Architecture Monday

What I love most about this new theatre building is its continuous use of a particular material, but in two forms.  Ok, that’s a bit of a word play, for a good chunk of the building is made from board formed concrete.  As the name implies, this is where planks of wood are used as the formwork for concrete, and the resulting surface of the concrete inherits the rich impression of these planks of wood.  In other words, it looks like wood planks, only in concrete.

And this building uses it everywhere.  The walls, the floors, the angular bits of the stairs, the rough and irregular texture permeates throughout.  Sometimes it’s left as is, while sometimes it’s been stained slightly black to bring out further richness. Something about this really works for me in the theatre context.

Even better is when they pair it with actual wood planks (the second form I was alluding to above), giving this wonderful play between them where there is a continuation of texture yet still a difference in colour and feel.

A couple of simple materials deployed in multiple ways, I dig it!

Theatre Squared by Marvel (who also did the St. Ann’s Warehouse Theatre that I blogged about about here!)

Architecture Monday

Check out this pretty glorious example of midcentury modern design, in the form of a church in Toronto.  Slightly expressive, and slightly reserved, it’s a neat exercise in form, contrast, colour, and light.

Sadly, I could only find a couple of images of the inside, but they do tell most of the story of how the two parabolic sets of gluelam beams soar upwards yet don’t meet, leaving a gap for a band of windows that lets light filter down the wall in a soft gradient of light.  A similar shift of planes happens at the altar end of the church, bathing the back wall in a similar light with the potential to cast a dramatic shadow of the cross (which also reminds me of Tadao Ando’s Chapel on Mount Rokko done nearly 30 years later).  At the same time, the opposite sides of the nave and the apse are punctuated by small coloured windows.

There’s so much nifty stuff going on here, starting with the light play above which is further enhanced by having the taller lit parabola be white to catch the light, while the other side is a darker wood to accentuate the colourful piercings.  On that same side we have an aisle of sorts, formed between the space of the gluelam and the outside wall with a zig-zag ceiling that becomes a brow both inside and out, while outside, that same wall faces the street and is clad in a richly toned quarried stone.  And while the pipe organ seems to be a more recent addition, but hovers like a pair of sails that mimic the rising paraboloids.

What’s also cool is that the architecture firm who designed this also designed some very iconic and long-lasting urban icons, including Ontario Place (whose pods fascinated me as a kid), Canada Place, and the Eaton’s Centre!  (And the equally nifty Parkwoods Church nearby in North York.)  I’d never realized they were all done by the same firm… that’s some serious design chops.

Unfortunately, this church is currently up for sale and its days may well be numbered, very likely to be replaced with some banal cookie-cutter subdivision homes.  But if you’ve got $7m Canadian you could take this and turn it into some pretty sweet digs for yourself!

West Ellesmere United Church by Zeidler Partnership.

Architecture Monday

Now this is one heck of a design constraint!  A super narrow and super long trapezoidal lot in Tokyo, that is further constrained by setbacks from the property lines. Nothing like that kind of limitation to get the creative juices flowing, and the resulting lantern of a house is one nifty solution.

It’s cool enough on the outside, but to really get what’s going on within I find a section through the building tells the story the best:

The big move is to place most of the living spaces underground where the setback didn’t apply, thus maximizing the available width (still only about 10’ wide!).  A long and linear (ok, natch, how could it be anything but long and linear on this property?) kitchen occupies the middle of the basement, with a living room up front and the washroom in back.  Upstairs is the bedroom with (again) a linear hallway leading to the back door. What makes this all work, however, is that the building skin is made of translucent panels, and the floors above are of metal mesh, allowing light to suffuse and penetrate all the way down to the basement living areas.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any photos looking towards the living room or the bedroom area, which is too bad as those are likely some of the most powerful places within the house.  But the experience of being in this luminous cathedral-ceiling like house has got to be pretty neat no matter where you are.

I love it, a great example of taking something that seems unusable and turning it into something of wonder.  Great work.

Lucky Drops by Atelier Tekuto

Architecture Monday

There’s something that I quite like about this train station in Dinan, France.  Built in 1879, it’s got this interesting mix of old school form, art deco-ish ornament, and some clean lines of modernism, all wrapped up into one.  And check out that rotated clock tower – you don’t see that very often!  Complete with ornamental bas-relief bells and a spare but bold design of the clock itself.

