on diversity.

29 Jan 2015, 2:26pm
Architecture Citizenship
Comments Off

Ottawa’s Holocaust Monument

Dr Stephen Fai (on right) in Conversation with Daniel Libeskind at the Forum Lecture Series on Architecture.

Daniel Libeskind gave quite an inspiring talk on Monday night. He spoke the day before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He works in words, as he does in his architecture, the shadows and the light. He said, “It’s never too late to do something that is important to our time.” We fool ourselves if we think the scale of destruction can’t happen again. Xenophobia is still with us.

That Ottawa would get a holocaust monument was an act passed in the 2011 House of Commons, the biggest Ottawa memorial since 1939. It was a design competition worldwide. And part of a 31 country aim to set up memorials and education to prevent such acts from recurring.

His slideshow lecture was peppered with anecdotes and buildings from decades of work. For example, when he was proposing a building design competition in Berlin, Germany, a senator asked him for what major public projects he had done. At that point he said, he’d lived opposite of the Greek idea, which is to live young and fast and fierce, and then draw back and contemplate at length in old age. As a young man he was contemplating and all the active part of his life came later, which is to say he had designed many buildings but done no big commission so he replied, “If you go by the past, you’re not going to have any future!”

For one competition which he won he put the new building adjacent to the old without any attempt to connect the two. He was asked why. “There is no bridge between the baroque and now.” There is, he added, an underground passage because, that poetic gesture maps more accurately how the past and the present connect. His allegorical connections run through many of his public buildings, for example, in the Military Museum, a chevron of concrete runs through the old style building, cleaving the vaults and points to the compass direction where Dresden was levelled, the Venice on the Alba, before Allied bombing.

interior model
He mentioned he was walking by the finished building and a person on the sidewalk remarked to him, that building is disturbing. The architect said, that’s right. Whether he let on that he was architect he didn’t say. Each of his stories could have continued for days.

In Denmark a museum has his characteristic maze pattern but in surfaces and vantage point views that suggest the wooden boats that were used to let Jewish people escape from Denmark across the sea (to Sweden I believe he said) before the troops came, thanks to a tip given. A building is for changing an experience, creating a moment that virtual reality can’t give, that words can’t give, in how the planes of landscape and building relate. In another of his buildings a passageway leads outside to a garden but it is an unreachable one on top of 49 columns. The dish that people stand in are all at askew angles. There is void between galleries of images. There is also a gathering place, cafe, gift shop that is a space for light and hope and the present.

german museum
There are all sorts of other chimes with its landscape, relative to the built landscape.

He has exceptional ease with speaking, with it all seeming improv yet on topic. He explained how it is a difficult thing to build a monument to such tragedy where anywhere between 11 and 26 million were killed whether Jewish, Roma, priests, Masons, any of list of religions, people with a range of darker tints of skin. If you were queer, twins, disabled, a resistor, or an artist, the list was extensive for tens of thousands of concentration camps. And he added, those who committed suicide to escape during or after should be counted in the same tragedy. In one of his military history museum in Germany he includes an exhibit of of how we spread out the violence outside our species, the toll of death and involuntary enlisted other species, killer bees, dogs, horses, elephants.

Ottawa memorial
A sketch of the Ottawa Memorial. I couldn’t absorb it but the photo was blurred. Still..

He had been asked why the star in some form replays through his building. In Colombus, Ohio on state capital grounds, there were monuments to WWI, WWII, the Korean War and war in Vietnam but until his, not a monument to the dead. One star frames the capital building. To him it is many things. It is not there as a symbol of Judaism but as the mark to kill, whether a believer or atheist. It is also the emblem of distant light, larger world and of the star on the helmet of the American liberating black soldiers who came to break open the camps. It is not a religious mark so much as a unifying mark of humanity, not just luminaries but all citizens.

