Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Old Registry Office, Ottawa

A recent case study in Urban Heritage Conservation seminar with Jim Mountain:

[Image of the Old Registry Office, Ottawa. Photograph from: Heritage Ottawa Official Website]

In 1873, the City Registry office was built to contain both Ottawa and former Bytown’s official records of property history, land ownership, and names of land proprietors. The building was used for this purpose until 1909, later to be sold to the Federal Government in 1935. In the 90’s, the building was bought by the Viking-Rideau Corporation (developer and owner of the Rideau Centre). This purchase was part of a land-exchange deal between the Department of Public Works and Government Services. In this deal, there was no commitment to preserve the structure (Fleming). The Registry Office is only one of four remaining in Ontario, and unique in many architectural aspects, including its twelve-foot deep foundations designed to prevent theft of the official records by tunneling.

Key Issues + Solutions
The future of the Registry Office is dependent on development of the Viking-Rideau Corporation which is in the process of a major expansion of the downtown shopping centre. The new mall hopes to include about 110,000 square feet of retail space, including two floors, a third mezzanine, and two-storey underground parking. There is also much discussion of expanding convention space. The construction of this project will be taking place east of the shopping centre, on a surface parking lot at the corner of Rideau and Nicholas street. The vacant Ogilvy building overlooks the site, and is also bordered by a traffic loop on Besserer street.

[Figure 1: Proposed sketch of new Rideau Centre at Nicholas and Rideau. The current site from this perspective is a surface parking lot. Image from SkyScraperLife forum (http://www.skyscraperlife.com/canada/3429-rideau-centre-expansion.html#post70187).]

The Registry Office lies to the south of this proposed area of development, but Viking-Rideau wishes to move the existing structure from its current site to an alternative location at 60 Waller Street, the corner of Waller and Daly, to clear a path for future growth of the Rideau / Congress Centre. Viking Rideau has confronted the major issue of structural concerns in such a move, and have confirmed in an engineering study that the structure can be safely displaced to its designated alternate location (Fleming).

[Figure 2: Site map of proposed alterations to the Rideau Centre and the Registry Office. Image from Google Maps with modifications by the author.]

The Heritage Ottawa organization believes that the ideal solution is to leave the building in its place and that all future development does not encompass the building, but reveal it in its entirety (Fleming). Failing this, Heritage Ottawa claims they would reluctantly support moving the entire building to its alternate site.

Relocating a heritage building should not be considered a last resort in conserving the character of a heritage building. Relocating and reusing buildings and their fragments has been used since antiquity in both Western and Eastern cultures. Essential to heritage conservation is the notion of conservation versus preservation. The former is the sustainable continuation of a building’s use and meaning, while preservation is a lock-setting, freezing a building in time so that it can be looked at, but not inhabited as a contemporary. If a building or culture is to survive in a naturally functioning way, buildings have to adapt: to be moved around, expanded, disassembled, relocated, or turned upside down. The moment they are preserved as sacred objects, they lose functionality and cultural relevance. If we consider Rome as an example, Michelangelo removed stone directly from the Coliseum to lay the courtyard for the Farnese Palace (Crowther, 2). This is an example of using fragments from other buildings as an energy and material availability concern but also authorship of relating the meaning of the Coliseum to the Farnese Palace. In Japan, builders of traditional timber used a construction technique that allowed their buildings to be taken apart and rebuilt elsewhere, sustaining the cultural knowledge of how to build in their traditional techniques. In this way, “remodelling, removal and reconstruction of buildings is possible according to life styles’ (Kikutake, 26-27) – a completely different regard to heritage and sustainability as we perceive it today.

[Figure 3: Sketch by Wilna Clark of the Registry Office relocated to 60 Waller Street, next to the Arts Court. Image from the summer 2004 Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, Volume 31, No. 2.]

The main underlying issue of the Registry Office is location. Moving the Registry Office to its new location as one whole piece does strip the building of its original context, but it’s only moving to the next block. It still maintains its connection to the community. As an option, the excessive stone in the building’s twelve foot deep foundation could be re-used as benches or garden walls on the same location in the future Rideau expansion as a marker of its past presence.

Leaving the building as it is on the other hand will challenge the future design of the Rideau Centre to frame the Registry Office (having to expose all four sides of the existing building), but in doing so, turns the building into a museum artifact. Could we not allow the Rideau Centre to incorporate the Registry Office into its design and in doing so, truly recognize it as “an important source and reminder of local civic history?” It’s a tragic waste of embodied energy constructing such a building to keep it locked until Doors Open Ottawa.


