Posts tagged with "Vancouver":
A whole new breed of architecture can help fight drug addiction and save thousands of lives every year
On January 13, 2016, police found the body of a 31-year-old man, who had been dead for “at least” 12 hours, in a car parked on Pike Street in Capitol Hill, Seattle. He had died from a drug overdose in the shadows, which is common, as drug users often are too ashamed to seek help or use in the open. In the United States, 52,404 people died from overdoses in 2015.
In the eyes of some, this man’s death would have been preventable if he had attended a harm reduction facility—a new typology emerging in the developed world. Just over 100 miles away from Seattle, in Vancouver, one such facility oversees at least one overdose incident every day, on average. In its 14 years of operation so far, the facility has seen more than 5,000 overdoses, yet no one has died there.
The facility, called InSite, is a public place where drug users can go to consume their own substances in a safe, secure, and welcoming environment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For 13 years, the self-described “supervised injection facility” was the only one of its kind operating legally in North America. As of this May, three more facilities—all in Montreal—received approval and two are scheduled to open later this year.
There are now more than 100 legally operating supervised injection facilities across the world, the majority of which can be found in Continental Europe. The first opened in Bern, Switzerland, in 1986, and many European cities have slowly been adopting similar schemes.
None currently exist in the United States, but several models operating abroad and one prototype stateside might offer clues about how to make these places palatable for a U.S. political environment that is more centered around fighting a war on drug “crime” than on treating addiction as a public health issue.
Canadian architect Sean McEwen designed InSite in 2002. With high ceilings, dark walls, and no Plexiglas inside to separate staff from visitors, the space eschews the notions of traditional medical institutions. Russell Maynard, who has been working at InSite for eight years, said that, “from a design perspective, it’s all about controlling the flow; that is more important than security.”
Three-phase-oriented circulation is a constant throughout almost all official drug-consumption spaces and can be summarized as: pre-consumption, consumption, and post-consumption.
Upon entering InSite, visitors are greeted by a receptionist. After providing a name (which can be fake), they are asked if they want to inject or detox and then are placed on a waiting list. The wait time is approximately seven minutes. According to Marilou Gagnon, a nurse at InSite and an associate professor at the School of Nursing, University of Ottawa, this is the period when InSite sees some visitors leave to shoot up outside, in a nearby alleyway, often using puddles to clean their needles.
“Needing to get a hit is like having chopped your finger off—you’re not going to want to wait very long or travel very far to fix it,” Gagnon said. Vancouver is a city of alleyways, and drug users favor them because they are discreet and easy to find. As Gagnon explained, however, this is problematic for two main reasons: Shooting up in an alleyway is unhygienic, and if you overdose, it’s not a great idea to be hidden.
Designing for anonymity and privacy, unfortunately, is paradoxical to health and well-being in the context of addiction. There is no hiding at InSite, but this is a good thing. Within the injection room, there are 13 booths, which line the interior perimeter, allowing nurses a clear line of sight into each.
These booths, each with their own lights, are mirrored to provide nurses and users with better visibility; this is particularly important for users, to help them avoid being surprised by approaching staff and when injecting into their necks. (Staff are not allowed to actually inject for users but can provide advice, prepare drugs, and clean needles, among other things.) Additionally, female users, who on average constitute a quarter of the visitors, often use the mirrors to do their makeup.
As the designer, McEwen also specified comfortable and easily cleanable chairs. “This may be the best seat users sit in all week,” he said. After injecting, users exit to a “chill-out” room, where they can speak to peers (usually former users), counselors, and nurses and find out about detox programs. Maynard stressed that visitors only enroll in such programs of their own accord.
Easing the Stigma
Politically, injection facilities are toxic. InSite went through a court case when the federal government attempted (unsuccessfully) to shut it down. “A common misconception is that people are shit-faced here; that’s not the case,” explained Maynard, speaking of InSite. “There are consumption sites everywhere for alcohol—they’re called bars. When you go into a bar, not everyone is off-their-face drunk, and that’s the case here.”
To avoid public conflict, almost all facilities have anonymous facades, with little or no signage. At InSite, zoning requirements for storefront retail meant the facility had to pretend to be a coffee shop to get development approval. More recently as a trial, the Canadian government funded the Narcomane Research and Help Center in Montreal, which provided heroin to registered users—a first for North American facilities. It was shrouded in secrecy at the time, and is now closed. “Not even the neighbors knew about it,” said its architect, Ron Rayside.
Margot Young, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, is interested in this aspect of the typology. She argues that the sight of InSite fuels the “larger political goal of putting injection drug addicts ‘in the sight’ of policy makers and governments.”
