Monday, October 29, 2007

Symposium Outcome

The symposium started at 9am on Friday with student crits running all day until 4:45 in the afternoon. The morning panel was lively and quite fiery in some of the critiques, mainly with our level of timidity in slicing up the existing church. There were a lot of projects that made their interventions around the church, but rarely dealing with the actual church. In general, it was concluded the church is so shitty, it's not worth fixing; instead, you can fix what's around it. Greg Andonian (one of the senior professors at our school, my prof in 4th year) was up in arms at the amount of time wasted in reading a lot of the biblical texts. 'Analysis is Paralysis ... just design!' He also grilled us for all claiming to have a solution to the problem of the site. This, he says, is not the way to bring life back to the site -- there are a thousand problems with the site that we can't see, so just do something broadly interesting and all the problems will start to disappear.

My crit was last of the day. The afternoon critics were a different crowd. The presentation went well, and I was thankful on the one hand for having all day to observe the other crits and fine tune my oral presentation; on the other, the critters were tired and seemed like they wanted to wrap things up. Here's a retrospective explanation of my panel:

The roots for this project go back to the initial site visit with Louis and my site observation that the area around Gesù and the church itself is in a state of decay. Through exploring the site and its context, I found a lot of rough edges to the place, informing me even more that there is some kind of atrophy happening here. Through the Photographic Narrative, I started to express this conviction. The five images show that areas around the site have been vandalized, occupied by the homeless, littered, and architecturally faceless (i.e. blocked up windows/openings). The area is unmistakably neglected and disconnected from its context.

In revisiting the site, I found myself falling into the same shoes as people using the site for themselves (e.g. employees of neighbouring American Consulate Building, UQAM etc). These people never use the site in a meaningful way, but rather cross it to get to St. Catherine Street or sit at its periphery to eat lunch or smoke. People can be found in dozens at lunch break sitting on cement parking slabs, rotted wood fence posts, or even on the ground in a minute strip of grass between sidewalk and parking lot. In finding myself wanting to inhabit the same area of the site, I realized how low the standards of public living has dropped. There just isn't a go-to place on the Gesù property; there is NO public space.

This observation helped nail down what I felt was the essence of the site: Leisure Space (the public realm). The buffer between leisure space and its surrounding context of mainly labour-oriented building uses just hasn't been established. The boundaries between public + private space, personal + communal, and labour + leisure space just hasn't been established, or if it has, it's been left in the same state of neglect that the public can naturally see. This spatial turmoil, where the intermingling of these spaces are happening is causing a low standard of public life. Eating food in a parking lot is a trip-up in honouring humanity, ourselves. It's like letting a highway come in to your living room.

To step back a minute, I want to illustrate a historical phenomenon that has occurred on the site since the early 20th century. This is the occurrence of two major shifts in Montreal. The first, the relocation of the commercial district of Old Montreal to St. Catherine Street. This progression of events de-centered the old district as the main shopping area of the city. In doing so, the main shopping artery of St Catherine Street appeared and therein, the birth of the department store. This was a major economic and developmental explosion for the city, coupled with the dismantling of city defensive walls which allowed suburban growth. The second phenomenon is the decline of religious piety in Quebec. Since the 1960's the church has gradually dropped in religious participation from 88% to 28% but yet while Quebecers deny this involvement with the church, they still claim affiliation as Catholics. So this is an interesting shift from being religious to spiritual. And in this, the spirituality is happening outside and around the church but not actually in it. The connection between these two major shifts in Montreal is equally interesting. The church, for centuries has taught the commodification of salvation. If you are Catholic and pay your dues respectively, you will go to heaven, etc. With the decline of the church, rise of the shopping life, the transfer of this energy and coinage of 'buying' salvation refocused on the shopping centre and personal commodity.

In all this, St Catherine Street became a bustling community of trade. But one block away, the Gesù church could not keep pace with this level of development. It was left in the dust with no connection to its neighbour.

