Last September the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat invited me to serve as the special media correspondent for its Shanghai symposium, entitled "Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism."
I conducted video interviews with dozens of architects, developers, building managers, and others on topics relevant to tall building design and sustainable urbanism. Among the many designers, engineers and other tall building types I interviewed was Toronto City Planner James Parakh.
Parakh talked about enhancing public space through Toronto's POPS program for privately-owned public spaces. Downtown Toronto has added over one million square feet of these developments over the last 10 years—think plazas, parks, pedestrian connections.
“I often say it's a win-win,” he said. “The developer gets extra height through the process.”
As one of the newest hotbeds for tall building development, Canada's largest city is trying to walk a line between runaway “Manhattanization” and suburban sprawl. At the same time Parakh said Toronto is grappling with questions about its urban character—from the top of its skyline down to its pedestrian spaces.
“I don't think every building is a landmark building and I don't think every building should be a gateway building,” he said. “How do we intersperse tall buildings—whether it's in Toronto or Chicago or Mumbai or São Paolo—how do we do that the best that we can so that we can improve the quality of life for people around the world?”
Believe it or not, Toronto’s beaches are not a particularly huge draw during the winter months—insiders say it has something to do with temperature. To try and change that—to make the city's beaches seem appealing even in frigid temperatures—some optimistic Canadians have launched an international design competition to transform the city's sandy stretches.
The inaugural Winter Stations Design Competition was launched last fall and invited artists, designers, architects, and landscape architects to turn the city's "utilitarian lifeguard stations" into “whimsical pieces of wintertime public art.” Fittingly, the competition asked those entering to incorporate the concept of warmth into their designs. Check out the four finalists below alongside a proposal from the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science at Ryerson University. These five installations will be on display from February 16–March 22.
Sling Swing by WMB Studio
From the competition website: A playful take on how the iconic deckchair might adapt itself to the cold winter months, Sling Swing is meant to huddle beach goers together in pockets of warmth. The colourful canvases evoke a sense of summer beach nostalgia, while the breeze ensures a continuously animated installation. WMB studio is a London and Liverpool based design collective founded in 2013 with a background in architecture, design and art.
Driftwood Throne by DM_Studio
From the competition website: Using reused timber, DM_Studio's design transforms the modest lifeguard stand from a simple, discreet metal object into a strong, faceted sculptural form that provides seating and shelter from the winter wind. Founded by Daniel Madeiros, DM_Studio is an emerging London based practice aiming to breach the boundaries between architecture, art and design.
Wing Back by Tim Olson
From the competition website: Appropriating the tall, swept typology of a wingback chair, this installation creates an over-sized seating structure designed to gather people together. The tall wall provides shelter from northern winds, and a central fire ring will provide warmth in the depths of winter. Tim Olson is a designer whose work ranges in scale from architecture to furniture and art installation. He currently works for the design-build company Bensonwood in New Hampshire.
HotBox by Michaela MacLeod and Nicholas Croft
From the competition website: HotBox mimics the typology of the ice house traditionally used in northern climates, heightening the contrast between inside and outside and allowing visitors to experience warmth through visual, auditory, tactile, and associative means. The design was submitted by architects Michaela MacLeod and Nicholas Croft who began collaborating on installations and public art projects two year ago.
Snowcone by Diana Koncan and Lily Jeon and the Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson
From the competition website: Snowcone mimics the protective organic form of the pinecone and marries it with the simple, effective technology of the native igloo. Snowcone was the winning project of a design charette held within the Department of Architectural Science to chose the fifth Winter Station. Fourth-year undergraduate students Diana Koncan and Lily Jeon are leading the design.
Urbanists rejoice! Montreal will tear down a major piece of one of its expressways and replace it with a multi-modal urban boulevard complete with parks, dozens of new trees, bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, a dog park, and art installations. The Montreal Gazette reported that crews will start dismantling the city’s Bonaventure Expressway this spring, and that the entire $141.6 million project should wrap up as soon as 2017.
“At the centre of the massive project, which was subject to public consultation in 2009, are 42-metre wide public-park spaces, totalling more than 20,000 square metres, that will separate the north and southbound roadways,” reported the Gazette. An original plan would have placed new buildings on the sites now slated for parks. Montreal’s mayor said that the city’s independent inspector will monitor the project for possible corruption.
