Wonder Wednesday: (Wonderland) Coaster Edition!

I just discovered a roller coaster named Taron that resides in a German amusement park (Phantasialand).  And it.  Looks.  Awesome:

Why so awesome?  It’s a launched coaster, yes (double launched, in fact!).  It looks quick and twisty and the track is a magnificent pretzel of pretzelness all over itself.  But above, and 1000% beyond that, is  the themeing, and moreover, the glorious way the train interacts with this themeing.  The twisting around, through, over, and behind all the buildings, cliffs, and water features, with near misses and inches away and hovering overs.  It’s inseparable.

When I was envisioning my replacement for Canada’s Wonderland’s (that’s… awkward to type) Dragon Fyre, this is pretty much EXACTLY the kind of thing I was thinking of.*  Throw on some inversions, and stretch the track out longer (I hadn’t envisioned it quite so pretzel-y, but having some good pretzel areas would let it be longer!), end it with the waterfall trick, and you have just what I wanted.  A launched coaster that interacts with its fabulously themed environment.

Phantasialand overall is a spectacularly themed park.  It seems nearly all of their rides are not just simple isolated affairs, they’re all deliciously integrated into themed areas, be they indoors, through terrain, or some combination therein.  Case in point, their inverted coaster is a perfect example of how to make an inverted coaster extra amazing, with a great lift hill and all these near misses and knee/head/arm/etc scraping moments along the way:

Their flume ride, their mountain train ride, their drop rides, their river rides, all crazily well themed.  Heck, one of their tamer coasters even has you going over some convincing rope bridges!

Such a delight to see a park (beyond Disney) taking themeing so seriously and making it such an integral part of their park, and using that themeing to take their rides into extra levels of excitement and wickednes.  I so want to go visit now!


* Well, I had indicated it to be hydraulically launched, but LSMs have come a long way and it’s a much better launch tech now.  Plus, as with Taron, you can get a second boost to make the latter half of the ride even more exhilarating than the first!

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

It was a few minutes before the start of a little Tai Chi seminar that I teach yearly at a local convention.  I was off to the side, stretching and getting ready and thinking of how to run the class when someone approached me.  I remembered them from last year, and we said hello and how do you do, and then they began sharing something.

“My dad and I have never really been close.  He’s practiced Tai Chi for years, but I’ve never really paid any attention to it.   After doing your seminar last year though, I went up to him and, for the first time ever, asked him about it.  And we started doing Tai Chi together.  It’s really been a way for us to connect in a way we never had before.”

They paused for a moment before continuing.

“I have a relationship with my dad now.  Thank you for running this seminar.”

It’s hard to start a class with tears in your eyes, as we both did in that moment.

One thing that is certain in life:  we never fully know the impact(s) we have on the lives of others.

We can be a contribution to people in so many ways. *

In all of what we can do in our lives, in all the ways we can be, in all the ways we can treat other people, in all the “why bother” moments we may have, in the face of all the times we think “what difference does it make”, there’s a reminder here.  A reminder that we are not an island.

Even more so, there’s an invitation here.  An invitation to call ourselves forward, to be generous, to be magnanimous, to be friendly, and to be out there, engaged, pursuing, and sharing all the great things.

Because even the smallest, strangest, unlikely, unrelated, and seemingly inconsequential things we do and say can have huge impacts on others.  We can touch people, we can inspire people, we can move people to action.  We can help create what we want for ourselves and others.

Because even a frivolous and short playtime session with Tai Chi, in the midst of a social-heavy convention, can lead to amazing breakthroughs and personal victories.


* Likewise, it is equally important to remember that we can just as easily be a detraction and cause distress and complications with our actions and words, whether intentional or simply careless.  Again, we may never know the impact(s) we’ve had (and if we find out we’ve been a jerk, we can go “eep!” and learn and apologize).  But we can walk through life with this in mind, being responsible for our impact on people and the world, and choosing to be in a way that honours us all.

Architecture Monday

Start with a very tight and narrow site – 15′-9″ wide by 82′-0″ long and bordered by buildings on either side – and add in equally tight finances.  This was a house for the client’s mother, replacing one on the same site that was falling apart at the seams.   And because it was a replacement, it had to be built very quickly.

the very narrow site in context
the very narrow site in context

These are the kind of challenges architects love.  And love making magic out of.