The delight continues inside too… check out that serious corbelling of the ceiling in the corners, at the base of which is a light?  Now that’s neat.  And the classic map along the upper band, with art-deco touches beneath.

I learned of this station through an adjacent new welcoming platform which is in of itself interesting.  A wood lattice canopy “supported” at one end by two earthen forms (one conical, one more amorphous) that recalls the medieval construction the region is known for.   Also with bonus trees that grow up and through the canopy above…

What a glorious assemblage!  Old and new, in many senses of the words, brought together to serve the rails.

La Garre de Dinan, old station designed by Georges-Robert Lefort and new canopy by Fouquet Architecture Urbanisme.

Electric Obfuscation

I want to talk about this ‘article’ posted on USA Today that makes the claim that operating an electric vehicle is somehow shockingly more expensive than a regular car (and, thus, you should consider staying away).

Upfront, I will say I find this article is contrived and it does not align at all with my experience of electric vehicle ownership.  Quite the contrary:  owning an electric car has had significantly lower operating costs for me.  (It’s one of the reasons I love it so much.)

1) You likely won’t need to buy a home charger.  I can’t speak for every single electric car on the market, but I’ve not heard of one that cannot plug into a standard 120v outlet.  So there’s no cost there if you want to stick with regular L1 charging.

2) If you want to upgrade, at least with my Model 3  I could go to 240v charging simply by having a 240v/50A circuit installed with the correct outlet as the car came with an adapter.  This cost me a couple of hundred bucks for the electrician to run some cable and conduit.  Not very much.

3) HERE’S THE BIGGEST MENTAL HURDLE TO OVERCOME FOR MOST OF US.  Do you ever fret about leaving the house and needing to find a special place to charge your phone?  No, you do not, because you charge at home and can leave with a full charge.  The same is true with an electric car.  You plug in when you get home.  Even on an 120V circuit, you are getting ~5miles of charge per hour.  That’s not super fast, but a typical car will spend 10h or so in the garage from the evening and overnight.  That’s 50mi of charge, which will cover most people’s commutes.  If you have a 240V charger, then you can get a full charge in a couple of hours.*  Deadhead miles and time investiture while you wait for something to charge is, for the most part, not an issue.**

4) Their purported cost of charging, however, is where I take the greatest exception.  Where I live has relatively expensive power costs.  And I even pay extra for 100% renewable electricity (75% wind, 25% solar).  It’s well less than 30c per kWH off peak.  When I drive, my car is using <250WH per mile.  If I were to compare this to a 50mpg car, then to drive an equivalent 50 miles I would use 12.5kWH which would cost me $3.75 — and to be clear that’s both rounding up on the energy per mile I use to drive, rounding well up on the cost of electricity, and using a very high mileage car as a comparison point.  And I still end up a bit cheaper than a gallon of gas here.  Remove those artificial inflation points and my actual comparative cost would be less.

5) In addition, there’s almost no maintenance to an electric car. No belts, oil changes, spark plugs, wire, tensioners, filters, or etc. I’ve not had to bring my car in for servicing since I bought it 4 years ago.  This brings down the operating costs even further.

Between less “fuel” cost and less  maintenance cost, I estimate I will save thousands of dollars of operating costs compared to that of my previous gas-powered car.

In short, I find this article is narrow and contrived.  There are ways to make EV ownership more expensive, but why would you want to?  You could also write an article saying here are the things to watch out for to ensure you’re not making EV ownership more expensive, but that’s not what this article does either.   Of the “4 extra costs,” the first is not entirely necessary (the cost of a home L2 charger, and even if you do include the cost, over what timeframe did this study average it?  If you install it and own the home and EVs for 20 years, the cost becomes truly minimal), the second ignores the phone effect (you can charge at home), the third is non-universal (an EV tax?), and the fourth also ignores the phone effect (why would you need deadhead miles?  how many of these are they estimating?  what cost are they assigning it?).

I find this article misleads and that’s a shame.

* If you live in a rental unit without outlets, then this could be of concern and would need the landlord to install outlets.  But especially with economies of scale, that might not be that large of a hurdle.  Years ago, some of the parking lots at my University already had outlets to each stall to plug in your block heaters, which displays the ease of bringing power to parking.

** This is especially weird as the main instigator of this so-called study owns a Porsche.  You’re telling me that person couldn’t afford to install home charging and, while they sleep, get 200+ miles?

