A mystery sculptor (all that’s known is that she is female) has been leaving these sculptures made from book pages in libraries and museums across Edinburgh. When the sculptures numbered ten she stopped, leaving this inscription in a guestbook: “In support of Libraries, Books, Words and Ideas… a tiny gesture in support of the special places.” As a mysterious public art piece it has fascinated many in Edinburgh. A great public act in favour of one of our most democratic and hallowed institutions—the library. Via NPR.
The composer Laurie Spiegel in her studio. An amateur musician from childhood, Spiegel detoured through the social sciences at university and then returned to music, later founding NYU’s Computer Music Studio. She worked at the renowned Bell Labs in the 1970s writing notational software and late wrote software for personal computers used widely in rock and pop music circles. Another undersung woman designer.
Footnote! The photo that originally led this post is NOT of Laurie Spiegel, contrary to claims in the original German post where it appeared. You can still see it on Flickr, but it’s not Spiegel. How do I know this? Well, because she herself wrote in to say so. See here.
Megaphone speaker by the Italian company Enandis. Why do I like this? I shouldn’t like it, but I do. It’s so wrong for things to pretend to be other things, like early cars resembling horse carriages, or high-heeled runners. Furthemore is the iPhone speaker’s quality even worth amplifying? Maybe what’s nice about this is precisely the contradictory relationship between the basic yet acoustically perfect cone and the supposedly more sophisticated (yet somehow much more acoustically impoverished) device. Perhaps this is where its surreal quality derives from, sci-fi technology harnessed to the ancient. I just like the McGyver feel. And maybe it’s just that I like the sound of voices reverberating through a pipe, or music echoing romantically up from a subway tunnel in some French film. I don’t know, but I want one. It’s funny.
Hoewver, the name/logo stamp on the most visible part of the stand would actually stop me from ordering one. That’s an eyesore.
I took this photo from my dentist’s office late on a dark November afternoon. That bright light in the upper right by the stadium is a giant electronic screen billboard. It’s one of 3 or 4 such billboards ringing Vancouver’s largest stadium, despite the fact that there are Vancouver by-laws forbidding such signs. The maximum size is 200 sq ft: these are almost 2000 square feet. The stadium is owned by the province of British Columbia, which seems to think it’s exempt from these regulations, though it’s not. I own my land too, but I’m not allowed to do whatever the hell I want with it.
It’s an oddity of the iPhone camera that it doesn’t really capture how bright and obtrusive these big screens actually are. They’re almost sci fi, and I mean the more Bladerunnerish, dystopian end of the sci fi continuum. A few weeks ago these billboards were erected and lit without any warning; even City Hall was taken by surprise. This is how things are done in what is effectively still the Wild West.
I’m not even going to get into the problem of the stadium itself, or its $600 million new roof with its crass aesthetics, or the way it now dwarfs and crowds the surrounding towers, or the sketchiness of its financing. Or the fact that it’s the wrong stadium for Vancouver in the first place. The underlying problem is with the landowner, a public, provincial corporation called PavCo that repeatedly acts against community interests.
I probably sound obsessed, but readers of this blog know that I and others fought (and defeated, for now) a mega-casino being forced on the City by this samePavCo earlier this year. As it happens, that mega-casino was to be built on the exact spot occupied by the billboard pictured above.
I learned about the billboard fiasco early on because several affected neighbours in the condo towers ringing the stadium quite independently contacted our anti-casino coalition for assistance. We were unable to take on this fight, but the neighbours are now fighting it themselves and gaining media attention. They first tried asking PavCo to abide by the city’s sign laws and remove the billboards, but when they couldn’t get anywhere they went to the media.
How do you get away with klieglight billboards shining right into hundreds of glass condos in one of the densest neighbourhoods in North America? But of course PavCo also tried to force a mega-casino onto an unwilling Vancouver… and may yet succeed. So nothing that happens here is ideal urban planning.
Should the brightest thing in a city like Vancouver be ads for Budweiser and Coke shining out across the sky—from publicly owned land?
Thanks for listening to yet another missive from a place that is slowly—or quickly, depending on your point of view—devolving from a city to a corporate playground. If you haven’t seen Idiocracy yet, you should rent it. It’s a comedy.
Below, the new BC Place memorial to local hero Terry Fox. It’s a sculpture by Douglas Coupland (author of Generation X and Vancouverite) and it’s now dwarfed by advertising.
Update: Occupy Vancouver has now been removed from BC-owned land in Vancouver via court injunction, for breaking City by-laws. Can someone tell me why we haven’t seen an injunction to remove these equally illegal signs sitting on BC land inside City limits?
Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton did record business this year, as did luxury car sales. This is the bottom line of our current economic system. Draw your own conclusions. But think twice before suggesting Occupiers don’t have clear demands or don’t know what they’re talking about. When someone says “Occupy Wall Street has no clear demands what I hear is “I hope no one is listening to those kids at Occupy Wall Street.”
I heard another architect say lately that the cabin form is the vernacular architecture of British Columbia, and that is probably true. Mark’s cabin approaches the Ur example of that form. So many of these island cabins are overdone, full of formal awkwardness, ill proportions, fussiness or materials unbefitting the surroundings. This one however feels as if it belongs in the Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest. It has more glass than usual for a cabin but it’s a summer place, and as anyone who lives in this climate knows, daylight becomes extremely important for mood here, and so does the view of trees. Mark is an outdoorsman (old school word but can’t think of replacement) himself whose family has lived in B.C. for generations and perhaps this partially explains his facility with this form.
