Archive for the ‘Canadian design’ Category

Interior design and architecture in a world gentrifying at a surreal pace

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

hong kong micro apartments

New York condo penthouse

In case you think that what follows is an exaggeration, please take a quick look at the recent articles listed below. They are only a small selection from a rising wave of articles on gentrification and the new super-rich. It’s interesting that the New York-based City Limits piece mentions Vancouver first; we are after all a world leader in unaffordability, non-regulation, luxury towers and property speculation. But the Paris article is particularly depressing. I’m not even going to go into the mega-developments inflaming Istanbul.

Financial Times:  Priced Out of Paris: Our great, global cities are turning into vast gated citadels where the elite reproduces itself
Financial Times:  The Future of the American City
City Limits:  Embrace the Worldwide Movement Against Gentrification
CBC:  World’s Wealthy Richer Than Ever

I’ve noticed little consideration of what the disappearance of the middle class is going to mean, in a concrete way, for cities, architecture and design.

As most of us are quickly priced out of our former living arrangements by the buying and investment practices of the new global elite—by the lack of regulation that allows these practices and by the real estate development industry that profits from them—most of us have only two choices. We must either migrate out to suburbs or outlying towns, or we can attempt to hang on in the cities, accepting smaller and smaller spaces, higher rents, higher land prices and rising property taxes. (Or move to another city altogether, hoping for a job in a place not subject to global speculation.) Meanwhile the very urban “density” supposedly designed to combat unsustainable urban sprawl now sits largely empty, awaiting infrequent or nonexistent visits from jet-setting owners, and sprawl proceeds apace while big developers make wild fortunes at everyone else’s expense.

It feels increasingly creepy that the “shelter magazines” promoting home decor haven’t really dealt with this yet, except in an accommodating manner. Yes, they’ve always pandered to the very rich, and to those who like to look at the homes of the very rich (myself included), and they will keep doing that. (Though I’m not sure how they’ll deal with the increasing unease about income disparity that is starting to seize all sectors of their readership, at both the top and near-bottom of the income scale.) Meanwhile there is now an entire industry in “decorating in small spaces” publications. Despite being a homewares designer myself, I realized lately that somewhere along the way I stopped buying shelter magazines. Maybe it’s that their disconnection from reality  crossed a threshold into a creepy surreality that’s part Brazil, part David Foster Wallace, part generic dystopia. That whole world seems to have its fingers in its ears right now.  La la la la I can’t hear you.

As for the design effects, the eradication of the middle class is almost certainly already affecting the design and quality of manufactured items, as well as the form of our architecture and the development of architectural styles, in ways no one seems to talk about. I’d be curious to know if anyone has yet inventoried these formal changes and market patterns. The loss of quality, the loss of design integrity, the cheapness at the low end, the grotesque baroquerie or conspicuous consumption at the top.

The first pattern that comes to mind is architects taking a back seat to developers and marketers in the profit-maximizing climate. The result is what’s known around here as “marketecture.” Increasingly the form of buildings has nothing to do with what city-dwellers or planners would like to see built, or that good architects would envision. Instead it has everything to do with what developers can get away under the limits imposed upon them by building regulations and horse-trading with city halls. The architect of these structures is pure profit maximization in partnership with what’s allowed by building codes. Insert those two parameters into a blender and what comes out at the other end is a generic glass tower. When a think tank of Harvard planners visited Vancouver last year, one of the remarked upon looking at downtown Vancouver from across False Creek “can you have good urbanism without good architecture?”

Pardon this meandering essay, which takes on too many points at once around the issues of income disparity, design, property speculation and a host of related problems. Just thinking aloud.

As for the design magazines and house porn I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at beautiful places, or that it’s wrong to be curious about how others live, nor that we should spend every minute in painful awareness that we’re fiddling while Rome burns, even if we are. It’s just that personally I don’t want to browse through any more photos of tiny, boring, contempo, cream-upholstery-with-dark-wood-veneer, cheaply built 600 sq.ft. condos that cost half a million bucks as if everything is still fine. Why are we willing to live in cramped and indebted conditions when all our surrounding culture and vibrancy is quickly exiting our cities and relocating in the suburban sprawl? While small living is good, environmentally speaking, cramped living must be offset by other cultural benefits and vibrancy. The thing is, the opposite is happening. The current speculative climate is driving those compensations away, leaving us just with unaffordability and urban sterility.