The sight of InSite, though, is in need of work. According to Maynard, the facility is operating at above full capacity, sometimes seeing more than 1,300 visitors a day; Hannah Leyland, a Master’s student covering InSite in her thesis, described it as looking “low budget,” noting chipped paint. InSite has annual operating costs of $2.15 million. A 2010 study into its financial wellbeing touched upon how the facility’s hygienic provisions prevent HIV infections. The study concluded that if InSite were closed, HIV infections would increase by 46 percent, costing Canadian taxpayers $12.9 million (CDN$17.6 million).
Ad hoc America
In the U.S., however, a cheaper solution is more politically viable. Dr. Gregory Scott, a visual sociologist, who has 17 years of experience in the field of drug-use harm reduction, is pursuing this route. He is traveling the U.S. with SAFE SHAPE, a “pop-up public health exhibit” that acts as a mock safe-injection site.
Scott designed SAFE SHAPE with architect Andrew Santa Lucia, of Portland, Oregon–based firm Office Andorus. The ten-square-foot pavilion uses two-inch-thick aluminum tubes to compose a white frame over which a bright-white, translucent spandex shell is stretched. It weighs less than 100 pounds and can be broken down and packaged into four ski bags and two storage tubs, allowing it to be easily transportable by plane.
“For me, design and aesthetics become heavily politicized in terms of the stigma associated with drug addicts,” said Scott. He wanted something that didn’t leap out at people as a place for users, instead adopting a “high-design” look that, semiotically, didn’t reference preconceived ideas surrounding drug addiction.
“Using a taut skin, we were able to produce a bright image that stands out in almost any landscape and becomes an icon,” explained Santa Lucia.
So far, only one SAFE SHAPE has been built. Scott erected the pavilion in Chicago as an actual consumption facility for both injectable and smokable (usually crack cocaine) drugs, albeit temporarily and illegally. Despite its small size, SAFE SHAPE is able to cater to two injectors or three smoking users at a time. The latter is a rarity for the harm reduction typology, due to issues of ventilation. SAFE SHAPE’s varied-height apertures, however, allow for such use.
Additionally, its size may be an advantage in terms of providing a safe place for drug consumption that can cater to drug users quickly and efficiently, but one thing SAFE SHAPE doesn’t provide is permanence. Many visitors to drug-consumption spaces do not have registered addresses, and time spent in such facilities can provide private moments to feel at ease and escape street life.
Another site that caters to smoking users is H17, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Occupying a former slaughterhouse in the gentrified, artsy district of Vesterbro, H17 cost $4.4 million and opened in August. It is more than 1,000 times larger than SAFE SHAPE and was designed by Copenhagen firm PLH Arkitekter. To Scott, “H17 is a fine example of bringing design and function together for the purpose of interrupting a criminalizing, moralizing discourse that really does harm people.”
PLH used a technique the firm calls “nudging” to encourage visitors on a linear path through the building and to separate pre- and post-consumers. “There are no 90-degree or smaller corners,” explained Lars Toksvig, a partner at PLH Arkitekter, which worked on H17. The facility’s entrance is open and employs a palette of cool “calming” colors.
The injection booths at H17 are wide and mirrored, and each has a hole on its stainless-steel desk that allows easy and safe disposal of used syringes, etc. A chill-out space is also provided, where inflatable furniture and warmer colors create a calm and less-clinical environment. “When we looked at precedents, we found many were insufficient in size,” said Toksvig. “When they get too small, users can become stressed inside and outside. It is important to cater to this.”
What is Next?
In Canada, some architecture firms are becoming more familiar with designing injection sites. Rayside said his Montreal practice, Rayside Labossière, has worked on five such facilities, most recently Spectre de Rue and CACTUS, both in Montreal and on course to open this year.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., in Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray granted approval for two injection sites, officially known as “Community Health Engagement Locations.” The two facilities could be America’s first. Currently, officials are in the process of finding the right locations and working out funding.
However, according to Mark Townsend, former executive director of the PHS Community Services Society, NIMBYism can slow proceedings. “Ideally, you want these spaces established before there is an overdose epidemic,” he said.
In addition to saving lives, drug consumption facilities can serve as paradoxical stepping-stones toward detox. They bring the very real work of designing for harm reduction into the public eye, while also providing private, dignified spaces that benefit both users and nonusers. Though these facilities are sadly only born out of crises, the progress in their design represents a change in public and political attitudes, an area in which the U.S. still has a long way to go.
Vancouver-based Scott & Scott Architects blends warm minimalism with local materials and custom furniture
The Architectural League’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series spotlight individuals and firms with distinct design “voices” that have the potential to influence the discipline of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. The jury, composed of Sunil Bald, Mario Gooden, Lisa Gray, Paul Lewis, Jing Liu, Thomas Phifer, Bradley Samuels, Billie Tsien, and Ian Volner, selected architects and designers who have significant bodies of realized work that creatively address larger issues in the built environment.