With 50 pivoting prisms, Toronto-based architecture firm RAW has transformed downtown Montreal into an interactive kaleidoscope. The installation, called Prismatica, is one of two winners selected in the city’s fifth annual Luminothérapie competition. This is the first time that a non-Quebec based firm has won the competition, so congrats to RAW.
“The 50 pivoting prisms are made of panels laminated with a dichronic film that transmits and reflects every colour in the visible spectrum, varying with the position of the light source and the observer,” RAW explained in a statement. “The prisms are mounted on bases containing projectors. As visitors wander among and manipulate the prisms, they will enjoy an infinite interplay of lights and colourful reflections. As the prisms rotate, a variable-intensity soundtrack comprised of bell sounds will play.”
The director of the firm, Rom Colthoff, added: “We wanted to contribute an installation that was immersive, yet inviting. We wanted people to play around, have fun and, in doing so, forget about the cold.” While impressive, the installation probably isn’t enough to get people to forget about the cold—the bitter, bitter cold.
Prismatica is on display until February 1st.
Parabola cantilever walkway delivers park visitors to the brink.
Concerned that visitors to Canada's national parks were becoming increasingly disengaged from both the experience of the outdoors and the reality of climate change, Parks Canada launched a search for private-sector initiatives to reverse the trend toward drive-through tourism. Brewster Travel Canada answered the call with a limited design competition for a walkable structure in Jasper National Park's Sunwapta Valley. "One of the bus drivers suggested that we do something over this particular gorge, Trickle Creek Canyon—something that could be suspended off the side of the mountain that brought visitors into a more intimate relationship with the Athabasca Glacier and its melting," explained Sturgess Architecture principal Jeremy Sturgess. With design-build team lead PCL Construction Management and structural engineer Read Jones Christoffersen (RJC), Sturgess' firm crafted a cantilevered walkway that, clad in weathering steel and glass, defers to its natural surroundings while providing breathtaking views of the glacier and valley floor. Though not a facade itself, Glacier Skywalk warrants discussion within the context of high-performance building envelopes for its innovative structure and streamlined approach to materials—the "+" in Facades+.
Though the expected solution to the competition brief was a suspension bridge or other high-masted element, "we thought as a team that this approach would not be appropriate to the site," recalled Sturgess. "As much as we were going to make something courageous and heroic, we also wanted it to be subtle." RJC's Simon Brown came up with the idea of a parabola cantilever that draws visitors 35 meters beyond the face of the cliff. Sturgess Architecture focused on minimizing the material palette, relying primarily on Corten and glass, plus gabion mats filled with local rocks and concrete on the adjoining interpretive walk. "The idea was that the Corten would emulate the ferric oxide outcropping that you see on the existing mountainside," said Sturgess. "We wanted the whole element to feel fractal and extruded from the mountainside. As much as it was clearly manmade, it was to be as sensitive to the local environment as possible."
Beauce Atlas (steel), Josef Gartner (structural glass), Heavy Industries (Corten)
Sturgess Architecture, Read Jones Christoffersen (structural engineering)
PCL Construction Management
Jasper National Park, Alberta
Date of Completion
steel parabola cantilever walkway with Corten elements and structural glass floor
Josef Gartner structural glass, custom Corten elements from Heavy Industries
Glacier Skywalk's signature design element is its glass floor, constructed in three layers—two structural, the third designed to be easily replaced if broken or otherwise damaged. "I'm a little nervous about walking on glass floors," admitted Sturgess. Several times he suggested replacing the glass with an opaque material to save money, but the rest of the team refused to let go. "Normally when I've worked in design-build, the gun is to our head and the finger's on the trigger," said Sturgess. "In this case, every time we suggested, 'We can save money here,' everyone on the design team was so in love with the concept, we couldn't lose anything lightly."
Sturgess Architecture swapped Rhino models with PCL, RJC, and Heavy Industries, who formed all of the Corten work, throughout the design development phase. "I've never gone through such an extraordinary hands-on design process working with the actual craftsman of the solution," said Sturgess. "This iterative process of working with the team as we crafted every piece kind of by hand—though on the computer—is what led to the success of the project."
In combination with its geologically inspired cladding, Glacier Skywalk's minimal structure delivers an illusion of weightlessness that only adds to the sense of exposure. The curvature of the walkway allowed RJC to install a nearly invisible cable suspension system to counterbalance its outward propulsion. "It expresses the thrust from the mountainside, and it does it in a way that makes it feel like a really integral fit with the [landscape]," said Sturgess. "The success is that it's not too much."
