December 10, 2006

BC prefab builders join in disaster recovery

It was two years ago this month that a massive tsunami off the coast of Indonesia killing nearly 200 000 people. The regions affected have been on a long road to reconstruction and BC design and building technology are having an impact in the effort.

Britco, a prefabricated and modular home builder in Langley, BC, have been contracted by Save The Children USA to build housing elements that will make up 300 homes in Aceh province. And if things go well, it will lead to the construction of 3000 homes where it's believed 160 000 people died in the tsunami.

The other player in this story is the BC Institute of Technology. They're providing training and design experience and skills to Indonesian builders in the region with money from BC's Forestry Innovation Investment,

Wayne Stevens, director of Canadian Housing and Construction Centre at BCIT, says BCIT instructor Doug Betts "just finished up teaching a three-week course in platform frame construction in Indonesia for local builders working for Save the Children. They'll be taking what they learned and training more workers in Aceh to build BC styled platform frame construction using pre-cut elements from Britco. "

The platform frame construction technique which we take for granted as regular housing construction in British Columbia and North America is an exotic form in Indonesia.

More importantly, North American house construction techniques have proven to be well-suited to earthquake prone regions like Indonesia. Platform frames provide rigid structures able to resist side to side movement found in earthquakes.

Ever since the Kobe Japan earthquake, where a set of BC-designed homes stayed up, the use of platform framing has spread along the Pacific Rim to countries like China, Taiwan, and Russia.

The design of the Britco homes is an adaptation on a traditional Achenese design. It is a square plan with a deep steep roof like a real Achenese home. It's designed to shed rainforest levels of rain. Also, the homes areoff the ground like a typical Rumah Acheh or Achenese High House. And one of the felicitious parts is a deep porch that becomes a heavily-used, outdoor room.

Traditionally, these homes would be masonry or timber frame.

Mike Kiernan of Save the Children says the first of the 300 have just gone up in the village of Tu and weekly batches are on their way. Britco is producing ten homes a week as the weather permits.

December 9, 2006

Going drinking in high style

Bernie Hadley-Beauregard of Brandever, a wine branding expert who is revolutionizing what goes on the bottle of a top-selling label, just posted my interview with him on his website. We met in August at a perfect setting for a discussion about booze and design - a recently opened bar, 1181 (1181 Davie Street). The elegant contemporary-styled bar was created by the team of Battersby and Howat.

Listen, 8.3 megs.

November 30, 2006

Sacred by Design

Sacred Spaces is a special series on CBC Radio One looking at the idea of spiritual places in the Lower Mainland.

I focused on the design of religious spaces. Mark Ostry of Acton Ostry Architects met me at the first religious building they ever designed, Har El Synagogue, where he gave me a tour of the building.

For more info on Acton Ostry, check out their site.

November 29, 2006

Raymond Moriyama: Remembrance of a Powell Street Past

I've lately been thinking about Raymond Moriyama of Moriyama & Teshima Architects

I interviewed him for The Current just before the opening of the World Urban Forum this summer. We spent a great couple of hours together talking about a sensitive topic.

Moriyama designed hundreds of buildings around the world but one of his most important recent works is the Canadian War Museum which, as Anna Maria Tremonti said, is "a bittersweet irony considering-- as a boy--- he was one of the 20,000 Japanese-Canadians interred by the federal government during World War Two."

Well, Moriyama and I toured his old neighbourhood. We started our trip into the past in a taxi headed to a part of the downtown eastside that used to be known as Japantown.

It's after the letters section of the June 15, 2006 edition of The Current

I think what he had to say about Vancouver was absolutely reasonable, valid and understandably tinged with his personal experience. Local architects, however, gave him a hard time. Even though he's right.

What do you think?

November 24, 2006

Waxed Cotton: Vancouver's nylon alternative for a rainy day

(aired November 6)

Sick of nylon or rubber raincoats? I sure am, especially the raspy hand of the fabric and the ridiculous scratchy sound it makes when you walk. It's like that episode of Seinfeld when George Constanza wore a nylon business suit.

Any way, isn't it time to make the jump to an organic fabric. As reported before On The Coast during my segment of VBD, natural fibers like hemp and bamboo are finding their way onto the runway. And maybe it's time for waxed cotton to make it into your wardrobe.

Yes that's right, for once I am ahead of the curve and in touch with the climatological and
fashion zeitgeist. I have been thinking about how waxed cotton or oilskins will be next year's fall outerwear fabric.

