Philosophy Tuesday

“Aside from the animals, there are nearly a thousand abstract signs and shapes we cannot interpret and also several negative hand stencils, as they are known by art historians. These are the paintings that most interest me. They were created by pressing one hand with fingers splayed against the wall of the cave and then blowing pigment, leaving the area around the hand painted. Similar hand stencils have been found in caves around the world from Indonesia to Spain to Australia to the Americas to Africa. We have found these memories of hands from 15,000 or 30,000, or even 40,000 years ago.

These hand stencils remind us of how different life was in the distant past. Amputations, likely from frostbite, are common in Europe and so you often see negative hand stencils with three or four fingers. And life was short and difficult. As many as a quarter of women died in childbirth. Around 50% of children died before the age of five.

But they also remind us that the humans of the past were as human as we are, their hands indistinguishable from ours. These communities hunted and gathered and there were no large caloric surpluses so every healthy person would’ve had to contribute to the acquisition of food and water.

And yet somehow, they still made time to create art, almost as if art isn’t optional for humans.”

John Green

(from this episode of his great podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed)

(which was animated into this amazing video by Kurzgesagt)

Architecture Monday

Culture house, community locus, and an example of lovely design, this new library in Tingbjerg alights amidst a garden city that was once a model city but has fallen into one of grave challenges.

It’s hard to choose what’s more striking at first glance… the large glazed façade that acts like a beacon, showcasing the activities within, or the bold wedge shape that, from certain angles, makes the whole thing read like a giant picture frame.  And that shape is not just some fancy thing chosen for frivolity.  Instead it was crafted quite deliberately as a way of bridging the scale from the existing school it connects with while also crating entry courts to both itself and the school.  In addition, the exterior cladding (which is mirrored within), with its strong vertical banding, is a nod in colour and in texture to the surrounding buildings.

The intricacies continue inside, with multiple rooms and levels all tetrising together to serve the building’s many functions, be it library, learning, performances, resource center, community room, and beyond.  The multi-levels follow the shape of the wedge through a big atrium, peeling back like a mountainous town and allowing views and interactions while also providing a sweet spatial experience for the many different uses.

This is cool.  Architecture can be a great force multiplier, which is to say that through design and the creation of great space it can boost the effects of action and bolster the community.  Provided, of course, that such action and community is being supported in the first place (otherwise it can also be a multiplier, but in the negative direction).  I hope that proves to be the case here.

The Tingbjerg Library by Cobe

Architecture Monday

I love how the craft is so much on display in this building.  Built by local artisans, it’s all the ways the bamboo is used on this project that stands out, whether woven into patterned screens, thatched, or, my favourite, intricately roped together to form attractive columns, beams, and diagonal supports.

The other main building material is mud, a most decidedly local and abundant building material..  Through its amorphous shape it strikes an interesting silhouette while sliding nicely into its surroundings.

The inside is airy and colourful, but the pièce de resistance has got to be the little ‘grottos’ that are carved under a ramp connecting its two levels. What a fun little retreat!

Lovely work.  Expressive, local, and another example of a mighty fine building done without needing an eye-watering budget.  Good design never need be thought of as a luxury.

The Anandaloy Center by  Studio Anna Heringer.  (Also a winner of a World Architects’ Obel Award)

Architecture Monday

Just a fun jaunt tonight to celebrate the one and only Toronto City Hall!

The conceptual sketch of the city council chamber, which became the centrepiece of the whole design:

And the council chamber UFO itself:

The architect on site, during its construction:

Opening day/night:

By many measures, the city hall has been ultra-successful in being a grand civic centre.  Perhaps it’s no surprise it was designed by a Finnish architect, given what I saw during my Nordic trip last year.   The area enclosed by the elevated walkway… actually, let’s talk about this for a bit, because it’s a well-used piece of design that clearly creates a feeling of enclosure and demarcates this public square from the street all without being an actual barrier.  Once within, you know it and it becomes it’s own realm, one that is very much used by the public it serves, perhaps most famously during the winter, when the water feature becomes a free ice skating rink.

It’s so forward inspiring It’s been used in numerous movies, including this Star Trek Next Gen episode (which I totally remember seeing and being amused seeing it being represented as this futuristic building):

One of my professors in university (the wonderful and irreplaceable Don Westwood) worked on the project when he was just starting out in his architecture career.  He showed the drawings on the screen, including his initials, which he then pretended to be embarrassed at doing.  He worked on details for the scalloped concrete panels along the back half:


I’m loving the new green roof/public gardens on the plinth, gotta check these out next time I visit during the summer:

Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square by Viljo Revell

Architecture Monday

When there’s no room to put a town museum in the town proper… sometimes you can create new room!  In this case, by turning the building into a prominent and striking new bridge.