The resulting house design is a wonderful exercise in the use of space.  The house is a bit like a dumbbell, with a main living space up front and a bedroom in back, connected by a long corridor that borders a couryard.  While it may seem odd to have a courtyard in such a narrowly-confined building, it is this courtyard that prevents the house from becoming a dark tunnel.

Letting generous light into all corners of the home, the courtyard is the property’s “lawn”, becoming an additional room during the good weather months, a perfect place for hanging out in the warm evenings.  The roof of the building, accessed via a second bedroom stacked above the main floor bedroom, also serves as a deck and even a roof garden for growing vegetables, further expanding the amount of “yard” space available on the tight lot.

Simple and readily available materials rule the roost in the house, handled with excellent detail to make them sing.  I especially like the concrete ribbed ceiling/roof – a very simple precast concrete panel that is quite akin to wood panelling that also has its own sensual feel from the smooth concrete texture.  These planks are also arranged such that the joints line up at points with the joint lines in the concrete blocks and even along some walls.  It may not seem like that would change the feel of the space much, but the eye notices, leaving the space feeling refined, whole, and unified.

Narrow framed black windows play up the the contrast between the heavy concrete walls and the light-filled gaps.  The many windows let in copious amounts of light, especially in the hallway that doubles as a kitchen, laundry, and utility area.  It’s a great double purpose area, taking advantage of the linear nature of the activities to combine them with circulation down the long site, leaving as much space as possible to the courtyard.

Even the exposed surface-mounted conduit shows a level of careful detail.  What could have seemed like a slapdash and cheap solution instead, through precise and clean installation, feels quite proper and adds to the clean lines and airiness of the house.

A lovely piece of design, creating a vibrant house that fits the constraints beautifully.  A great example of how good architecture doesn’t require lots of land or lots of expensive materials, rather, it simply takes care, skill, and design.

Vila Matilde by Terrae Tuma Arquitetos Associados

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

What do you do when the rug is pulled out from under you?

We all know that feeling, the scary, tumbling in the void feeling when what we thought was so turns out to not be so.

Sometimes we thought we had our chequebook, and we don’t.  That’s embarrassing.

Sometimes, though, it’s much more.

It could be a friendship – or more – we thought was true ends abruptly or turns vicious or simply uncaring.  It could be a state of affairs that lo and behold is quite different than we expected.  It could be an identity that we’ve clung to and fought so hard to keep alive finally goes away and we see what really lies before us.

Our world view(s) get popped.  Usually at very inconvenient times.

It can be vicious.  It can be upsetting.  It can make one sick.

It can feel like an aching loss.

And there’s nothing wrong with feeling that.  Reality losses can be very jarring.

However, even in that painful morass, there’s something interesting there.

The loss, it turns out, is kind of a false loss.  For there was nothing there to begin with.

The only loss that happened was the losing of a falsehood.  The loss of an erroneous worldview.

Therefore nothing’s truly been lost, only gained:  a clarity of what’s actually there.

It becomes a chance to be present and mindful and see powerfully what’s actually so.

It becomes a chance to discover.

It becomes a chance to create.

It becomes a chance for action.

Inside of the hurt and shock and surprise, we can take stock, and true ourselves to who we want to be.

We can listen to our authentic voices and choose what is next.

And we can begin, step by step, down that new path.

Architecture Monday

Last Tuesday, I had a chance to go up to the city to see Bjarke Ingels of BIG (the architecture firm) be interviewed as part of the City Arts and Lectures series.  I’ve portrayed some of the work of the firm’s work here before, and am (nearly) always delighted at the solutions they create.

Turns out they’re doing a new residential development in Vancouver, right near the bridge that leads to Granville Island (a place that is of itself a very nifty place, a great urban market, I love it there).  And as expected, it’s no typical building.

Just as the Flatiron building in New York City was a response to the shape of its site, and the unique conditions of its place and time, so too does Vancouver House.  The main tower is a bit puzzling at first, from certain angles, given the way it grows from a narrow base that seems, shall we say, unstable.  But after that first shock, it unfolds nicely into rich and textured (almost like a woven mat) edifice, with an even niftier base.