We should be pushing for multiple forms of regulation of the real estate industry, including tax deterrents and other mechanisms, and we should be forcing on governments the understanding that housing, like food, should not be viewed as just another class of asset or investment tool. Housing must be viewed as a human right and should be protected as such.

This will improve not only the affordability of our cities, and thus ensure the vibrant mix of people who live in them, but it will also improve  the physical form of our cities,  architecture and design. But I think the architecture and design communities can no longer behave as if they operate in a realm separate from an increasingly distorted political economy.

What can we do? Vote in civic elections, and make sure we don’t vote for any candidate or party that takes donations from developments. That’s rule no. 1.

Photo at top via ABC News.

small-space-decorating

Architectural photographs by Vancouver photographer Krista Jahnke

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Eames House detail, by Krista Jahnke

Eames House - Case Study House by Krista Jahnke

A small selection of architectural photographs by Vancouver photographer Krista Jahnke. Trained as an architect at Carleton University, Jahnke also has a BFA in photography from Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She’s taken some of the best shots of the Eames House I’ve seen. There are many photographs of that iconic house out there in the world, but Jahnke’s photos somehow situate the house in its environment in a different way.

See Jahnke’s site for some Vancouver architectural masterpieces and landmarks, both public buildings and private houses such as the Merrick House, and other sites abroad. She is also an award-winning designer. See here (P. 66)

Krista Jahnke

Museum Of Anthropology by Arthur Erickson, photo by Krista Jahnke

house at night by Krista Jahnke

Living Space, by Krista Jahnke

Vancouver Planetarium (HR Macmillan) by Krista Jahnke

LA Case Study House by Krista Jahnke

East Van, by Krista Jahnke

eames house by Krista Jahnke

Vancouver bean bag installation Krista Jahnke
Above, Vancouver’s Robson Square from above, showing the “Pop Rocks” white bean bag public seating installation by Matthew Soules and AFJD Studio; Jahnke was involved in the project as official photographer.

Artist George Norris (1928-2013), creator of Vancouver’s popular giant steel crab sculpture

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Vancouver Museum & Planetarium

George Norris, the artist who made what is arguably Vancouver’s most famous piece of public art—a giant steel crab in front of the Vancouver Museum and Planetarium—has died in Victoria.  It’s odd that so few know Norris’s name, considering the crab’s popularity, how prolific he was in his career, and his long art teaching career in Vancouver and Banff.

Vancouver does have a  long history of ignoring its own artists even as they’re celebrated elsewhere, but I’m still surprised that so many of Norris’ public pieces have been removed and destroyed, including the tall steel piece below which used to stand outside Pacific Centre downtown. This post is just a small reminder of Norris’ work. Find more information— here and many more works here.

One of Norris’ most popular works is the frieze on the exterior of the post office at 8th and Pine (I believe that’s the corner). Photo below.

Norris was trained in Vancouver and London at the Slade School. Norris is the uncle of award-winning Vancouver artist Arabella Campbell

Georgia & Granville – vanished Norris sculpture

George Norris Post Office frieze

 

H.R. MacMillan Planetarium, Vancouver

Kibune Sushi – perfect food, perfect interior

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Kibune Sushi - ricepaper and bamboo lamp

Kibune Sushi, Vancouver

Kibune Sushi  is one of my three favourite restaurants in Vancouver. I would have promoted it more in the past, but like many others, I suspect, I’ve selfishly tried to save it for myself. However, on behalf of the lovely owners and staff of this restaurant—Endo-san and Yoko and all our other friends there—I wanted to give it the recognition it is due. I wanted to remind Vancouverites that older, perfect restaurants like this still exist in Vancouver despite our runaway development problem. Kibune has been in this Yew Street location for 31 years, owned and run by the same people, people who have never let the quality of the food drop and who have kept the beautiful interior virtually changed.