The origins of waxed cotton is mixed into the history of the British imperial expansion. Originally, sailors made raingear out of linen sailcloth proofed with linseed oil. When the linseed aged, it would yellow which is the origin of the bright yellow raincoat (above and beyond it's safety).

Later on linseed oil was replaced by paraffin wax and beeswax and the treatments have become proprietal with a trio of great companies looming large in the world of wax cotton outerwear. One is in Australia called Drizabone and the other is Barbour in the UK. Then there's Filson, a storied outfitters in Oregon. Their waxed cottons
hold water when flat and when wet the water beads. Initially, none of it should soak into the canvas.

Vancouver is also home to a waxed cotton empire called the Australian Outback Collection. Despite it's Aussie/Brit mystique, the waxed cotton is being designed and made in Vancouver and the majority of their coats are being sold in the US.

Their style evokes the Man from Snowy River...long aussie drover riding coats, brownish and festooned with snaps and a cape.

But the collection has diversified since the 1990s western Authenticate man craze.

I spoke to Lori McElwain. She runs the Australian Outback Collection from Vancouver. And she told me about how their beginning to create products in bamboo and hemp and hemp cotton. They have also created a line of lighter weight canvas for city slickers and now have cuts flattering to women.

While Lori likes to wear a jacket called the Katandra - a simple zip front with fleece lining on the collar and in the pockets, I think the most stylish of the collection is a jacket called the Kiama.

It's essentially a fitted light-weight waxed cotton version of the duffle coat. It has toggles and a hood. But it has a fitted waisted and it has a shorter more contemporary mid-thigh length. It's a great knock-about-town look, not formal or office wear, but it has an urban chic that doesn't say
you're going off to shoot ducks.

You find them in half a dozen locations in town like Frances Hills at 151 Water Street in Gastown in Vancouver and also at 3 Vets.

Waxed cotton is the perfect material for our climate and sensibility. There's the whiff of the rugged Western and simultaneously has the great nautical heritage. If there was a material, or
a fabric that could replace rip-stop nylon and challenge hemp as a Vancouver material, I would say it should be waxed cotton.

November 20, 2006

Air India Memorial concept revealed

This morning I spoke with Leila Zeppelin, the lead designer of the Air India Memorial and the Ceperley Meadow Playground redevelopment. She is with Lees & Associates, a landscape firm with a focus on cemetery and memorial design.

The conceptual drawings were presented at a public meeting last Thursday held by the Vancouver Parks Board. It was met with no objections and now Parks board staff will draft a resolution to be voted on in the future. And now, the Air India design concept is no longer under wraps, however, there are no images online as of yet. Check the Vancouver Parks Board for more info.

The proposal calls for a terraced picnic area that cascades to a redeveloped playground. The playground will use natural elements like rocks, boulders and driftwood to create create the play area instead of standard playground equipment.

With collective spaces and apparatus that encourage group play like disc-shaped swings and giant hammock under a driftwood arc, Zeppelin hopes the design will encourage among children conflict resolution skills and cooperative play.

The actual memorial sits higher on the slope among three dove trees beautifully described by Zeppelin. She says they have large white "handkerchief" blossoms and symbolize peace.

It is a promising concept but I think the memorial component is too small. And that's because there's local resistance to putting memorials inside Stanley Park.

However, the memorial stone wall does command a great view of the ocean. The victims were lost in the ocean and so the ocean because the great connective substance between here and the waters of Ireland.

Plus there is the simple act of looking for a name of a child who was killed in the Air India bombing and then turning 180 degrees and see children playing in the playground. This should be a powerful experience of hope rather than just a symbolic or representation of hope. It is hope itself.

So if Lee & Associates are permitted to scale-up and give the memorial wall an adequate physical presence, the project could be well on its way to doing justice to the victims' memories. The completion date in June 23, 2007, the anniversary of the bombing.

In 1985, 329 people were killed when a bomb exploded on Air India Flight 182 as it flew off the coast of Ireland. There were no survivors. Two others were killed in the bomb plot at Narita Airport in Japan.
Look for updates here.

October 16, 2006

Carrall Street Redevelopment

The city of Vancouver is trying to complete a seawall circuit around the downtown peninsula but it has to go through one of the city's most historically rich and socially complex streets: Carrall Street.