To go back one step further, to the idea of leisure space, I initially interpreted it as a public garden space, but as Louis has pointed out, there is an etymological link between everything I'm saying: Otium & Negotium. Otium is the Latin meaning for the garden of leisure where Greek philosophers would share knowledge. Its antonym 'negotium' means trade. What a coincidence! This makes an relevant connection of co-dependency of the meaning of these words. Without a popular public space, you dwell in a state of poverty; without a thriving commerce, your public spaces will lack popularity and became unsafe.

Here, I'm proposing my intervention. This is where a mediation between these two spaces is needed, and I'm proposing a strategy to restore this link between St Cats and the Gesù church through the design of a public leisure space. The design will include the expansion of the Centre de Créativité, an arts-based organization hidden in the basement of the Gesù to spill into this public garden in the form of an outdoor theater, its existing art exhibitions, choir practice etc. In making visible the church by smashing out the ground level of the Belgo building (currently sited between the church and St Cats), and celebrating the existing dynamic program of the Church, I hope to improve its contextual fit.

[end presentation]

Summary of Responses (from memory):


[Gesù Member]: idea makes logical sense. Why not expand Centre to outside? Public theater would be beneficial and interesting.

[me]: in the Belgo building at about the fourth floor there are dancers that can be seen/ heard. It creates one of the few uplifting feelings at the site. A ground level theater might benefit both parties.

[Kelly Crossman]: Clarification on the panel where St Catherine Street is. How do you want to open up the Belgo Building? There are some interesting examples to look at with contemporary gardens such as the Trinity Church garden in New York, Inigo Jones' park in London.

[Steve Fai]: I like the project. It would be fun to design. Gardens are the most difficult things to design. You have to think how people step on the ground. Materiality is the most important thing here, and I don't see any indication of making that step yet, but that's next. Look at the project in Ferrera -- the main cathedral. It is found through porous arcades.

[Louis]: this is what I'm interested in seeing next. Richard is reading [Walter] Benjamin [The Arcades project], and we are essentially encouraging him now to design an arcade through the Belgo building. I want to see how that is reconciled.

[Me]: The Belgo building is an amazing building because of its previous use as an experimental shopping centre. There used to be valet parking, gentlemen's cigar clubs, gambling etc...

[Gesù Member]: And a zoo!

[Me]: ...all these things. It was an experiment in living at the shopping centre. These are concepts tying in to Benjamin's writings. I want to propose a contemporary use of the shopping centre.

[Gesù Member]: It's true, most of the shopping places in Montreal and everywhere else are so uniform and sell the same thing. It would be nice to see something new here. Making a connection to St. Catherine Street but creating something new is a good thought experiment.


Thursday, October 25, 2007


This is a must-see movie I just watched. If you have seen Loose Change on Googlevideo, you'll enjoy this as a kind of sequel, by a different director.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Symposium Poster

This is the final panel as submitted today. When printed, the poster will be 5 x 3 feet tall and mounted on foam core. I'll be printing out a couple new collage images to accompany it as well. I'd like to hear your questions or criticisms of the poster - it'll help me prepare for the presentation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007 Visiting Critic Symposium Outline

"Urban Aedification"
The Architectural Liturgy of Re-Imagining the Sacred

The Carleton University School of Architecture presents "Urban Aedificaitons: The Architectural Liturgy of Re-Imagining the Sacred" as the theme for the 2007 Visiting Critic Symposium. There currently exists over 3000 religious sites in the province of Quebec with 650 of those on the island of Montreal alone. Due to shifts in religious, economic and social landscapes, a significant number of these sites, which once signified presences in our cities and villages, are necessarily undergoing a process of transformation. Through the composing of new stories for our built heritage, architects have a responsibility and role to play in the tradition of re-imagining these sacred places. Is there a future for religious heritage? What are the stories that have to be told? This symposium offers participants a forum to engage in multi-faceted discussions of the issues, implications and context that are involved in the process of re-presenting an "existing" so that we may inhabit the present while also acknowledging our collective heritage.