He was asked if the Holocaust Memorial would have an education centre. His answer was two-part. One, yes, it will. And two, education is not sufficient. If words could communicate what needs to be said about the Holocaust we would use them. But we need something more visceral. The communication is the experience of space, the confines, the inarticulatable of relationships of ground, space, air, horizon, speed of heart and temperature, the experience that is individualized not generalized. Education doesn’t prevent cruelty. All the top Nazi staff were not old, ignorant men. They were well-educated and in their prime, physically and intellectually. They had degrees. Goebbels had a PhD in Literature. It is a different matter that brings compassion. A monument itself cannot fix ignorance which has to happen on an individual level and spread. A monument might give a person a place to pause and assess. More of an optimist than I am, he quotes Sophocles in saying, “truth is the daughter of time”, that will will invariably figure things out correctly given time.

Light, he says, is itself a communication. If it could be done in words it wouldn’t need architecture. He quotes Emily Dickinson, “a slang of light that oppresses like cathedrals tombs.”

He gave a few looks at the memorial being designed. There’s a point which frames Parliament and a point of mediation in triangle, something of a chimney of concrete (40 or 14 meters high?) with two narrow doors to enter the space and in it an eternal flame and nothing except the open triangle of sky above.

How to do something useful to participate & make a better world? Denial and forgetting would not be it. Without remembering, without the salient living people among us who lived through the events, revisionists start reconciling the unreconcilable by changing the facts. He quoted Paul Celan as saying that green is the most dangerous colour because it is the colour if forgetting, of the past growing over.

What does one experience is individual. In an empty space alone with oneself, Paul Celan says, we “mourn in space that has nothing”. But others would see peace or hope or a eureka. It is to structure space to structure thought.

He will collaborate with Ed Burchinsky(sp?) and have photography embedded in concrete some 14 m high. There will be stone walks which are heated in winter so they have secure footing and plants pushing thru the landscape of stone, emblematic of survival of difficulty.

Doris Bergen, a historian, is another of his collaborators. She has a thin profound book, which he mentioned and if he said which, I missed it. Perhaps this.

His consideration is how to preserve evil and sense of hope, to not forget that tremor in humanity of what are capable of that ruptured the century and left the world changed. How to position oneself to such devastation of overt destruction? “History should not just make us commit suicide but give us urgency.” The question to return to, is as he put it, “How do we do something that offers hope, something useful, that makes the world a better place?”

The National Capital Commission Urbanism Lab, often at the NAC for the 2015 program (on twitter as NCC_UrbanLab) also sponsored the forum. The architecture forum lecture series is now is on twitter, as of the previous lecture, with Douglas Cardinal (Follow it on twitter @ForumLecture).

6 Oct 2014, 12:02pm
Citizenship Equity Ponderings
1 comment

What my Canada would look like once it gets done

A minimum standard of living guaranteed. If the system isn’t trying to trick you, then people don’t need to scheme back to get through its loopholes.

Call me a dreamer but I’d like to see a safety net of basic living wage where the objective of the system is not to drum people out or make hoops to prove they are trying to learn a skill, a language, or get a job. Cooperation rather than presuming only those who don’t need it won’t sign up and those who would cheat would. What does the person need from the width of the system? What other parts of the person need to also be prioritized?

A network of quality of life of public water fountains, bathrooms, public showers, heated indoors spaces without programming. Shelters which are guaranteed no questions asked without religious indoctrination as fee. Signs of washrooms for patrons only all over the city is hostile and miserly. The only option of sugar drinks, caffeine drinks or plastic bottled water is unnecessary.

A culture where cycling and walking is the default. A habit of people dancing and exercising in the parks and squares.

Well-being embedded in schools and the everyday. To train citizens on conflict resolution, compassion, principles of logic, numeracy/budgeting, and the nature and biology of hundreds of species.

Funding to cover and easy access to dentistry for life, physiotherapy, abortion, therapeutic massage, autism programs, medicines, home help support for seniors, and counselling for mental health issues. Funding for faster on demand service. If a pet needs an MRI, it happens that week. A person with compromised health may wait months. There’s a bottleneck that could be addressed.