Photoengraved concrete connects past and present in Montreal student housing.
Though the site on which KANVA's Edison Residence was recently constructed stood vacant for at least 50 years, its emptiness belied a more complicated history. Located on University Street just north of McGill University's Milton gates, the student apartment building lies within one of Montreal's oldest neighborhoods. Photographs dating to the mid-19th century show a stone house on the lot, but by 1960 the building "had disappeared; it was erased," said founding partner Rami Bebawi. Excavation revealed that the original house had burned to the ground. Prompted by the site's history, as well as an interest in exploring cutting-edge concrete technology, the architects delivered a unique solution to the challenge of combining old and new: a photoengraved concrete facade featuring stills from Thomas Edison's 1901 film of Montreal firefighters.
Knowing that Edison Residence would be subject to heavy use by its student occupants, KANVA chose concrete—featured on the interior as well as the building envelope—for its durability and sustainability. But the architects were not interested in sticking to tried-and-true building methods. "Being right in front of a university, we took it upon ourselves to say, 'We're going to push concrete technology,'" explained Bebawi. "We wanted the building itself to be a laboratory to experiment with concrete, and to make this innovation public and accessible to all." Because they also hoped to use the facade to tell a story, they turned to photoengraving, a technique developed by the German firm Reckli. Reckli translates black and white images into grooves of different depths and widths that offer a total of 256 shades of grey. "It brings the building to life, just like cinematography brings photos to life," said Bebawi, noting that the images may appear and disappear according to one's viewpoint. "It's not a stain. We're looking at something that is permanent, yet dynamic."
Choosing the content of the photoengraved panels proved more difficult. "Here's a tool that's powerful, but very scary," said Bebawi. "It's like a billboard in Times Square, but it doesn't change every 30 seconds. You have this kind of social responsibility [to make an appropriate choice]." Thinking about photoengraving's capacity to animate a building led KANVA to early moving pictures, or "tableaux mouvants," and in turn to Edison's role in developing film technology. When they discovered his Montreal Fire Department on Runners, filmed just blocks away from the Edison Residence site, they knew they had it. "All of sudden we closed the loop," recalled Bebawi. "Fires transformed the city."
photoengraved precast concrete with screen-printed glazing, metal accents
precast concrete, Groupe Lessard glazing, PanFab custom metal inserts
The architects extracted twenty images from the film and sent them to Germany, where Reckli manufactured rubber liners for use during the pouring of the precast panels. Local prefabricated concrete company Saramac fabricated and installed the panels back in Montreal. For continuity, all of the street facade's glazing (manufactured and installed by Groupe Lessard) features additional screen-printed stills from Edison's film.
Depending on the position of the sun, the film sequence becomes more or less visible. Variations in the facade depth form a base and cornice, and add to the effect. "When the sun's not at the right angle, the grooves make it look like it's simply an inserted masonry building," said Bebawi. "At other times, it comes to life." Other aspects of the building, including the prominent porte-cochère, nod to local architectural traditions. Yellow metal accents offer additional animation "by sort of an urban signal," said Bebawi. "This yellow is screaming out. It pulls you into the porte-cochère entrance and is expressed on lateral and rear facades." The remainder of the building is unornamented concrete, in keeping with the quarter's environmental code. "It had to be a masonry building according to the heritage standards," said Bebawi. "Obviously, we played with that: 'I can fit your rules, but speak in terms of 2014.' It was a great collaboration with municipal and provincial authorities."
Edison Residence embodies a third way to reconcile new construction with history. "When you think about our relationship to the past in terms of architecture, you can demolish it, imitate it, or contrast it," said Bebawi. "This building takes a different position. Depending on the way you place yourself, sometimes the past appears, and sometimes it doesn't."
The Antoine Predock–designed Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened in Winnipeg last Friday with a ceremony featuring an indigenous blessing, performances by Ginette Reno, The Tenors, Maria Aragon, and Sierra Noble, plus remarks by several Canadian government officials as well as representatives of the museum.