The 2007 Symposium is inspired by the Visiting Critic Studio. This graduate-level studio is being guided by Louis Brillant, who brings his wealth of knowledge and intimate experience of these architectural issues to the academic context. Students have been asked to contemplate the re-imagining of one specific project in Montreal. Once serving the non-extant Ste-Marie Jesuit College, the Gesù stands as a reminder of what was once there and the opportunities that exist if we are able to imagine them. Students have explored the historical, urban, social, ethical, and philosphical issues surrounding such a task and their projects will frame the discussions that take place over the two-day event, which also includes student exhibition, lecture presentation and panel discussion.


Edification: [latin: aedification] n. Intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement; enlightenment.


Tentative Schedule of Events:
Friday October 26, 2007
Morning - Late Afternoon: Student Crits
Late Afternoon: Opening of Student Work Exhibit
Evening: Lecture - Louis Brillant, Reception, Dinner

Saturday October 27, 2007
Morning - Afternoon: Panel Discussion

Prospective Panel Members/Critics
-Louis Brillant
-Marco Frascari
-Steve Fai
-Greg Andonian
-Torben Berns
-Member of Gesù Organization
-Member(s) of Heritage Conservation Group

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Reflections of Physical Model

The massing model of the church is done. This is the first step in modeling the whole urban block. Once that is done, the next step is photographing the model to represent my idea of connecting the site to its neighbouring St. Catherine Street. The photo-montage images will be worked into the final 36" x 60" panel as well. The model starts to give a sense of the church's squat proportions.

You can find the fourth photo-montage below. This is the first one that attempts to start describing the concept of 'otium' and 'neg-otium'. The engraving 'The Pilgrim's Progress' from This World to That Which is to Come, by John Bunyan can be found at the right of the church, also the elevation which faces my proposed new garden connecting the neighbouring Belgo Building. This is an introductory gesture to open up the closed environment that surrounds the church. In the background is the six-storey Belgo Building, an amazing early 20th century experiment with the living of shopping. This building, in addition to retail stores, incorporated valet parking, daycare, women's boutiques, smoking and gambling rooms for the men -- very high standard hospitality for the emerging consumer. It was an early attempt at structuring the way people shop and for us today, adds a level of interest as to the way people were intended to live at the shopping centre. Through changes of ownership and as you can imagine, high upkeep, this way of life disappeared. Since then, the consumerist lifestyle has changed tremendously so this project will later take a critical look at the way contemporary shopping centres are designed.

Walter Benjamin is a German writer who I'm concurrently studying as part of this studio. He looked in tremendous depth at the Parisian Arcades during the early 1900's when the covered arcades rose to prominence and gave birth to the department store. He writes:

The arcades were "the original temple of commodity capitalism": "Arcades -- they beamed out onto the Paris of the Second Empire like fairy grottoes. Constructed like a church in the shape of a cross (in order, pragmatically, to connect with all four surrounding streets), these privately owned, publicly traversed passages displayed commodities in window showcases like icons in niches. [...] The Passages "are the precursors of the department stores." The phantasmagoria of display reached its apogee in the international expositions.
Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing. MIT Press, 1989. Page 83.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Do Make Say Think

3 Guitars

2 Drum Sets

1 Violin

1 Saxophone

2 Trumpets

Imagine playing a guitar with a trumpet.

Me Like.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


One week from Symposium and the studio group is starting to brandish their X-acto knives and whip up some cardboard models. I've made some decent progress over the past week or so -- mainly having nailed down a program statement for our proposed intervention at the church site.

Since posting the two collage panels a week or two ago, I've been exploring the idea of atrophy or 'urban decay'. This was entirely based on intuitive observation upon visiting the site for the first time. Using decay as the initial step towards understanding a part of the site, I've been able to refine this thought a bit more. My observation is that the connection between 'leisure space' (i.e. garden, plaza, etc.) and 'labour space' (i.e. all surrounding offices) is largely under-developed or completely absent at the site. The existing underused parking lot which swamps the entire site has forced its numerous occupants to the periphery of the site for social gathering. There simply isn't a comfortable go-to place within the site's boundaries.