The Architect’s Newspaper featured the Emerging Voices firms in our February issue; stay tuned as we upload those articles to our website over the coming weeks. Vancouver-based Scott & Scott Architects’ founders Susan and David Scott will deliver their lecture on March 23, 2017, at The Architecture League in New York City. Click here to learn more!
After leaving large architecture offices in Vancouver, wife and husband Susan and David Scott established their own practice in 2012 out of their home and studio—a renovated former grocery store off of Main Street. Using this home-studio and a cabin they built for themselves as their initial portfolio, the Scotts began building a reputation for their warm, minimalist aesthetic. “Our first few commissions included a sausage restaurant and a barn,” David said. “After working on large institutional projects, the idea of doing things that were more functional and related to the daily lives of their owners was very appealing. We really value having a direct relationship between architecture and its occupants.”
Other completed projects include cabins and houses across British Columbia as well as restaurants and even an artisanal liquid-nitrogen ice cream parlor, Mister. “We’ve been very lucky with our initial clients; when it's someone’s own business or own house, they tend to be really interested in taking design risks and being open minded,” Susan said. In each space, natural materials were carefully selected from Canadian suppliers and manufacturers for durability and beauty. “We enjoy focusing on materials that are local and not branded,” she explained. “They are often harder to find, but they are always more durable and a better investment in the project.”
Combined with a sophisticated, pared-back approach, materials such as soapstone, marble, and concrete take center stage without overwhelming the building’s ability to be highly functional, whether as a restaurant or a residence. Susan and David often create or commission furniture, light fixtures, and hardware for each space in their workshop, promoting an overall sense of integration in every project. “There’s not a written philosophy about [our approach], but our background as site architects who often oversaw construction, as well as our own set of interests, lends itself to a focus on materials and making things,” David said.
In 2016, Scott & Scott Architects were awarded the Young Architect Award by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Currently, they are working at various architectural scales, including master planning an alpine community, designing ground-up residences, and adapting urban buildings for reuse, but they also continue to enjoy smaller-scale projects even as their practice grows. “Right now we are at a tempo where a lot of projects are happening concurrently, so there is a thread that other people can’t necessarily see that pops up in each project,” David explained. “So we might explore something in one project and it becomes more refined in the next one—the progression is exciting.”
Because we live and practice in New York and travel extensively we consider ourselves highly cultured and knowledgeable. But actually we are quite parochial, a fact that sadly struck a chord when Bing Thom passed away. He would serve on our juries and our boards, revered and consulted for his opinion. However, despite the fact that his firm received the Canadian Architect Firm Award in 2010 and he won the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal in 2016, he was off our radar. Even when he was recently invited to compete for a design at Lincoln Center, he was very excited about the potential project and actually started looking for an office in New York. But he may have been too much of a “dark horse” and didn’t get the commission.
This is unfortunate. One need only look at the skyline of Vancouver to see solid evidence of his talent. From the moment he cut his teeth with Arthur Erickson on the Robson Square Courthouse Complex to his most recently completed Guilford Aquatic Center in Surrey, his sculpted roof forms shaped the city’s civic and cultural spaces. He was gifted at taking disparate functions and resonantly melding them in a way that was creative and technologically innovative without appearing so. Next door to the Aquatic Centre, for instance, is the Surrey City Centre Library, probably one of the earliest buildings programmed through social media primarily to speed up the normal process, so that the library would not lose its public funding.
Because we are a small profession, there are often clear lines of succession. Bing was no exception. Even though he was born in Hong Kong and fled to Canada as a child in 1949 when the Communists took over, once he landed in Vancouver and decided to become an architect, it didn’t take long for him to become noticed by Erickson, his professor at the University of British Columbia. He went on to receive his Masters of Architecture from Berkeley in 1969. Then he moved to Japan to work for Fumihiko Maki, returning to Toronto to join Erickson on Roy Thomson Hall. The studio he opened in 1982 was very much in the spirit of the work of his two mentors as Bing took on large public projects and became known for his approachable, open creative style.
His portfolio is extensive and global; it includes many theaters and The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver was one of his earliest. The concert hall is reputed to sound magnificent, owing to a large concrete acoustical canopy, making it tower over every other building on campus. He artfully camouflaged this by a stand of cedars. For Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, the roof became his medium, defining and enveloping the two existing theaters and the experimental one he added. Currently under construction is the Xiqu Centre in Hong Kong, which will house the Chinese Opera.
A laundry list of his other major buildings would surely include the Canadian Pavilion for the 1992 Expo in Seville, Spain, which was entirely clad in zinc and featured a naturally cooled entertainment area. It would also include the master plan and subsequent commission for the Tarrant County College Downtown Campus in Fort Worth,Texas. And it would definitely feature the University of Chicago Campus in Hong Kong, slated to open next year.
