Tuesday, November 30, 2010

VAG Decision Delayed

A decision on the Vancouver Art Gallery's proposed move has been delayed until early 2011. See Marsha Lederman's
article in today's Globe & Mail.

Plywood Down

A follow up photo of the Plywood Research Laboratory location, post-demolition:

Waterhouse-Hayward Recalls Thom

Photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's recounts
photographing Ron Thom in 1985.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Laneway House Tour

Following the recent Mid-century and Vancouver Special house tours, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is mounting its first
Laneway house tour.

It's a timely look inside six recently completed laneway houses, as the city focusses on increasing density.

The tour takes place on Saturday, December 11, 2010. See the VHF website for details.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cornelia Oberlander Talk

Thanks to our friends over at ouno for the heads up on the Beaty Biodiversity Museum's lecture series.

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander will talk on November 18th about what the environment means to her. Sounds like an excellent opportunity to hear one of our country's greatest landscape architects speak in the recently completed Patkau-designed Beaty.

See website for details.

Plywood Research Laboratory

Ron Thom's Plywood Research Laboratory is to be demolished, replaced by–surprise–townhouses.

Built in 1962, the laboratory's most distinctive feature is its faceted stressed-skin roof. The structure underlying the roof system is a dynamic arrangement of two-hinge glulam arch ribs, meaning there are no typical support features like beams or posts.

The roof consists of trapezoid and triangular fir plywood panels which further strengthen the structural support. The plywood is covered with a fibreglass 'skin'. The design allows a large free and open workspace and is strong enough to support three separate crane systems (one in the centre and two on the sides), each capable of moving 1 tonne of weight.

The drainage system from the roof is also unique, with water funneling down the facets onto concrete buttresses that act as structural support with channels for runoff.

The building was Canply's plywood research laboratory for over 40 years, but has been increasing encroached upon by low-scale residential development. Given Thom's prominence, the building was considered for heritage designation, a move that was not supported by Canply.

That designation never went through and this modest but significant piece of North Vancouver's architectural heritage will fall this week.

Testing laboratory interior.

Roof detail with translucent skylights.

Testing laboratory showing materials and cranes.

Roof detail, with yellow and green cranes in foreground.

Plan of exterior.

Detail plan of two-hinge glulam arch ribs.

Rendering of building front entrance.

V-shaped roof section leading to concrete buttress and drainage channel.

Detail of concrete buttress.

Front entrance.

North side of building with mature native west coast landscaping.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bing Thom in Washington

See Lisa Rochon's glowing profile in Saturday's Globe & Mail of Bing Thom's new Arena Stage design in Washington, DC.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Po-Mo Monument Coming Down

The Terry Fox Memorial at BC Place is slated for

As part of the revitalization of BC Place, PavCo will dismantle the memorial in order to redesign the plaza and to make way for construction cranes that are building the new stadium roof.

There is much debate around this move–the Franklin Allen-designed memorial has long perplexed Vancouverites who have found it difficult to reconcile the design with the spirit of the man it is meant to celebrate. Its post-modern aesthetics have not helped the cause.

And yet it is a design firmly rooted in its era and one chosen by a committee that included Arthur Erickson and Abraham Rogatnick. It would be interesting to hear their comments, however both passed away last year. Despite its unpopularity, some kind of preservation plan through relocation might be worthwhile, if only as a curious part of our history.

The upside is that, at the suggestion of the Fox family, Douglas Coupland has been commissioned to design a new monument. It's hard to think of someone better suited to memorialize one of our great Canadians.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vancouver Lights in Toronto: Part II

The second installment of Vancouver Lights' Toronto visit covers a more condensed time period: all of the following works were completed within 5 years of each other, from 1960 to 1965. They include important works by some of the country's foremost architects, including John B. Parkin Associates, Earle C. Morgan, Page + Steele Architects and Ron Thom (at that time still with Thompson Berwick + Pratt). There are also key contributions from foreign architects, namely Viljo Revell and Modernist giant Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Together they give a portrait of a city percolating with creativity and a time when Modernism was not just ascendant, but dominating design in Toronto.

TD Centre

The Toronto Dominon Centre largely speaks for itself. Sprawling over a block in the downtown business district, it feels like a functional, breathtaking shrine to its architect–Mies van der Rohe–and his vision of order and clarity. The buildings have been well preserved and the interiors and details maintained impeccably. Lobbies still hold Mies' 'Barcelona' chairs and the main banking centre–a large open room flush with rich wood and muted light–emits an aura of calm and confidence that is frankly remarkable.

Currently in the midst of renovation work, including replacing artwork and 'green' features such as new sealed windows, one hopes the timeless essence of the place remains intact. It is an ode to Capitalism and the commercial machine that imbues that function with dignity and optimism.