Two years of paid maternity and paternity leave. Universal childcare. Recognition of the fluidity of family where a child is raised somewhere in the extended family or step-family or can be adopted with more ease.

One system of education, public. Or two, public and privately funded, whether elite, science, arts, or based on religious or linguistic lines. Earlier apprenticeship. Some children are held in the school system past the point of use. If cultural principles aren’t across by age 13 or 14, another few years won’t help. Options for all children to learn hands on skills in any field.

Suffrage for children. Voting by age 10 so that they don’t spend their first 20 years exiled from having a say and being sub-citizens.

Continued budget for measuring things: the full census, status of women, the polar measurements, the assessing of state of water and ocean.

A culture propelled by curiosity. Research for its own sake to learn in field biology, astronomy, other hard sciences, art, social criticism and literature.

Top-down and bottom-up controls on sound. Mandated enforced sound pollution laws so that planes and busses and motorcycles and etc, all run at lower volumes. What can be done for the engine design and tire design. Air shows, fireworks, music concerts. We are overcompeting for noise we don’t even care about while drowning out other species that need to use sound for communication and finding mates.

Light pollution control. There’s no reason lights need to blaze while businesses are closed. Rollback the culture of always-on to presume 6 weeks of universal paid vacation. Leading up to new years might be good. That way the consumer mania of Christmas could be tempered.

There has to be a certain amount of top-down or else people will continue using toxic but cheap paints, importing tomatoes and apples from Brazil and Mexico during peak tomato and apple harvest season here from economic contracts with corporations ahead of getting the freshest food to the nearest person.

Protecting lakes from factory effluent to motorboats that leak petroleum that isn’t maintained. A conscientiousness of citizens.

Should the state get out of the business of marrying? Naturally, but if in it, it should marry whoever wants to pay the licence, regardless of gender. Three or four marrying if they choose.

A habit of gender neutral names, an animate gender neutral pronoun as default, a shift in ingrained assumptions of gender so people enter careers independent of gender baggage.

What to do with religions? China and Russia have had limited success in reenculturating to non-superstitious minds. Luck is a pervasive thought-gnat. Our brains are pattern seeking. How to tilt them towards a Carl Sagan balance?

What to do with the 88 languages and the cultures tethered to them and what they have to say about what the world is?

What to do with gun lobbyists and those who want a model of “strongest surviving” and justify bullying in all forms as a symbol of strength? What to do with dissent in all forms? How to respect the disrespectful? How to nudge those who celebrate brokenness into considering less violence?

What to do with the fisheries? Or general natural resources exploitation that is major industry, the mines that poison waters and the forestry pressed on as market demands toilet paper to printer paper that isn’t post-consumer fibre?

What to do with Quebec and its history? Regarding natives? What to do with nation versus international? The continued mass consumption of the U.S. media? We can’t be safely blissfully oblivious to trends there and people are one people moving through these lines we draw. Some Canadians are also American, half time or have family in various countries.

What elements have I missed?

30 Sep 2014, 1:54pm
Citizenship Equity
Comments Off

Ottawa Elections, Advance Votes

fly in a large world
Don’t be a fly on a wall, Ottawa.

You can vote starting tomorrow. Special Advance Vote Days are Oct 1-3, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the East, West and Central:

  • City Hall, Jean Pigott Place, 110 Laurier Ave W
  • Ben Franklin Place, Room 1A, 101 Centrepoint Dr
  • Ottawa Public Library, Cumberland Branch, Lori Nash Room, 1599 Tenth Line Road

Want to keep up to date on the election? There’s an app for that. Search
“Ottawa Elections 2014″ for Android, Blackberry & Apple. It has all the mayoral candidates, all the councillor candidates and the potential trustees for all 4 school boards.

At this time we have running for Mayor (in alphabetical order): Bernard Couchman, Mike Maguire, Rebecca Pyrah, Michael St. Arnaud, Anwar Syed, Jim Watson, Robert White and Darren W Wood.