The place was a favourite of Bill Reid, who lived nearby—my aunt and I used to take him out for lunch there when he was ailing. It was his choice. I sometimes see David Suzuki there, and the walls are lined with messages from many illustrious types who’ve visited.  Ask to see the lovely killer whale drawing Bill Reid made for Endo-san (it’s a copy, since the original was becoming threatened by theft or wear and tear).

I only expose this secret now because in Vancouver’s distorted real estate climate, I want to support smaller, non-franchise restaurants to make sure they survive and thrive. I really hope this place remains a beautiful refuge for decades more.

A few doors up Yew Street is Hapa Izakaya, full of giant TV screens, hockey and the same clientele you’d see at a sports bar. It’s more busier than Kibune is, which seems a travesty. In any other city you wouldn’t even be able to get a seat at Kibune.

As far as the menu goes, the goma-ae spinach salad (actually closer to an ohitashi in style) is by far the best one in Vancouver. Even for those who shy from the idea of eel, the barbequed unagi is completely addictive. For those who love tuna, the tuna bowl (tekka donburi) contains some of the best sushi tuna you’ll ever find. Any of the sushi is good. Try the gobo (burdock root) salad too – faintly spicy in an interesting way. It’s worth trying the specials on the board or just ask what’s good.

Lastly, for a designer, the interior of Kibune Sushi is perfect in every detail. (I’ve written about it before, in the context of the poverty of most Vancouver restaurant design.) In particular, notice the joinery’d eaves and shingled roof over the sushi bar as well as the beautiful handmade booths with peeled log posts and ricepaper screens. One of the screens is missing its ricepaper, and I’m almost certain my nephews had something to do with that, for which we apologize.

If you know me and are wanting sushi, or are coming in from out of town and want to see it, contact me and I’ll join you there.

Kibune Sushi , 1508 Yew Street at Cornwall (next to the Starbucks), Vancouver. Ph: 604-731-4482

Kibune Sushi - Joinery

Kibune Sushi - long view

Kibune Sushi, Vancouver

Kibune Sushi - sushi bar

Kibune Sushi, Vancouver

Kibune Sushi - bar details

“Christy Clark just wants your love”

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Caitlin Dodds does Christy Clark

It might be hard to fully appreciate the brilliance of this performance unless you’re familiar with the vocal mannerisms of British Columbia’s Premier Christy Clark. But this mimicry is easily as good as Tiny Fey doing Sarah Palin. I’m almost sorry that Clark  and her unliberal “Liberals” will be skunked out of office in the May election because I could watch years of Caitlin Dodds doing Christy. In the Bublé bath. With rosé.

Many more videos by the Deep Rogue Ram collective here.

Deep Rogue Ram spoof of Christy Clark

Defeating Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Joyce Murray cooperation coalition

Sorry, another post on politics, not design (but see About). And this is one that will annoy my more partisan friends, though perhaps not as much as partisanship is annoying me.

So here’s Joyce Murray‘s idea for how to get Harper—Canada’s Republican/Tea Party equivalent—out of office in the next federal election. And it’s an idea that’s coming from a party I only vote for except when tactically necessary to ensure a defeat of the Conservatives. This candidate is making a call for cooperation among all the non-Conservative parties, parties which, when combined, always receive the vast majority of Canadian votes.

Within the federal Liberal party, Joyce Murray is the only leadership candidate pledging to do this. Nathan Cullen pledged this within the NDP party but did not win the party leadership; Mulcair won and he’s not talking cooperation. Nor is Justin Trudeau, who’s touted to win the Liberal leadership bid. On the other hand Elizabeth May, leader of the Greens, has stated  Greens’ willingness to cooperate from the beginning. And now David Suzuki has endorsed Joyce Murray.

What are your thoughts on this suggestion? Whatever they are, please let’s not allow Harper to be elected again through vote-splitting. Please let’s step away from party tribalism for a minute and throw Harper out before the country is plastered in prisons, fighter jets, bitumen and public asset fire sales.