To complete the Seawall walk, Carrall Street will go through a makeover.
It's refered to as the "Carrall Street Greenway Project".

Carrall Street will be the final piece of a puzzle creating a waterfront walk going from Crab Park in Gastown, all along the Burrard Inlet, around Stanley Park to a seawall along False Creek through Livingston Park to the border of Chinatown and Downtown or International Village.

The design is meant to attract tourists and encourage a vibrant street life for residents in the area.

It may not be the most expensive project in the city, it's only $5 million, but it is one of the major undertakings by the city even when held against major infrastructure projects such as the $1.7 billion RAV line.

Like the Woodwards development, the Carrall Street Greenway is situated on a site steeped with Vancouver's history. One can follow Carrall Street and move north to south and literally walk through the strata of architectural archaeology and community heritage.

On the north end are traditional landing points and settlements of First Nations. Some of the earliest industrial development took hold here in the 1800s including a mill at the north end. Then there is the growth of Gastown immediately south of it. Further south is Chinatown. Then there's the Expo 86 lands now being developed by Concord Pacific and eventually it will connect with the 2010 legacy with the athlete's village at False Creek South East.

It's a rich site and an intriguing site. Students at the school of architecture and landscape architecture at UBC have a studio class located on Carrall Street and their focus this semester will be studying and coming up with design solutions to connect the history, the sociology and the geography of the site through design.

Carrall Street blogger Carol Sill, who lives and works in the neighbourhood and is a member of the Carrall Street Stewardship Committee says, "Carrall Street is a microcosm of Vancouver."

Part of the microcosm includes drugs. Carrall Street is one of the hot zones when it comes to drug-trade. Pigeon Park on the corner of Hastings and Carrall has been historically thought of a place to sell crack or heroin. But there's also an alley way that has a notorious reputation. It's between Pender and Hastings. Roger Bayley, a principal with Merrick Architecture and chair of the Stewardship committee, says, "It is the worst alley way in the city."

Still, there are no calls to use architecture and design to remove the drug trade in the area. Instead, there is a soft, live-and-let-live approach.

Jessica Chen-Adams, a planner with the city, says the focus is strutural and physical. The sidewalks will be wider. There will be three rows of trees running north-south along Carrall and there will be possibly a street motif in the shape of a cresting wave or a spiral that will be found on bike racks, drain covers and lamppost.

The spiral motif has received some derision. In part it's inspired by the golden section, a geometric calculation dating back to the Renaissance that defines the most pleasing proportions to the eye. Many designers I've spoken too don't like it because it's out of place. Many would prefer historical references derived from the local (ie First Nations, early industrial development and Chinese Canadian heritage).

The other critique I've heard is the design may encourage motorists and cyclist to blow through the community. It won't provide adequate opportunities for business development and legal street activity.

But despite the criticism, Bayley says, "The project will be a mechanism for regeneration."

I'm not sure.

Along Carrall there is a green-cut that connects Carrall Street to Shanghai Alley.

Aesthetically, it's a nice looking space until you become familiar with it social use. In the words of one local storekeeper, it's a place where people get stoned and have sex and this is in front of a seniors home.

So this may be just the moving of deck chairs - or even just the painting of deck chairs. And once the project is done, this heritage-laden strip may only accomplish in demonstrating the limits of architecture's social impact.

Will Carrall Street become beautiful and still a dive at the same time? It is possible.

That said, the city should be commended for restraining any impulse to socially engineer the zone.

Who knows, the project may be at the tipping point. The area is experiencing lots of commercial and social housing development with the work of the Portland Hotel Society and the designs of Merrick Architecture.

Perhaps, if the makeover is done well, maybe we will have a great Vancouver street.

Construction starts in January.

October 2, 2006

BC Fashion Week Spring 2007: Blushing pretty, Gottler constructs minimal Mannerist wonders

From Mara Gottler's Spring/Summer 2007 collection, the designer contrasts minimal jacket details with a profusion of expressive pant pleats

BC Fashion Week wrapped up. I went to two shows that caught my interest: Shelley Klassen of Blushing Designs and Mara Gottler. They were a study of contrasting design approaches.

Both their runway shows were on Friday night at Performance Works Theatre on Granville Island in Vancouver. Seen together, they provoked thoughts about the role of BC Fashion Week.

We are in a globalized fashion and media environment where places like Paris, New York and Milan seem to get all the attention and eclipse local efforts to the point, one needs to ask, "Who needs local design?"