Since the 1960's, the Church in Quebec has experienced a relatively pronounced decline of piety throughout much of the province. Church participation has dropped from 88% of the Quebec population to only 28% over one generation but interestingly 90% still claim Catholic affiliation. This drastic shift of energy has been refocused in large part to the modern shrines: shopping centres. In 1890, the commercial district of Old Montreal fully relocated to St. Catherine Street between Bleury and de la Montagne. Thus began the age of retail frenzy along St. Catherine Street. The shift of commercial concentration from Old Montreal to St. Catherine has since established the area as the main shopping artery in Montreal.

Over the years, St. Catherine Street has seen an explosive development of public life through shopping, however, the Gesù Church has not adjusted at the same pace. This falls back to my initial reading of the site as a place of decay -- the site has not yet developed its economic (labour) and social (leisure) connection to the thriving activity of St. Catherine Street. My architectural proposal is to expand the church's existing creative centre (currently hidden in the basement of the church) in the form of a public exterior garden, semi-private mixed-use space for temporary exhibitions, and an uncompromising visual link through the neighbouring six-storey building between Gesù and St. Catherine. That means booting out ye olde tyme PharmaPlus shoppe from the ground level of the neighbouring building. I am also proposing an architectural intervention composing of mainly commercial space to make an economic connection to St. Catherine. All existing city parking spaces will be moved underground to free up the entire site for public leisure -- more greens! Woohoo!

I've just learned an interesting etymology of the term leisure. Leisure is traced back to the word otium meaning essentially the same thing, but used to describe the social, academic leisure of the Greek intellectuals and philosophers. The Great thinkers at the forum steps of the School of Athens can visually illustrate this form of academic leisure. Interestingly, the antonym of otium is neg-otium which means trade!

Here is the third of an on-going series of photo-montage panels. This piece is composed of three layers of historic maps of the same area. To the right is Paul Klee's Angelus Novus drawing. The link best explains it in its own terms. The whole piece is an attempt to convey the message of 'past, present, and future'. At the top is an overlay of an early 1900's shop front as it would have appeared in the early shopping districts. The Angelus Novus is the embodiment of the present, with the ability to see into both past and future. To the bottom left is a distorting shape that starts to delineate the city plan to suggest the future of a changing urban dynamic.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fencing Clips

[Duel Frédéric Madec / Claude Gisbert]

["En Garde" - Animated Short]

Forum Lecture Series 2007/2008

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dinner is Served

The third years have just made it through their first formal design-build project 'Dinner is Served'. In small groups of half a dozen students, they design a pavilion and a dinner for a guest critic who shares an evening with the students eating in their pavilion on campus. Sweet deal for the guest critic. The project is completely funded by the students and constructed on a site of their choice along the Rideau River. This project is always an eye-opener in the truest transition from a small scale sketch to a full 1:1 construction. It's also one of the most valuable design experiences with materials and lighting (and cooking skills).

My personal experience in 2004 was very good. Our group of five was divided into different concentrations. I designed and built most of the dinner table and chairs out of concrete and wood -- others worked on the wood frame construction, materials acquisition, and some on the meal preparation. Our guest critic was Janine Debanné, a wonderful guest whom we were extremely keen to have, as our design was very much focused on sensitive elements like framing views, transition of spaces, subtleties of sound and sight. She picked up on a lot of these moves and we felt rewarded for that. Everyone has one or two meals which are unforgettable, whether it was the company, the sensual experience, or maybe the quantity of food -- this evening was definitely one of the most memorable in all of those possibilities.

This year, there were a few projects of note, but I wasn't able to see any of them the night of completion. I was however able to scrounge up a few images from various facebook albums.

Here's a composed 2-page folio panel of our finished pavilion in 2004:

Beginner's Fencing Tournament

The fencing shin dig went down last night with bouts of legend. It was organized with an initial four-game round robin and a second stage knock-out. I was in a bit of scramble showing up late to the tournament and was in a fluster for the first match where I was completely skunked in a 3-0 loss. From then on however I was able to redeem myself to win three in a row and progress to the knockout as 2nd ranked in my group. After some technical confusion in forgetting to add me to the list, I was able to win my first knock out match but was robbed in the next. Ahead 2-0, I lost 3-2. It was a great competition, but kind of hilarious how all the footwork training went out the window for everyone. There were improv dance steps and epic Braveheart-esque battle charges happening all over the place.