With its Tyndall limestone ramparts, layers of curved glass, and projecting Tower of Hope, the museum evokes the wings of a dove—the symbol of peace—enfolding an ancient mountain. The carefully choreographed entry sequence leads visitors from the building's rocky base down into the carved-out Great Hall, through a hidden winter garden, and, finally, up to the Tower of Hope, whose structure frames views of the city and beyond. Geological and astronomical references abound, from the 450-million-year-old limestone itself to the orientation of the stone-clad Roots, whose apertures welcome the solstice and equinox sun.
The brainchild of the late philanthropist and entrepreneur Israel Asper, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the world's only museum focused exclusively on human rights. It opens to the public on Saturday, September 27.
Antoine Predock will deliver the opening keynote address at next month's Facades+ Dallas conference, during which he will discuss the conceptual and technical drivers of the museum's design. For more information or to register, visit the conference website.
After traveling all over the Western Hemisphere to inspect built work by emerging architects from Canada to Chile, a team of judges awarded the first-ever Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize on Tuesday, bestowing $25,000 and an offer to teach at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) on Mauricio Pezo and Sofia Von Ellrichshausen for their poetic Poli House, perched above the Pacific Ocean on a cliff in Tomé, Chile.
The inaugural MCHAP.emerge prize was directed by Wiel Arets, Dean of the College of Architecture at IIT, and IIT professor / Chicago architect Dirk Denison. Some 265 nominees vied for two prizes, each “recognizing the most distinguished works built in North and South America between January 2000 and December 2013.”
The nominees for MCHAP were established designers, while MCHAP.emerge was meant for architects in the early stages of their careers. The later-career architects get their day in the sun October 22,w hen the $50,000 MCHAP award is announced.
Four finalists were feted Tuesday at IIT, where they were congratulated by Denison, Arets, Rice University Architecture Dean Sarah Whiting, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Pezo von Ellrihshausen, a design firm based in Concepción, Chile, took home the MCHAP.emerge prize for their Poli House—a solid, earthquake-resistant concrete cube whose simple materiality and exterior form belies a series of intricately sculpted interior spaces. Occasional voids in the double-walled concrete perimeter punctuate the building’s rooms and passageways with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, which rumbles below the cliffside residence and art gallery.
Another Chilean project, the Kiltro House in Talca, similarly celebrated its dramatic setting with floor-to-ceiling glass spaces jutting out over steep drops in elevation. Named for a Chilean crossbreed dog, the Kiltro House took its cues from a mishmash of architectural styles, according to designer Juan Pablo Corvalán. With Gabriel Vergara, he heads Supersudaca architects. A Farnsworth-esque glass box cantilevered from a hybrid of various residential styles—including a castle included for a client who fancied herself a princess, Corvalán said—lifts up a roof whose undulations reflect the underlying topography.
Farther north, in Los Angeles, architects Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues won recognition for Maximilian’s Schell, a golden vortex that hovers above a formerly vacant lot in the Silverlake neighborhood. Inspired by the Disney flop "Black Hole" and the minimalist surfaces of architect/engineer Frei Otto, the installation creates “both an intimate experience and a spectacle,” Ball said, by transmitting geometric shadows and yellow-tinged pools of light on the ground beneath the canopy. Look up from beneath the eye of the black hole, as it were, and you get a glimpse of a “James Turrell moment,” Ball said, if the sky cooperates.
Still farther north, Winnipeg, Canada’s 5468796 Architecture was asked to reactivate a downtown plaza, whose 1970s bandshell had fallen into disrepair. They went much further than a simple rehab, however, coaxing great versatility from what at first appears to be an illuminated mesh cube. Ringed by a flexible curtain of perforated metal, the cube conceals several possible performance and event spaces, as well as what has become one of the most popular spots for wedding photos in Winnipeg. Projections from inside translate to the exterior, an effect used frequently when the cube’s metal screen is pulled back to frame the stage with an elegance surprising for its metallic heft.
Herzog & de Meuron will be designing the new Vancouver Art Gallery. The plan will double the size of the 300,000 square foot existing institution.The new Vancouver Art Gallery will be the Swiss firm's first Canadian project.
HdM was selected out of the shortlist that consisted of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (New York), Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (New York), KPMB Architects (Toronto), and SANAA (Tokyo). The finalists, announced in January, were chosen out of 75 firms from 16 countries who submitted to an open Request for Qualifications process issued by the gallery.
Conceptual designs are expected to be revealed in early 2015.