  • Crowther, P. 1999, ‘Historic Trends in Building Disassembly’, ACSA/CIB 1999
    International Science and Technology Conference. Technology in Transition: Masting the Impacts.
  • Fleming, D. "Future of Historic Registry Office a Concern." 2001. http://www.heritageottawa.org/english/frontpage/registry.htm (accessed 21/09/2008).
  • Kikutake, K. 1995, ‘On the Notion of Replaceability’, World Architecture, vol. 33,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

1001 Windows and Doors

‘The ready-mades are anonymous objects which the gratuitous gesture of the artist, by the simple act of choosing them, converts into ‘works of art’. At the same time this gesture dissolves the notion of work’.
[Paz, Octavio. The Ready-Made. Marcel Duchamp In Perspective. pp84 ( Prentice Hall International, London 1975.)]

Like the ready-mades in art, architecture can be strategically constructed out of fragments or found objects. This process relies on the availability of materials and their inherent ability to be reconfigured in a meaningful way. In an age of colossal wastefulness, there is an abundance of fragments for play.

One example of using fragments in architecture is Ai Weiwei's pavilion '1001 Windows and Doors' in Kassel, Germany. The pavilion consists of doors and windows from the Ming and Qing Dynasty.

[Image from: Galerieursmeile]

[Image from: Mark Magazine #12 February/March 2008. pg. 77]

The actual structure collapsed in a storm. Apparently the piece was meant to be indoors but at the last second, moved outdoors. The artist has embraced its new meaning accordingly. Part of the essential purpose behind using fragments is the reuse of pieces for their energy consideration...I hesitate to wonder how these doors and windows were transported from China to Germany. Probably using a lot of energy to do so, but nonetheless were reused in an interesting way.

Sorry...my fonts went awol.

New Site

Ok, not to discourage my faithful fans from visiting the ever more spectacular C+S, but I've done the inevitable and created another blog. If I could get a drumroll and some jazzhands, I unveil 'Cook Until Browned'!

Cirque de Soleil - Corteo

For my birthday present, Jess treated me to see a fantastic show of Cirque de Soleil, Corteo. It was spectacular. Cortéo means "cortège" (funeral procession) in Italian. This is the idea of the performance, a man who dreams of his own funeral procession. Couldn't take pictures, so here are some scenes from about.com:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pop - Up vs. Tree House

Treehugger has just posted an article about London architect David Adjaye's Pop-Up House project in the London Design Festival, and it appears a bit suspect to me... suspect, you ask? M'yessss... My most loyal fans may recall exactly one year and one day ago, the post entitled 'Ark Magazine', a publication on Jessie's winning pavilion design for the Wood Studio course in Helsinki. Some striking similarities here...






Sunday, September 14, 2008


[Image of The Lateran Baptistry in Rome, from The Eloquence of Appropriation: Prolegomena to an Understanding of Spolia in Early Christian Rome, by Maria Fabricius Hansen]

We cannot remember without architecture. Like landscape or literature, architecture is part of our collective memory and identity. When we think of the great basilicas of the past, they embody the cultural memory of a place and an identity embedded in the very way a column is crafted. At the micro scale of a column, we learn that these buildings were in fact made of fragments, or spoils, transported from distant places. These fragments, pre-fabricated by other hands are like quotations in the story of a building's life. Depending on the nature of these spoils, they often reveal surprising histories about the building's acquisition of its parts. Using these fragments was a natural act in medieval architecture, where craftspeople would 'unanxiously' use their fore-fathers' works. This way, it was understood that the language of architecture has already been spoken and that using fragments was a verbatim quotation of a tradition of building.

A Classical Example, (from The Eloquence of Appropriation: Prolegomena to an Understanding of Spolia in Early Christian Rome, by Maria Fabricius Hansen):
[Image of Santa Costanza, from: The Eloquence of Appropriation: Prolegomena to an Understanding of Spolia in Early Christian Rome, by Maria Fabricius Hansen]

"At Santa Costanza, built as an imperial mausoleum in the mid fourth century, variation in the shafts and capitals was used to structure the circular interior space. The shafts carrying arches are of plain grey granite except the outer pairs flanking the entrance and, opposite, the pair flanking the opening towards the niche with the imperial sarcophagus. These shafts are of red granite, indicating an axial quality in the round structure. Moreover, at the opening towards the niche the inner pair of shafts is also distinct from the rest as they are of dark grey granite. Of the two sets of composite capitals used in the building, the grandest is placed in the inner ring, the simpler one in the outer, indicating a hierarchy in the interior, with the inner domed circle being more important than the surrounding ambulatory."

In the information age, this great performance is hindered by anxiety of imitation and quotation, often falling victim to the absolute demolition of a building or its construction from newly fabricated pieces. This habit is wasteful of embodied energy and a contributor to cultural amnesia. Though spolia is an ancient and timeless technique of sustainable construction, the present-day challenge is a contemporary application of this practical method of design.