Because I must do gender head counts, that’s 7 guys throwing their hat into the ring and 1 woman.

Ottawa has 23 wards so I won’t list every councillor. The city website has a listing of all candidates here.

Kitchissippi has: Katherine Hobbs who is the incumbent, Jeff Leiper whose signs and flyers are all around the area, Ellen Lougheed who is profiled in this week’s Kitchissippi Times, Michelle Reimer who I’ve seen no sign of, and Larry Wasslen (who has no website listed).

Headcount: 3/5 are women.

If you can’t decide or can’t vote this week, there are 2 more advance voting days: Thursday Oct 9 and Saturday Oct 18th. You should have a voter notification in the mail, or it will come shortly.

Voting day itself Monday Oct 27th, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The voting officials take ballot boxes to those who can’t readily get out, such as to senior care centres and emergency shelters.

At the vote sites there’s usual accessibility of large print ballots, magnifying sheets, Braille listings of candidates, Braille ballot templates and the right to ask to be assisted more privately in the case of anxiety disorder.

This year they have added accessibility devices including a voting machine with 19″ screen and large type, tactile buttons with Braille, a sip/puff device, a rocker paddle and audio option to hear candidate names through headphones.

If for some reason you can make it to the voter site, which is accessible, but are too fatigued to make it out of your car, you can request the voting materials be brought to you by officials.

If none of that works you can set up a proxy.

If the third of people who can’t be bothered to vote, voted, how different would our communities look? Consider it a practice run for the national vote soon.

Martha Schwartz: Landscape Architect

She started out by saying she never meant to be a landscape architect. Her uncles, cousins, father, son, husband are all architects; it’s like a congenital disease. She planned to go into fine arts but then she encountered earthworks and so smitten wanted to explore that. One thing led to another…

What is the landscape? We think of it in pastoral terms. We think of it in terms of purist erasure — Landscape is the world without us humans in it. It’s the remainder of leftover areas we don’t ruin. Or it’s when we make nice walking gardens. Trees, birdies, clean rivers and chilly hills.

But the landscape is a bigger circle encompassing every environment we’re in — the highways, the parking lots, the service areas, the sidewalks, the towers, the open pit mines. They are still the landscape. And we spent, statistically, 7 times more of our time on highways than in parks. It is what we create that then creates positive feedback loops in health, social lives, economics and environment. On some level we know that non-commercial space, like time off, pays for itself in a way. NYC’s Central Park brings $623 million/acre to the city because people want to see the park. It wouldn’t make economic sense to parcel any of its green space into any kind of “development”.

In a project she did in Toronto, Yorkville Park, having the park and public space has increased property values around it and increased the amount of shopping done because people want to be there. The green space takes its cue from the Victorian era houses and makes a collector’s box as if the landscape were each in cubicle of Canadian shield ecology. At the same time she remarked, it is better to do something that some hate and some like than something that people don’t care about because if people are blasé it won’t be maintained. If a project is taken to heart by some people, then it will be integrated into lives. For example, Grand Canal Square in Dublin, Ireland was a plaza to go in front of a waterfront performing arts centre. Even in Ireland’s economic downturn, the area was not effected economically because it served people’s needs for a space that worked.

She adds curves and colors to the built environment and green it but does so with a sense of whimsy that is considered from a design point rather than just random play such as in Ireland’s square which plays with colors and geometric shapes that mark outdoor areas.

Public spaces, whether commuter suburbs, or mixed use street plaza life govern the rules we employ against each other. Cultural change, she contends, happen in public space, not when we are sequestered and ghettoized.

She tries to tie in the project to its context. She talked about “creating a “there” there” as Stein put it. In a project going up in China she used sight lines to shape how people walked to see the model homes. The construction of the new homes was blocked from view by a wall with a vista with a cutout to see the distant hills. Along the path there are trees planted and metal sculptures that evoke Chinese lanterns and provide shade. The walk to the model home is so popular the developer has decided to keep it as a park.