Many probably don’t know that Mark Osburn was an important figure in the key 1976 Vancouver event Habitat Forum, part of a massive UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements that took place in this city. I am currently writing a book about Habitat (for more information about that, please see my website Habitat Forum 76) and that is actually how I met Mark. He was responsible for the stunning interior of Habitat Forum’s Plenary Hall, a vintage military seaplane hangar that was repurposed for the conference. In its interior Mark designed a stage and an immense structure of staggered, informal seating resembling Jenga. The structure included salvaged lumber that was milled on site. The outside of the hangar was painted with a massive mural designed by renowned First Nations artist Bill Reid, effectively turning it into a Northwest Coast longhouse. The demolition of this building by Vancouver Parks Board in 1980 is a scandal that still infuriates me. The ongoing loss of what scant history we have left in Vancouver, not to mention the constant, deliberate removal of public spaces where people can gather, has become a hallmark of this historicidal town. But that’s another story. In any case, the early work of Mark and others in the Deluxe Inc group of repurposing older Vancouver buildings was part of the same widespread citizen effort that spawned Granville Island, and he deserves some of the credit for that. It is unfortunate that Granville Island is virtually all we have left of these older industrial-style buildings. Other cities have done better. In Vancouver it isn’t for lack of citizen effort that we have failed. It’s a City Hall hijacked by developers that’s responsible for historicide.
Seating platform by Mark Osburn. Ceiling banner, a massive piece covering the entire hangar ceiling, was designed by Bill Reid.
Above, view of interior of Plenary Hall during concert. You can see the view of ocean and freighters from inside the Plenary Hall (which is the building at right, below)
To read about my book project on Vancouver's UN-Habitat Forum event of 1976 concerning just and sustainable urban settlements, click here. Few know that Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa, Paolo Soleri and Maggie & Pierre Trudeau, along with many thousands of others, came to Vancouver in 1976 to talk about better, safer, fairer and greener cities worldwide. In fact it was the founding conference of UN Habitat, an agency built around a foundational document called The Vancouver Declaration. My book is about what happened that year and is a snapshot not just of Vancouver but of how people around the world began to view cities and themselves differently in the wake of, among other things, the first oil crisis.
This blog is a long, somewhat messy photo essay on the history and politics of design. The socio-historical context of design - that is, the origin of the design of objects, dwellings and cities - seems too often ignored. Historical knowledge can be fugitive in the New World, with everything so decontextualized in the flow of commodities. Don't even get me started on tumblr and pinterest.
In the interest of not wasting anyone's time, aesthetically speaking I am more interested in the modern/contemporary and the ancient than I am in many of the eras and styles that lie in between. I somehow don't understand the appeal of cathedrals and the baroque, which I find garish and oppressive. I like the space-age and the futuristic on the one hand and the rustic on the other, but also the utopian and the anti-utopian, the unstuffy and the unstaid, the frugal but sensual, the possibly-not-entirely-lost promise of the 1960s and 70s, the creative, the practical, the ingenious, the mixed, the unorthodox, and the way people actually live in real spaces. I am interested in bricolage, in making do, hacks and the way necessity constantly mothers invention.
I appreciate the sheer level of cultural borrowing evident in design, the undeniable impurity of design traditions long considered pure, and just generally the wild miscegenation of everything.
That's not to say that all mixing is a good idea. I'm definitely not talking about the faux-historification of our cities, the demolition of our actual past followed by its replacement with a faux nineteenth-century 'originality'. That's when you get elements of the past and the future, combining to make something not quite as good as either, as the Mighty Boosh would say.
Because design is never divorced from anything else, this long essay is also about urban planning, philosophy, art, political economy, architecture, sociology, geography, neurology, pyschology and anything else that pertains to design, which is everything.
The word "ouno" is a name in both Finnish and Japanese, two of my favourite nations for design. Apropos of nothing, the word also contains the symbols for both zero and one, and it's the same right side up as upside down. My dad was a mathematician in love with puzzles, so please excuse the nerd quotient here and the arithmophilia.
Speaking of which, this blog makes no attempt to avoid being nerdy or critical. There are plenty of nicey-nice boosterist design blogs out there and if that's what you're looking for, you will happily find many of those out there on the internet. I wouldn't blame you for going there. I just think that without critique and complaint, the design of dwellings and cities in North America won't get any better. And it needs to get a lot better than it is—less creatively impoverished, more democratic and a lot more pleasurable. We do after all spend almost all of our lives in buildings and towns and cities and altered landscapes, all of which have a overwhelming impact on our conscious lives, our unconscious lives, our health, intelligence, creativity and our social interactions. These things affect us every moment of our lives whether we're aware of them or not. And not only do we need more humane spaces in which to live, we need—above all—to ensure affordable housing for all. Without this, all our interest in decor is just privileged fiddling while Rome (or insert your city here) burns. Housing is a human right. Public policy and regulation are the only ways to insure people are housed and can afford to live in the cities where they work. The market and private industry are not going to get us there.
We all need to fight the worsening property speculation! Dear Canada and the USA and beyond, quit letting developers run—and ruin—this show.