And who needs BC Fashion Week? Doesn't it merely ape what goes on at the fashion centres. More importantly, do exercises like BC Fashion Week have any impact on design and fashion culture in this city and beyond?

Shelley Klassen, the head of Blushing Designs, is a good example of what is pragmatically possible for a fashion designer based in Vancouver.

Represented across the country and featured at the laudable Canadian by Design section of The Bay Downtown in Vancouver, Blushing's strength are it's dresses.

(Katherine Raso, head of media communications for The Bay in Toronto never heard of Canadian by Design or the woman who heads it, Ruth Ho...hello, you're on the same team...and you're supposed to be an iconic Canadian retailer!!!)

Where was I...oh, yes, Blushing clothes are designed AND made in Vancouver. Speaking with Shelley Klassen, she says, "The focus is on 25-to-45-year-old women but basically, it's clothes I like."

And what she likes is pretty and what showed in her Spring 2007 collection were pretty, feminine and comfortable dresses that showed off the body.

Standouts included a jersey wrap dress with a blue ribbon detail at the waist that took avantage of the liveliness of a floral print and the fabric's natural springiness.

For me, Shelley represents the balance between the pressures of price point and designer vision. And she has used platforms like BC Fashion Week to her advantage to advance the brand.

That said, her dresses don't make for the best runway shows. Neither outlandish in construction nor complicated in their details, maybe even flat, her dresses tend towards to graphic emphasis and pattern. Klassen keeps it feminine with a flattering line, flirty hems and showy hips. All simple moves that make for an economic aesthetic.

They make for great seasonal archetypes - in this case the summer dress. And this is not to be derogatory. Pretty-girl summer dresses don't have to be fancy or expensive.

I actually felt bored at the show (maybe the beers made me sleepy) because Blushing dresses don't make statements and simultaneously, I could see from even the back row that if I saw a woman wearing a dress by Blushing, they'd be one of the prettiest, sun-drenched outfits walking down the sidewalk that anyone would hope see next spring. Yes. Context is everything.

Like the great Red House Painter song says, "Summer dress, makes you more pretty than the rest."

Now, Mara Gottler is on the custom/studio side of the couture spectrum and her look was made for the runway.

I would suggest, she is the deep thinker of the Vancouver scene. Her looks are tailored, sophisticated, not remotely girlish and extremely urbane.

This year she took her inspiration from the Adriatic pleasure zone of Dubrovnik in Croatia where she claims familial attachment.

Terracota orange, white and beige were her colours for spring. It was totally sun-drenched collection.

But colour isn't what counts. Tailoring and construction -- subtely beyond the ordinary -- is Gottler's unique offering to Vancouver.

As a costume designer for Bard on the Beach, Gottler is used to creating one-offs that are comfortable under the spotlight of starring roles. As a matter of fact, her theatre work and her fashion work and they are beginning to synthesize. One feeds the other. And I've spoken to women who've been turned on to her clothes because of what they saw treading on the Shakespearian boards at the Bard this summer.

That said, Mara's clothes are not wacky theatrical constructs yet within them are embedded a strong sense of drama.

Like her Fall 2006 collection, her Spring 2007 has secrets held in the form.

Last season, Mara created mysterious folded and gathered wrap dresses and jackets. This season the mystery factor has found it way into hot orange linen jackets with no fasteners. There's a minimalism, a peek-a-boo nature, where the tailoring and the construction is revealed and yet it gathers and overlaps in sensual ways that are not simple and never fully reveals what's going on.

And while, Mara was in love with the beige and the orange in her collection. I think Mara actually is the master/mistress of white. She doesn't need anything else and here's why: In the show, there is a bistro skirt that had gored hems that flared at the bottom and simultaneously a set of vertical pleats running up the front. In this simple flaring skirt were both the ideas of tight and flowing entirely captured and expressed through the cut and construction.

And it's this level of sophistication that will send Mara far beyond the local trade.

Her clothes have meaning and reward both the body and thought. They're sensual and intellectual without being cerebral.

Can I say this: there's an intuitive semiotics at play in her clothes and it reminds me of Michelangelo. For the master renaissance artist, white marble was fine. You don't need to paint Michelangelo's sculptures. And Mara, well she doesn't need embroidery or pattern to bring her clothes to life.