I knew Bing very briefly and very recently. He came to New York and spoke at the Center for Architecture last spring. He was a lovely man in person, full of passion, thoughtfulness, intelligence, generosity of spirit, and a belief in the power of architecture to transform. I am grateful that we filmed the evening and very sorry that that will be all we have.
There is something surreal in the new exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV), Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver, on view until May 15. It’s not just the museum’s late ’60s architecture by Gerard Hamilton. It’s not the giant crab in a fountain that ushers patrons into a dome-like edifice with a cavernous interior reminiscent of some sci-fi film about “the future.” (George Pal’s The Time Machine springs to mind.)
It’s also not the slightly trippy Brian Eno music, or even the Through the Looking Glass–style mirror (Can You Afford to Be Here by Dialog) that exhales phrases in different languages about what it’s like to live in the city with the highest cost of housing in North America. This mirror returns the civic gaze—and responsibility—to the viewer.
Rather, it’s the whole meta-theater of it: the museum is actually a kind of real estate sales center where patrons are prospective buyers.
“Vancouver is a city in flux, undergoing massive growth and redevelopment,” said Gregory Dreicer, MOV’s director of curatorial and engagement, who worked alongside exhibition designers McFarlane Biggar Architects. “With as many as three homes demolished each day—often to make room for denser living—we are experiencing a watershed moment in the history of the region.”
While talking about the price of real estate has become something of a civic obsession, Dreicer said the aim of the exhibition is “to shift the conversation from real estate to the state of the city.”
Your Future Home opens with a huge wall of photographs of various housing types in the city—from a homeless tent to a mansion to an old railway house—all underlined in red to mimic the current trend in real estate marketing literature. (In Vancouver’s overheated market, homeowners regularly receive such notices of recent sales in their mailboxes.)
The intent here is to focus on the residential typology itself, rather than to fetishize price per square footage, and the wall of homes is an intriguing mosaic of Vancouver housing styles.
Next, patrons are ushered into a mock sales center with a collage of various parts of the city. Faux sales sheets offer statistics about the city itself—as if it were a single property. An adjacent wall, plastered with a huge image of the typical Vancouver city view, is punctuated by various other statistics like “50% of Vancouverites use private cars, 5% bicycles.” Across from this view, four flat screen monitors offer maps and statistics compiled by planner Andy Yan, illustrating the exhibition’s central themes: housing affordability, residential density, ease of transportation, and quality of public space.
An animated video of Vancouver draws one into city streetscapes. Across from it another aerial view photograph of the city proves revealing: Vancouver’s downtown is a tiny peninsula of density, surrounded by a sea of suburban style housing.
With text noting a projected population increase of 150,000 residents by the year 2040, the question, Where will they all live? hovers (metaphorically) above the idyllic view.
The third section attempts to answer that question while raising many others. While uneven at times, and slightly overwhelming, this part of the exhibition has a curiously Victorian feel about it, with many of the several dozen mini-exhibits mounted on blocks, reading like dioramas reimagined for the 21st century.
One by Erick Villagomez called The Grid is a simple wooden cube with a grid imposed on it, and a kind of viewmaster-cum-pinhole-camera that looks down into a montage of fantastical civic images that aim to encourage a “new social and spatial order.”
The grid is applied to a Vancouver beach, and a dense cluster of high-rises applied to a wealthy waterfront enclave. Nature is overlaid with built environment and new urban models are superimposed on suburban landscapes, offering inventive takes on new ways to inhabit the city.
Another highlight is architect Gregory Henriquez’s Vertical City that plays with the idea of a dramatic shift in scale and Vancouver’s obsession with “the view.” Here, a model for a 2,500-foot-tall highrise is created by upending a 15-block area of the city complete with existing buildings. A large roof top terrace features a “sky garden” and a dizzying view.
Framed by a loop of photos of important civic events and city builders on one end and a film about public space and transportation on the other, neighborhood histories—how Chinatown residents rallied to save their community from a freeway—mingle with imagined futures like a post-global warming transportation network for bicycles.
Architect Oliver Lang offers a dense pyramidal model as an alternative to both low-rise sprawl and highrise living. And architect Javier Campos presents Density in Section as a kind of cri de coeur for greater diversity of built environment in the city, one that mixes residential, commercial, and industrial. Fittingly for a rail against homogeneity and conformity, the model consists of a series of tiny multi-leveled flags bearing images of buildings that form a triangular peak, and read like banners of protest.
Your Future Home is as much a call to arms to save the soul of a place in danger of becoming a resort town for the wealthy, as it is a celebration of the city. The exhibition manages to foil Vancouver’s real estate–fueled fortress mentality of isolation and unaffordability even as it critiques it, simply by engaging patrons and offering both historical insight and potent possibilities.