Overall, this is a nice fusion of the old surroundings with a new reinterpretation of form while also leveraging the country’s covered bridge tradition.  The ends securing the bridge are very much nestled within the existing housing stock that lines the river, which really lets the museum become a part of the town.  The galleries inside benefit from the unobstructed light and views, and as a nice bonus the whole thing also provides new (unrestricted, not part of the museum) pedestrian access over the river.

A bold solution to a site constraint that creates new community connection both in the form of the museum and in the literal crossing of the river.  Great stuff.

The Jishou Art Museum by Atelier FCJZ

Architecture Monday

Maybe it’s something about spending so much time indoors that has me looking at libraries so much of late… whatever the reason, here’s another lovely one and one that I can check out the next time I can head back home to visit!

Wood.  Definitively lots of wood going on here.  Big, muscular, impressive wood, using engineered mass timber construction from responsibly managed lands (I am unsure if this is FSC certified, but I hope so).  Arranged like a series of curving splayed fingers, each topped with a green roof, it opens towards the public square with a giant portico.  It’s got great visual complexity, changing appearance from every angle, its various bits always in a dance with each other.

That beefy post and beam structure allows all below to be enclosed entirely with glass.  Inside the veritable forest of leaning trunks and all that light makes for a vibrant experience, almost cathedral-like.  It also allows for maximum flexibility; as its role evolves over time, the library can shuffle itself around to suit the needs of the community.

A very cool, engaging, and fun design.  Top shelf work.

The Scarborough Civic Centre Library by LGA.

Philosophy Tuesday

So much of our lives seem to revolve around zero-sum games.  Certainly, many of the actual games we play reinforce that idea, that there is a single (even if it’s a team) winner and everyone else falls short.  Or as we get caught up in the false-gravity game of money and the economy of scarcity.  Or when we were young and told to share our toys or treats with a friend or brother or classmate – that was super clear, wasn’t it?  If I gave you half my cookie, then I had less for me (and certainly no more cookie was coming).

To be sure, there are zero-sum instances and games around, both the real and the ones we play (often inadvertently) as though they were real.  But it is well worth remembering that not everything is one, and it is even more fruitful to live as though zero-sum games are the exception.

Love, happiness, generosity, wellbeing, joy, passion, satisfaction, vitality, health, performance, productivity, laughter, kindness, fulfillment, peace… there are so many areas in life where the things are not finite, are not created and destroyed in equal measures.  They are abundant, never-ending, available to be pulled from, always gushing forth to allow us to drink from the proverbial firehose.

True, we may need to get over our own barriers to do so, and those barriers may be mighty indeed, but through this world of abundance and generosity we gain oodles of support and care, buoying us as we work our way to overcome or, even better, dismantle the barriers.

In this realm we get to play whole different kind of games, ones that have us build and grow and feel big and great and happy.  And while the Buddha never really said the following, it’s a fine place to remind us of this non-zero-sum place in which to stand and live from:

Voices in Unison: “I Don’t Matter” Edition

All throughout this crazy year, I have been inviting people to vote.  There are stark reminders every day of the difference between bad or absent or incompetent or self-serving “leadership”, and what’s possible under competent leaders.  And so today I’d like to extend a special invitation to those who say “My vote doesn’t matter” with these responses…

My vote doesn’t matter; TLDR version:  In short, this question:  if your vote doesn’t matter, then why are they doing all they can to violate your right to vote, both in ability and in its impact?  Whether it be by closing polling places, or implementing unnecessary and onerous voting ID and registration issues, or making information difficult to discover, or participating in extreme gerrymandering, or linking voting rights to the paying of fines and fees, or attacking mail in voting, or creating a false panic about fraud, or simply to engage in behavior that is designed to put you off voting, there is so a lot being done to decrease voter turnout.  And they cement it in place by fostering that very feeling you have, that feeling that your vote doesn’t matter.  They want you to think it doesn’t matter, that it’s too hard, that you’re better off staying home and just not vote.  Because they know that the less people vote, the easier it is for them to influence the outcome.  The more people they can get to tune out, and the more roadblocks they can throw in the way, the greater the impact of their fervent base upon which they can count on to show up while at the same time making it easy for their base to vote.  Which, in turn, makes it easy to gain the power.  By doing all this they get to break the system and choose their electorate, not, as it should be, the other way around.  To that, I say no.  Please vote. Continue reading