O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts

Initially called the O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts upon its completion in 1960, this cultural centre was renamed the Hummingbird Centre in 1996 and is currently called the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

It too is in the midst of a renovation, though one that is much more extensive than the TD Centre. As with many theaters built in Canada at the time, it featured state-of-the art design and acoustics, the latter eventually being criticized as inadequate. It was designed by Earle C. Morgan and Page + Steele Architects and is a Modernist take on traditional theatre design, with an emphasis on more open circulation spaces and cleaner lines.

The entrance, with it's distinctive canopy, rises out toward the street and welcomes theatre-goers into a compressed lobby before opening up inside to an impressive double height foyer, featuring a 100' mural by Toronto artist Ronald York Wilson. The grand entrance is tempered on the exterior by straightforward material choices and muted pedestrian arcades that ring the building.

Toronto City Hall

Toronto City Hall was designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell in the late 1950's after winning an international design competition. Completed in 1965, it features two curved buildings, rising out of a rectangular base, that cradle a council chamber, often referred to as the 'pearl' of the complex. The rounded buildings are slender, resulting in an office arrangement with windows on the inner sides only.

To the south of the buildings is Nathan Phillips Square–a windswept plaza with a large fountain/water feature and sculptural concrete elements. Parts of the plaza feel a bit forlorn and forgotten, such as the elevated walkways on the outer sides of the block, however there are signs of revitalization through ongoing landscaping.

Crashley Residence

An original John Parkin-designed residence from the early 1960's with a confused history. Originally built for J. Douglas Crashley (one time president of the AGO), the house was renovated in the 1990's but has fallen into shocking disrepair in the intervening years.

The subject of much hand-wringing and various proposals for renovations on a designated heritage structure, a 2008 Preservation Board memo ruled that Moriyama and Teshima's plans to add another story to the house were unacceptable. M+T's proposal to open the house up to the street seems to have drawn particular ire, given that the nature of Parkin's original design–and importantly, the character of the neighborhood–emphasized privacy and modesty. As of the time of these photos, the house sits decaying and abandoned.

Massey College

One of the most captivating buildings in Canadian architecture, Ron Thom's 1962 Massey College warrants a post of its own, which will follow. Meantime, here are a few photos that give a hint of the complexity and depth that sits at the corner of Hoskin and Devonshire on the University of Toronto campus.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vancouver Lights in Toronto

I recently travelled to Toronto, taking in the Film Festival (for
this) as well as some of the city's architectural highlights. For the sake of convenience, I'll be breaking photos down into two separate posts, roughly organized by era.

First, more recent projects (1982-2010).

Art Gallery of Ontario, redesigned by Frank Gehry, 2008. Gehry's buildings don't always work for me, however the AGO is lovely piece of architecture that serves its purpose well. The interior is bathed in wood (fir and glulam) that emanates a natural warmth. The gallery rooms hold their art well and the atrium that looks out on Dundas Street is a tranquil space to take a break and rest the eyes. As shown in the photos below, Gehry also designed a number of intriguing staircases in the building.

Addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, Daniel Libeskind, 2007. Just one photo of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal looming out over Bloor Street. A less successful addition, taking cues from Libeskind's 1999 Jewish Museum in Berlin, that feels forced and ill-considered here.

The Bata Shoe Museum, Raymond Moriyama, 1995. A handsome building that shows a largely blank, understated limestone wall to Bloor Street, with the exception of the pyramidal glass entrance. Though the building resembles the general idea of a shoe box (roughly rectangular shape with 'lid'), the subtle angularity creates a shifting visual dynamism. Exhibitions at the museum are drawn from the Bata collection of 10,000 shoes.

The TIFF Lightbox, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, 2010. I attended the first screening in the building–Bruce MacDonald's Trigger–and am happy to report that, from a cinema-goers perspective, the Lightbox was a pleasure. The theatre design is excellent and materials were consistent and largely subdued. The focal point of the interior is the atrium space just inside the entry that houses an elevated central control room (orange box in bottom photo). The space is clean and clear-eyed, if a touch antiseptic. However this is offset by film-related images projected on one of the large white walls. There has been criticism of the building, notably the exterior and the way it relates to the neighborhood, however it seems to fulfill its mandate admirably, as a centre for all things film. Toronto is lucky indeed.

Roy Thompson Hall, Arthur Erickson, 1982. One of Erickson's largest commissions in Toronto (along with William Carsen Centre), this hall sits in the middle of downtown and still acts as a major cultural focus. The interior was redesigned in 2002 by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, after complaints of sound quality issues and poor acoustics. The building features a distinctive reflective glass canopy (originally meant to be clear like Robson Square) and a sunken water feature with patio that acts as a respite from city commotion.

Next up: Part two of Vancouver Lights in Toronto, including buildings by Ron Thom, Peter Dickinson, Mies van der Rohe and John B. Parkin.