*** Let’s use their values, too, OK?  They say 33 MPG car at $2.81/gallon (certainly not there now), costs $8.58 for fuel (not including maintenance).  Let’s say your EV uses 300WH per mile.  100 miles is 30kWH times .30 per kWH equals $9.  Note my actual cost at home, using my actual overall efficiency and cost of electricity is about $5.40, but I’m rounding up to account for other people’s driving habits and costs on commercial chargers.  But even if it was $9, that’s not exactly breaking the bank, and you save much of that amount in lack of maintenance.

**** The article states that charging rates can vary by 100% on a week to week basis.  That one I really am curious about — I’ve never encountered that with any of the charging spots I’ve seen or used.  Electricity pricing in some states must be really weird.

Architecture Monday

I like this, a building ‘rescued’ from it’s intended undifferentiated glass box origins, taking the raw concrete frame and building something that is more in tune with its context and the environment in which it sits.  With colour, pattern, and plenty of greenery, it is at once nicer to look at, nicer to be in, and nicer to the planet.

The whole idea is quite clever in a rather logical way.  The side of the building that sees the most sun in this hot and humid environment houses the stair core and other utility elements, creating a buffer to keep heat and glare out.  The other two sunny sides are surrounded by open-air balconies, two of which are encased in a colorful set of scrim, shifting in geometric patterns to create openings out of which plants poke their leaves towards the sun.  The other two levels are protected by the overhang and more potted plants.

Heat and glare are kept out, and you’re working next to a little garden oasis.  Even more so when you open the sliding doors and let the breeze flow through.  As a supreme bonus, check out the little reading nook, nestled into the walls throughout!

Sweet work.  A building that could have been a pillbox that instead found life as a nifty object that’s lush and creates a wonderful space inside, all while needing less energy to run.  That’s what it’s all about.

MGB Headquarters by Spacefiction Studio

Architecture Monday

What do you do when an old building in a dense urban area finds itself ready for new tenants?  Especially when that building is now surrounded by much taller and larger buildings, and there is a premium on developing new space?  As much as I love adaptive reuse, sometimes the pressure to densify argues to do something more.  An “easy” solution is to incorporate the existing building – or at least the existing façade – into the new one, often as a base for a new high-rise.

And then there’s the opportunity to do something much more radical.

The above project is, alas, only a concept piece and the land owners aren’t gong forward with it… but what a concept!  Beyond just making more commercial space, this idea was to take the over-a-century-old building and turn it into a cultural and art facility, doubling its floor area by literally mirroring it.  The result would have been this double-take inducing, water-like, reflection of the building hovering over the existing one.

What a mind trip!

Though, not a complete mind trip, as there would have been an additional new element added to the rear to house further facilities and, nicely, another stage facing an adjacent park.  So from certain angles that would have ‘broken’ the illusion.  But who cares, from so many other angles, even if you caught a glimpse of the rooftop canopy shell the illusion of the inverted building would’ve remained strong and kept all its ‘woah’ factor.

Again, alas, not to be, but one damn cool idea.

Station C Queen West Art Centre by Paul Raff Studio

Architecture Monday

A play of light and shadow, a patter of falling rain, a breeze that flows throughout, and a house that organizes itself around a covered courtyard pool, with geometric perforated concrete panels that lets all the above happen.

And geometric boldness pretty much rules the day all throughout the house.  There’s lots of cool stuff going on, as the house pulls and stretches this way and that to catch the light or a breeze.  Or to catch a tree, embracing a towering royal palm tree that becomes another courtyard.

The great hall, no surprise, is really the centerpiece, opening without barrier to the pool with the three skylights (two angled to catch the morning sun, the other to catch the evening) being just the beginning as the concrete screen above the pool further lets the light dance about.  As a bonus, the cross-ventilation from this open screen above the pool, plus those on the front and back of the house, keeps it cool and pleasant and lets everyone be late into the evening before any lights need to be turned on.

Great designs embrace their context, and this house does so in spades.  Great work, and looks like a very fun place to live.

Casa Delpín by Nataniel Fúster

Architecture Monday

Ah, here’s another cool project (this one for a small coffee shop in Japan) that inhabits the space underneath a railroad bridge/trestle.  Nestled under one of its many repeating arches, it’s exactly what it says on the tin.  Patinaed concrete, rich exposed brick, and a double curve of the arched ceiling and concave back wall.

Nifty, and a nice complement to the Arches Project and to the Vans complex (both in the UK) which also inhabit under-rail spaces.

Blue Bottle Coffee Chiyoda City by Schemata Architects