There's volume. It's sculptural, and all her clothes hold a drama within the fall and the folds of her fabric without resorting to tricks. There's contrast and push and pull and beautiful backsides and in the end it makes her clothes stand out and more importantly, it brings out the woman inside it.

As a designer, Mara Gottler is fully in control. And though she's relatively new on the fashion scene when it comes to whole collections, she has come to it fully-formed and with a considerable vision, coherence and maturity. I hope her clothes go across the country and around the world because she's doing original work.

And you can see it live at the Bard or BC Fashion Week. (Spring 2007 not mounted on the site yet)

September 18, 2006

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

Mary Beth Rondeau is an architect with the City of Vancouver. She believes design decisions can help fight crime. Hear Rondeau's CBC interview with JJ Lee. It aired as part of a special series called, "On the Case with On The Coast."


September 12, 2006

9/11 graphic novel harnesses comic book idiom

The final Kean Commission Report was a best seller. Now, a comic book version of the 9/11 commission report has just been published.

Called "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation", it was created by two old pros: Sid Jacobsen, former editor-in-chief of Harvey Comic books and Ernie Colon. He drew Richie Rich and Casper at Harvey and also worked as the artist for DC titles including The Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman.

How did they handle the sensitive subject matter?

First of all, the book takes on a serious look. Very straight forward cover. No exclamation marks or exploding captions - things you would identify with comic book covers.

Any thought that the adaption trivializes the event of September 11 are assuaged by commission chair Thomas Kean and vice-chair Lee Hamilton.

Plus, there's an extravagant blurb by Stan Lee.

Inside, Jacobson and Colon take advantage of all the comic book idioms to clarify what happened before and on 9/11.

Maybe comic books were made for sorting out complex stories like the attacks on the World Trade Center. Why? Well, superhero comic books and the artist who create them are all about convoluted plots and story continuity between titles. Something that happens in Spider-Man can have an impact on the plot in The Fantastic Four or Captain America.

I know it sounds silly but when you work in a story universe like that you become very good at sorting-out and matching-up plot lines and creating visual devices, storytelling tools, to convey the simultaneity of complex events.

That said, just about the first twenty pages of The 9-11 Report Graphic Adaptation are timelines which track the flight of all hijacked planes between the 7:59 to 10: 30 in the morning when the last plane struck the Pentagon. Organizing the information with such a simple treatment is itself a triumph.

Also, to the team's credit, the drawing style is best described as restrained. Hijackers or US officials like Vice President Dick Cheney and then National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice are rendered with an ostensibly neutral pen. Perhaps, once in a while then pen seems to slip and reveal a disdain for certain players but obvious editorializing is kept to a minimum.

And one thing I find remarkable is The 9/11 Report Graphic Adaptation avoids draping itself in the American flag.

I've been through the book several times and I could only find three Red, White and Blues. And usually they're within the context of a scene. For example, when President George Bush made a taped address to the nation from Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana, you see a flag and then again during the "axis-of-evil" State of the Union address.

This work avoids the jingoism and kitschy use of the flag that you find in so many popular works inspired by what happened. It well demonstrates the level of thoughtfulness and artistic maturity of both creators. Jacobsen and Colon are serious men taking on a serious topic and their adaptation is an achievement and despite the fact it's a comic book, it's one of the least sensationalized works on 9/11 I've seen yet.

The tough part is it's hard to find in Vancouver. Apparently Blackberry Books has copies but Chapters downtown had one left and The Comic Shop on Fourth was sold out.

But you can find it online at

July 24, 2006

Wedding Tux Survival Rules and How to Tie a Bow Tie

This week's column focuses on dinner jacket faux-pas and rules to follow if you're renting a one.

  • If there's a space at the back of the neck of your jacket, it doesn't fit you.

  • Try to rent one size smaller and, if that doesn't work, go for one-button jackets which are cut tighter.

  • Don't wear a cummerbund - do you really need something that's described in The Oxford Concise as a loin band. If you want to simplify the point where the pants and shirt meet, wear a satin sash...on second thought, forget about it.

  • Rent it if the body fits and the sleeves don't...sleeves can be adjusted.

  • Never rent the shirt.

  • Never show more than three buttons or studs on your shirt when your jacket is buttoned. It's supposed to be a shirt not an elevator control panel.

  • Frills never, pleats not good, plain front shirts just right.

  • Belts or suspenders, neither. Your pants should fit you without either. Use the side tabs for comfort as the evening goes on.

  • Show an inch of cuff to flash the man bling.