For the fourth year running, Robson Street in downtown Vancouver will play host to a public art project designed to enhance people's connection to one another and people's connection to the space. The brief for "Robson Redux "entails transforming a street that acts largely as a pedestrian thoroughfare into something more akin to a plaza or city square for the coming summer months. On today, April 15th, a jury will select one of the 79 entries to build and install in time for Canada Day (July 1st for those not in the know).
Loose Affiliates' Picnurbia, 2011's winner
VIVA Vancouver, a subsidiary of the City responsible for public art programming, is the host of the competition, which was inaugurated in 2011. Local design collective Loose Affiliates were responsible for that year's winning design; rolling orange turf-covered hills traversed by occasional flat walkways and umbrellas. Subsequent winners Pop-Ups and Pop Rocks and Corduroy Road were continued efforts to recast Robson as a site for gathering rather than circulation.
2012 Winner Pop-Ups and Pop Rocks
While only a single design will be realized, two additional submissions will receive honorable mention while online voting will decide the recipient of the people's choice award. The winner will remain in place through the end of August. On April 3rd all of 2014's entries were displayed in a public exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Last year's winner, Corduroy Road
Canadian graphic designer, Thibaut Sld., has created an interactive wall that responds to human presence. The impressive installation—which is equal parts CGI and home design—is known as HEXI and is comprised of 60 mounted modules that work in-sync with motion detectors to track, and then mirror, a person’s movement along the wall. So, essentially, when a person near the wall moves, the wall moves with them. Brave new world.
A renovation and addition bring an historic church complex into the 21st century.
The Diocese of Toronto approached architectsAlliance (aA) about renovating the St. James Cathedral Centre with two objectives in mind. On a practical level, they wanted more space for the cathedral’s outreach program and the Diocesan archives, as well as quarters for the Dean of the Cathedral and visitors. At the same time, the Anglican leadership wanted to make a statement about the Church’s relevance to contemporary Canadian society. “The idea of the addition was to convey an image of the Church itself as a kind of more open institution, much more transparent and contemporary,” said aA’s Rob Cadeau. “[It was] really driven by the dean, who wanted to refresh the image of the Church.”The architects designed the addition to the Parish Hall as a glass cube. “There’s a lot of use of glass, both as a contemporary material, but also to convey that idea of transparency, for the symbolism of the project,” said Cadeau. At the same time, the see-through extension “defers to the old building. It doesn’t take away from the presence of the old building as opposed to solid masonry construction.” The upper stories of the stick system curtain wall are wrapped in a floating sunscreen comprising repeating bands of laminated glass. “It was very important to the church that there be a sort of green aspect to the design in the way it’s conceived and constructed,” said Cadeau. “So the sunscreen was designed as a passive means of providing shading.”
To maximize shading during the summer and solar gain during the winter, aA ran the sunscreen design through shadow analysis testing in ArchiCAD. They worked with Stouffville Glass to engineer both the sunscreen and the curtain wall. The sunscreen hangs on a vertical system of stainless steel brackets anchored to the HSS beams surrounding the slab edge of the second and third floors. The glass panels’ interlayer is printed with a linear pattern recalling the original building’s narrow button bars. “The idea of the lines within the sunscreen was to create a finer grain of detail on the glass,” explained Cadeau. The curtain wall itself is built of Solarban 60 glass. “It still provides the U value we wanted, but we didn’t want too much reflectivity because it’s a fairly small building,” said Cadeau.
Facade Manufacturer Stouffville Glass
Date of Completion 2011
System stick system glass curtain wall with laminated glass sunscreen
The firm also improved the thermal performance of the original Parish Hall building, which opened in 1910. With help from a building envelope consultant, they ran a thermal analysis of the structure to determine how much spray foam insulation to insert between the masonry wall and a new stud wall. The goal was to boost insulation while allowing some heat transfer. “That’s very important in heritage upgrades,” said Cadeau. “[T]he mistake you can make is over-insulating. Masonry walls rely in some sense of heat loss so that the water [trapped inside] never freezes. If the water absorbed in the brick freezes it will start to crack the brick.”
The new St. James Cathedral Centre unites a previously disconnected cluster of buildings across an enclosed courtyard. In that way, aA suggests, the glass addition functions as a contemporary cloister. “In a larger, urban planning sense [the objective] was to complete the ensemble of buildings, create more of a connection between the buildings as a whole,” said Cadeau.