Intern Architects in Hell: On Acquiring Culture

Intern Architects in Hell site

Building the Fort Beauséjour

I've been learning about the construction of Fort Beauséjour lately. It's a pentagonal fort, that follows a standard simple-bastion style designed by the French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban, commonly known as Vauban. His designs set up basic and advanced principles for all defensive structures to be built under the French Empire, Beauséjour being one such example.

In the text Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare 1660-1860 by Christopher Duffy, the author goes into a fair amount of detail as to how and why these forts were designed, how they were situated.
[Image from Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare 1660-1860. Duffy, Christopher. 1975.]

Where the Fortresses Were Built
Relevant to Fort Beau is the section on Ground. "The healthiness of the site is one of the most important single considerations which determined the position of the fort. Swampy sites were notorious for killing off the garrison." The fort is surrounded by the Tantramar marshes, though elevated on a small patch of firm soil, the trees and scrub cut away by the Acadians. The advantage of a site like this is that the fort can only be attacked from a few (dry) points, allowing a smaller garrison and upkeep. With every yard of swampy ground approached on the fort, its strength increases proportionally. However, in The Siege of Fort Beauséjour, by Chris M. Hand, the author states that the fort was actually poorly located, being too far from the water to have any impact on shipping along the river, and too far forward on the slope to defend the crest.

[Image from Forts of Chignecto, Webster, John Clarence. 1930.]

How the Fortresses were Built
Once the principle of building or extending a fort was made, costs, memorandums, drawings, shape and properties were all drawn up. They made clear the relationship of the fort to the whole of the countryside, to the distance of a cannon-shot. In drawing their plans for a new fortress, engineers began with the center point, where an average even ground was thought to be best and then determined the main direction of attack to set up the front entrance. In this pentagonal fort system, the engineers would have a set of large scale drawings on a rotating table situated at the very midpoint of the site. They would then extend a chain connected to a peg right in the center of the actual drawing and align it with points in the drawing. Once aligned, the worker would place a picket in the ground and continue through all the major points of the five bastions as per the engineer's drawing.
[Image from Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare 1660-1860. Duffy, Christopher. 1975.]

Depending on the hardness of the soil, different foundations were laid. At Beauséjour, the soil must have been hard enough to be able to use a less severe foundation system otherwise used in marshy areas. In those sites, long vertical spikes are driven into the ground, attached to a timber raft system upon which the bastions are placed. Instead, it uses a gabion system, which is essentially baskets filled with stone (which come from a nearby quarry) and placed over a simple timber raft system, then backfilled with earthworks. The gabions are an extremely versatile 'material' to work with, and will very likely become one of the primary building systems for my proposal. (Herzog and de Meuron used a gabion system for the Dominus Winery in France in 1997). The gabions are an economical and sustainable solution, perhaps better suited for non-military applications, given their tendency to collapse under cannon-fire.
[Image from Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare 1660-1860. Duffy, Christopher. 1975.]

Drawing the Fort
Learning to draw a pentagon is not the most difficult part about starting a site plan -- it's figuring out which system the first engineers used to draw the pentagon. There are more than eight systems (see this website to gauge their complexity). What I'm learning is that the memory of this place is quietly being spoken through its geometry.

[Image from: The Siege of Fort Beauséjour 1755. Hand, Chris M. 2004.]

As I've sketched out above, these concentric circles which are used to construct a pentagon fit exactly to the edge of the site's ridge. This means that that proportion would determine the overall size of the fort and construction thereafter. In knowing the approximate size of that initial face (known as the line of defense), laying out the pentagon with pegs can commence. A revealing difference of rationality: the French built the south-facing line of defense as their main entrance which faces the direction of attack. After its capture, the British reversed the fort, moving the entrance to the back and converting the old entrance into a cannon battery, allowing full control of the ridge.

A lot is written about the difference of quality in leadership between the French and British at the fort, and this is an additional distinction, for what it's worth.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Murray & Murray Drawing Contest 2008

Paraphrased Outline:
In today's urban spaces, we find ourselves waiting in the public realm for a significant amount of time in our life and waiting, as our Director Marco Frascari states is inseparable from the human behaviour of contemplation. This year, the school was to design a bus shelter for the campus O-Train station, a place of waiting and thinking. As always, the assignment is to do a hand drawing that responds conceptually (and this time technically) to the site and theme. The work had very little grad student input this year for some reason, myself included as having no submission. Here are the notable drawings pinned up for the contest, and consequently all of the finalists:

2nd Prize:
3rd prize. This design was more sensible than the former, but dropped to third place for doing a computer model for a hand-drawing contest. It's surprising it made it this far.
1st Place: by Mario Sebastian Savone in fourth year. Congratulations!

This one was interesting to me. The form of the building was the most exciting and resolved of the lot. Unfortunately, whoever did it chose to do a model and call it 'This is not a Drawing.' Too bad, missed the mark on the one single requirement.