We have a website. There will be a team photo up there soon.

A video will soon be available of one of my bouts. Stand by.

Crystal ROM Leaking

The ROM, also known as the Michael Lee Chin Crystal, designed by Daniel Liebeskind has gone from bad to worse in popularity among Torontonians (and spreading towards all Canadians as well). You can start calling him Leakskind. The high-profile 'starchitect' has committed the ultimate faux-pas in failing to keep water out of the building. The very first task of any building (particularly one with a seven-figure budget) is to provide shelter and the ROM has failed in doing so.

I feel a bit sad for the folks in Toronto because there has never really been a truly unique work of architecture come out of Toronto that has had the same effect as the Guggenheim in Bilbao or the Pompidou Centre, Paris. It tries, but never really breaks the threshold of creating any architecture of international merit. (The CN tower doesn't count). Alsop's OCAD building is a nice urban gesture, but internally, it's like working in any regular mundane office. The University of Toronto Residence Building by Morphosis might have some prominence, but it's still comparatively low-key at an international scale. The ominous black TD Towers by Mies Van der Rohe is an example that shows the same yearning for an internationally celebrated architect to bring good architecture to the city; I would criticize the TD Towers for being an exercise of scaling two Seagrams Buildings rather than one -- in the end it just isn't Seagrams. On the same note of authenticity, the ROM has a striking resemblance to the Denver Art Museum and has been criticized of copying and pasting the same formal elements to the Toronto site. Sidenote: the Denver Art Museum leaks as well. Toronto must be down on its luck, this just after being booted out of first place by the Burj Dubai.

The ROM was just never welcomed by the public. The museum directors wanted a glittering gem of contemporary stuff and they got that, even though the public thought it was a bad fit for the context. It goes as far as being described as a "cancer growing from the side of the Royal Ontario Museum". Perhaps the museum directors were caught up in the gamble or fanfare for the next best thing in Toronto. Friends of mine visited the building on opening day/week and found that there was still sawdust on the floors, electrical sockets left uncovered, and coffee spills all over the angular walls. The bigger spill however was millions of dollars into the crystal gem, which doesn't seem to have payed off. If refunds were possible in architecture, this would be one of those moments.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pit Lecture

Malcom Quantrill is the opening lecturer for the Pit Lecture Series. Quantrill is a British architect and highly accomplished writer with an interest in Finnish architecture and cultural studies. He has written about Alvar Aalto and Reima Pietila, but has also published books on Norman Foster and our own Canadian success Brian Mackay Lyons (Halifax). Quantrill is co-author of The Architectural Project with our own director Marco Frascari.

Feel free to pop into the Architecture Building anytime between 6 and say, 7:30 tonight.


Post-Lecture Thoughts:
There were a lot of provocative quotes by Louis Kahn and references to various masterpieces of architecture with an undercurrent theme of timelessness in buildings (i.e. stripped of style). It was however, rather confusing on the topic of 'otherness' which is the central thesis of this lecture. The silence at the end of the lecture was testament to a lot of hovering question marks over peoples' heads. Otherness seems to have alluded to light and history as the instruments that make a building take on this quality. "The sun does not know its power until it hits a building".

Fencing Tournament

I don't think I've mentioned this very much (if at all) but I joined the Carleton fencing team back in September. Three other classmates have all joined at the same time (Will Klassen, Pat Bisson, Mathieu Blais). We practice every Tuesday and Thursday night. It's pretty good exercise -- a lot of agility and speed drills. Above all, it's tons of fun.

There are three weapon types: foil, épée and sabre. Our last practice was the first time using épée and sabre. The difference is pretty simple between each style. In foil you can only target the torso of your opponent with the point of the foil. With épée you can target the entire body with the point, and with sabre you can target any part of the body with the full length of the sabre. Sabre is really wild and a bit undisciplined when starting out. It's pretty much just hack and slash at your opponent. For now, I'm keen on learning épée instead.