  • Leave your regular wallet behind.

  • Bow ties are meant to be tied, long neck ties are meant to be worn at the office or with a day suit, aka business suit. A dark blue (preferable midnight blue) suit is perfect attire for a groom. Just pair it with the most elegant of ties: the Macclesfield - a tie with a repeating design of small circles.

  • With dinner jackets, white ties are for waiters, collecting the Nobel, and state dinners, and members of Duran Duran, unless you're marrying into royalty, stick with the black.

  • Wing collars look good on people trying to annex neighbouring countries, go with the more modern and softer turn-down.

July 11, 2006

Neglected tombstones restored in memorial project

JJ Lee tours a memorial garden designed to address the history of abuse at the Woodlands Institution in New Westminster.

The Woodlands Institution in New Westminster originally buried dead patients in an on-site cemetary. It's believed 3300 bodies are there.

Most of the buried were patients at the asylum and many were children with physical and mental disabilities.

While the Woodlands has been closed since 1996, a provincial inquiry concluded in 2002 there was a history of sexual and physical abuse at the institution.

The deceased at Woodlands were treated no better. Back in the 1970s the burial ground was designated a park and most of the tombstones were removed. Many stones were recycled for use in the staff barbeque pits and to line drainage ditches. Some were unceremoniously dumped and buried as waste.

But this summer, the site is being transformed into a memorial garden. Driving the rehabilitation is series of residential developments on the old Woodlands grounds.

Erik Lees has the job the recuperate the neglected burial ground, to be renamed the Woodlands Memorial Garden. He's a landscape architect based in Vancouver who specializes in cemetary and memorial design.

Erik Lees took JJ Lee on a tour of the garden on a Sunday morning.

****audio no longer available****

May 8, 2006

Big Ideas for Small Homes

Last week, Vancouver by Design reviewed an exhibition called, Some Assembly Required. The Vancouver Art Gallery is presenting the traveling show from the Walker Art Center, Minnesota on contemporary pre-fab housing (that review will be posted soon).

One of the goals of the show was to feature architects who designed contemporary or modern-styled prefabs. It also underscores how modern design ideas are at work in
new smaller homes and suites no matter what style the come in - neo-Craftsman, Palladian stucco, or high-rise slick - it doesn't matter.

Open plans, which means not parceling space into small rooms (living, dining kitchen) and the extension of visual space by using lotswindows and views to bring the outside into the home are two obvious examples of modern architectures contribution to domestic home design.

But what are the other ways to make small homes, both apartments and single-family residences, look and feel bigger? This is especially relevant to the Vancouver market where a new home (albeit a condo) may along offer 500 square feet.

Heather Howat has a few techniques for dealing with limited space.

She's a principal with Battersby Howat. Howat and David Battersby recently completed two homes near Main Street. Each are 1500 square feet, 2 1/2 levels. And the project uses a very modern, semi-minimalist look.

Heather says, "We wanted to expand your experience of the space and
provide spatial diversity of the house without necessarily putting up
walls." One way they achieved it was by making the ground floor one room. You can see clear through the kitchen-dining-living area from the front to the back.

But the exciting part is they also able to integrate the kitchen and
the dining table by raising the floor six inches at the dining area. Whereas, most popular TV design shows would recommend a different paint or floor treatment create distinct zones, Battersby Howat used a far more sophisticated and spatial solution without resort to a warren of walls. And here, no guests are required to sit on stools to eat their dinner.

They also used the same idea in the master bedroom where the bathing
area is open to the main room and once again there is a shift in floor height to
distinguish the two different functions.

But that's a 1500-square-foot house. What do you do about really small suites?

Howat recommends in a small home that furniture be multi-functional by doubling as storage. She also recommends built-in furniture because it will intentionally be designed for your space and will be seen as part of the space instead of an object that's is taking up room.

Howant also recommneds furniture with legs, so you can see lots of floor,
which helps convey a sense of spaciousness.

If open plans may not be your style, architect James Gauer has some suggestions. He wrote, The New American Dream: Living Well in Small Homes.

He used to live and practice in New York, but now works remotely from his new home in Victoria.

He says, "If you put your mind to it and treat it as a serious piece of architecture, it can work. But you can't treat, something which you
have to pack closets and storage."

In sizing up a potential new home with wall, Gauer says, "You have to take stock of what's there. What are the natural attributes of the existing space. You have to cast a cold calculating eye on the space and you have to understand simultaneously the limitations and the possibilities of the suite."