Her commission in X’ian, China is a fascinating walled garden where none of the walls are parallel, most dead-end in the maze. You are always under the canopy of willows and approach them but never see the base of any trunks until the end. The end of each wall is mirrored.

Greenery is characteristically done unconventionally, like Vienna (pictures 5 and 6) or Minneapolis.

Another project for a tower in Abu Dhabi was to make a green roof. The hitch was typical. The architects did their work and left and then it handed over to handscape architects but the design load of the building didn’t consider the possibility of a green roof. Her solution was to give dimension with mounds of greenery and water trickle feature along the seating, but the green are all panels that at thin planting on a foam core to give shape without weight.

Also in Abu Dhabi was a beach with special demands. People want to be separated by gender so males can’t access women and children, and so the immigrant labour can’t access the employer class. As well the beach front is tucked in between the ocean and a freeway because infrastructure for transport was designed first and leisure and daily life second.

In Jakarta, her firm is working on Pluit City. Jakarta has a lot of problems in the sense of it sinking worse than Venice. In Jakarta they’ve emptied their aquifers and have to catch rain water to supply local water needs. The project reclaims land, builds seawalls, replants mangroves which were all cut down which should help stabilize the coastline and regrow the fishery.

She’s doing multi-family housing in Japan with a funky stone form of fish among bamboo.

In this interview she talks about renewing mines,

We worked in Winslow, New Jersey, on a clay quarry that had been a dump for 30 cars. It was a degraded and socially dangerous site. With the client, and an ecologist, we regenerated it so now it’s an informal nature conservancy. Now, people want to know if they can buy the land to develop it into housing (no). But the point is, that now, there is a whole new set of possibilities for the site and the town.

They resculpted the 500 acres creating ponds, mixing in wood chip with clay so it could grow. It went from being a waste area to an area that migrating flocks use on their flight path. It is now trees and local species have moved back in. There are 11,000 clay quarries in New Jersey but it takes will and desire.

Martha Schwartz (of Martha Schwartz Partners of London, UK and her firm, Martha Schwartz, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachussetts with projects in over 20 countries) was the speaker on November 4, 2013 at the National Gallery of Canada.

She has received a couple pages worth of highly regarded awards and prizes including the Cooper-Hewitt Museum National Design Award for her body of work in Landscape Architecture, Women in Design Award for Excellence, Boston Society of Architects, 2005, an honorary fellowship from RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), and several design awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects, including residencies, tenure and an honorary degree.

But more importantly for this she was one of the most articulate of speakers the series has had and she organized the lecture into the half of principles of why landscape matters and then details of a few projects. And she did so with smatterings of humour, and with loads of enthusiasm and inspiration.

I was wishing through the talk that Mayor Jim Watson should have been there. He would have enjoyed her ideas, spirit and talk. Perhaps he was there. It is open to the public and a full room.

Quote: “You have beautiful, living and inanimate materials, and one can create something that has cultural resonance. The narrative or idea can be about anything. All great art is, essentially, a very personal statement or inquiry. A built landscape is not required to look or mimic nature. If we are creating it, like any other cultural art form, it can be what we wish it to be. There’s no law that says it has to look like nature. What if all the books or movies or plays were about one subject matter or were dictated by the government? It would be stopping the evolution of culture. Without realizing it, people have very clear notions of what a landscape should be, while we’re much more open about what a building can be because we know it’s a cultural artifact.” ~ Martha Schwartz [via]

P.S. The Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism present forum lectures irregularly through the regular university year.

Nov 18th will be the next lecture. It is by David Leatherbarrow of the University of Pennsylvania. He does research on history and theory of architecture and the city. His books include: Books include: Topographical Stories, Surface Architecture (with Mohsen Mostafavi), Uncommon Ground, Roots of Architectural Invention, On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time, and Masterpieces of Architectural Drawing.

  • RSS Humanyms

  • Archives