Tomorrow there will be a beginner's tournament as well as varsity try-outs. The tourney is pretty simple -- just make it through the whole class undefeated and you win prizes!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

New Radiohead Album

On October 10th, Radiohead is releasing their new album In Rainbows. This album happens to be the most progressive experiment in recent music history. Since their contract with EMI has ended, the band members are trying out what they call the 'Honesty Box' experiment. All records are sold at a 'pay what you want' price. The album however is digital instead of having a physical CD and cover etc). It presents a few things for people to think about -- right off the bat, are you going to take the album for a cent with zero-guilt (hence the title 'Honesty Box'). Do you think records are over/under-priced as they are? And how much would you pay for a 'digital album'? In asking fans to decide on their own album price, it forces other bands and businesses outside of Radiohead to consider the same concept of 'Open Source' as a business model. With so much flexibility, the most intriguing result is whether it is more profitable for the band to go without a record label altogether. So far, the results are apparently averaging at regular record prices, with the odd one-cent-er.

You can visit the website here to have a look for yourself and purchase the digital record if you want.
Also, read ZDNet blog to read about open source on the web.

Line Rider

You should kill some time right now. I know you want to, otherwise you wouldn't be at my site. Go to Linerider and have endless hours of insuperable fun! Don't forget to thank me after you achieve a triple flip over a chasm of razor sharp stalagmites.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Montreal Trip #3

This was the busiest trip so far to Montreal, starting at 5am until 5pm. The reason for going down this time was twofold: meet our professor Kelly Crossman at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) for research orientation and also to meet our studio professor at his office for student presentations of assigned readings.

Our time with Kelly was very interesting because we were conducting a mini research assignment of Montreal in the 1960's -- specifically the circulation planning of the city. Based on what was called the 'Morgan Plan', the city orginally intended to run their east-west freeway right through Old Montreal and build 'super-blocks' of multi-use high-rise towers and thousands of parking spaces. Ex-members of CIAM, Sandy van Ginkel and Blanche Lemco (who had both left France for Montreal) strongly advised for alternative designs to the freeway. After picking through newspaper clippings, drawings, correspondence, and agenda notes, as supplied by the CCA Archives, we were eventually able to piece together the narrative of this important urban plan (from a heritage point of view). Ultimately, the freeway was moved north of the originally proposed location, replacing an existing railway artery. Upon reaching the existing train station, the freeway tunneled under the modern city centre and pops out to the east side.

At lunch we met with Phyllis Lambert, founder of the CCA (a testament to the youth of our architectural heritage). She became particularly well known during the mid 1960's for her role as consultant in the development of the Seagram's Building in New York and the Toronto Dominion Towers, both by Mies Van der Rohe. But in founding the CCA, she has managed to compile one of the most extensive archives of architectural material in North America. We spoke about Canadian architectural identity in a cozy restaurant near the CCA.

Late, we hustled over to Louis' office to blaze through student presentations of their reading material. After our meeting I scoped out the site a bit more and started composing photo-montage images of my observations (below). Through this exercise I hope to be able to isolate what I think is the essential quality of the site so that I can move onto designing a program for our proposal.

Fai Cup Results

Okay, this is old news, but I just couldn't pull myself to announcing our defeat in the Fai Cup Soccer Championship. For the third year in a row, the youthful third-years have snatched our previously reigning cup ownership. The end result was a controversial 4-1 victory for the third years against our heavily favoured team of demi-god superstars in the final match. Regardless, we went out with the highest pedigree of style and moxy in an epic performance comparable to scenes from blockbuster films such as Brave Heart, The Patriot, or other Mel Gibson productions. There is a video floating around of our entrance onto the field which I haven't gotten my hands on yet, but for now can give you a glimpse of our team's utterly breath-taking excellence:

You're right, the flag reads 'Masters of the Universe'. Go ahead and say it...breathtaking.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Blogger Play

This is a cool little gizmo that Blogger has come out with: Blogger Play. You can watch all pictures that are currently being uploaded to Blogger. It's incredibly mesmerizing and one of the best procrastination tools I've found to date. See for yourself.