This is the part I like the most about the project.  Rather than a monolithic and blocky plinth for the tower to sit on, the building rises up in the spaces created by the branching structure of the bridge ramps.  Further split by pathways and courtyards, a kind of artificial geography is created (reinforced by the green roofs), with plenty of windows to engage the street and parkland created.

Which may be my second most favourite thing about this project.  Underneath this bridge, the space is being tuned into an actual art gallery, with huge light-boxes hung from above to display an ever-rotating collection of artworks created by the students from the nearby art college on Granville island.  It’s a new use of the space that takes advantage of and comes alive because of the heavy bridge and shaded environment , not in spite of it.  It’s using what’s there for its strengths.

courtesy of BIG
courtesy of BIG

The whole project is a creation and reflection of the constraints of the site.  The delicate curve and shape of the residential tower came from the requirement of minimum distance from the bridge to any housing unit, as well as preserving light into an existing adjacent park.  It’s a design that comes from play, clearly, but play that teases out a design only after rigorous research and exploration of intention.

During the lecture, the interviewer intimated that,  “your work ends up being almost too clever, but it isn’t.  It never crosses that line and becomes crazy.  At the same time, there feels like there’s a simple idea of clarity that is carried through.”  I’m excited to see how well this project turns out in completion, and how well it manages to capture (or not) the elegance of the renderings and the ideas.

Guess I’ll need to visit Vancouver again!

(BTW – If you’re reading this on the week of November 21st, 2016, and live in an area where City Arts and Lectures plays on your NPR / Public Radio station, the edited version of the lecture will be playing this week!)

(Double bonus!  A video of Bjarke explaining the project with some rather nifty graphics:

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

“Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished:

if you’re alive,

it isn’t.”

– Richard Bach

(I really like this quote.  Compared to other quotes that may speak of destiny or try shaming us into finding some great purpose, this is an invitation.  It says to me “Hey, you’re not sure if you’ve created anything?  Not sure if you’ve had an impact?  You have.  Oh, by the way, you’re not done having an impact.  Have a look out there.  What would you like to do?  What would you like to create?  What does your core say is a self-expression for you?  Yeah, that.  Cool.  I invite you to go do that.  Go for it.  You’ve got life in you still.  Let’s go live.”)

Architecture Monday

Oh wow I so love this project!   This is a great renovation and re-use of a communal courtyard in Beijing.  This used to be the common building type across the city, with a dozen or so families sharing the courtyard.  Over generations, each family built little additions and outbuildings to increase their space, until a little warren was created.

before the renovation
before the renovation

The designers took this space, and rather than demolish it completely, re-invented it to contain a simple program:  children’s library, reading space, and art space.  The courtyard is no longer as crammed, but it maintains the same character, with the complex interplay between enclosed and open spaces.  They even managed to keep the one building wrapping around the tree.

And oh my yes, that art space around the tree!  The way the window faces the tree, making it front and centre when inside, is fabulous.  Equally so is the rough and grey brick that form stairs and a myriad of platforms, letting child and adult alike use the outside for play, for reading, or just to reach the branches of the tree above.

The library is artfully tucked under an existing roof, emerging in a boxlike protrusion that hovers mysteriously over the courtyard floor, it’s big window inviting investigation (as well as providing a seat and plenty of light).  Inside, the 3D puzzle of shelves, benches, and window alcoves creates this playful environment and lots of different places to set yourself down to read, whether you want privacy or openness, light or enclosure.

Everything is done with simple materials put together with precision, the warm wood a nice contrast to the grey brick and concrete tinted with Chinese ink that itself ties into the surrounding buildings and the feeling of longevity and continuity of the courtyard.

This is a glorious little insertion into an existing realm.  It isn’t fully an adaptive re-use, but it is carrying forth the essence of what lived there before, without aping it and without being a pastiche.  Simply done with simple materials, with pure, well proportioned forms and a dash of playfulness.  Great design makes this one wonderful series of spaces to be in and on top of.  Very well done, I love it lots!  (and it seems I’m not the only one…)

Micro-Yuan’er  by ZAO/standardarchitecture