Second step, he says, "Prioritize your needs. You can't have everything. You've got
to be able carve out one good-sized room. And you have to pack all the
stuff at its edges."

Most condo suite design strives for bland balance. Gauer says, "They are able to give an okay, and medium bedroom, and a medium living space. But there's no sense of proportion."

For his own New York apartment, he made a choice. He wanted a decent-sized living room that took advantage of a view of the Manhattan skyline and consolidated and squeezed in everything else (see the results in the image above).

Gauer says, "If you're lucky enough to get in during the pre-construction phase, most developers will make changes at no-additional or little cost. You do not have to accept the floor plan the developer is offering, they may not encourage to change it and they may not like it. But a good developer will make the changes."

And if you haven't been able buy pre-construction, Gauer advises a furniture plan where the scale of your furniture part of your home-buying equation. He says, "Plopping your favourite giant couch and plunking down two easy chairs isn't going to work. Do a furniture plan."

April 24, 2006

Vancouver Heritage Commission boots Gastown stadium proposal

The Whitecaps' proposal to build a new soccer stadium received a red card from the Vancouver Heritage Commission today. The VHC declared it "detrimental" to the heritage values of Gastown on Monday afternoon.

The decision, while not binding, is one of several negative responses from advisory commissions who report to Vancouver's city council.

The football club wants to build a 15 000-seat stadium over the railyard between Granville Square and Cambie Street. It would have to be built 10 metres above the tracks creating what some fear would be a giant wall on the northern edge of Gastown.

Commissioner Cheryl Cooper said, "It flies completely in the face of what the Heritage Commission has been trying to achieve in Gastown and would disrupt the neighbourhood and the quality of life."

VHC member James Burton said, "It would obliterate what you see from the water."

Another member, Cam Cathcart, said the scale of the project "appalls me."

But not all the members agreed. City councillor Suzanne Anton voted against the motion and argued the project would have positive economic benefits and would address the loss of the demolished Empire Stadium. She said, "Cities need their stadiums."

Anton also added she had to consider more factors than the stadium's impact on the heritage value of Gastown.

Team owner Greg Kerfoot, who was not present, bought the land for approximately $17 million but Canadian Pacific keeps a right of way to marshall trains.

Cathcart added he wished Kerfoot had consulted the commission before purchasing the land. He said while he supports a new stadium, "This is not the place for it."

The commission emphasized development is possible but it would have to respect the historical context of the area.

The area is made up of a grid of streets with a fine grain of narrow lots and small store fronts. They saw the project as out of scale with Gastown.

Cooper also cited Gastown's recent success in attracting residents to the area as a proven strategy. Also, a new stadium would cut off Gastown from its historic relationship to the waterfront.

Upon hearing the news of the decision, Jon Stovell, spokeperson for the Gastown Neighbourhood Coalition, said, "That's pretty interesting news...Good. We don't want a waterfront big box."

For more info visit the Whitecaps submission to the City of Vancouver.

April 20, 2006

Canadian, eh? What makes Canadian design Canadian?

(This column originally aired on CBC Radio One AM 690, On The Coast, April 3, 2006)

A recent exhibition called "Graphex '06 - Do The Thing That You Do - Canadian Style" at the Pendulum Gallery in Vancouver asked, "Is there such a thing as a Canadian graphic design aesthetic?"

The Graphic Designers of Canada organized the show as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. An international jury including Rick Poynor, an influential design writer and founder of Eye magazine, selected over 60 works from over 600 submissions by Canadian graphic design firms.

Representing the best works from 2005, a great local winner was Rethink. They're mostly known for their cheeky ads (a personal favourite is Rethink's TV campaign for Junior Achievers of BC featuring ethically-challenged business people teaching school kids shady, Enron-like practices and the tag line, "Teach kids everything you know about business...Well, almost everything.") but the agency has branched out into graphic and communication design.

Rethink received a Judge's Choice award for their promotion of the Contemporary Art Gallery. It created a giant billboard made of 50 000 buttons on the exterior of the gallery that said, "THIS IS CONTEMPORARY ART." Each button sported a word conveying a possible reaction to contemporary art like "Stoked" or "Awake." And in an effort to make a lasting impression, passers-by were welcome to take buttons from the wall.

But what does this work or any of the other winners say about the Canadianess of design?

Competition co-chairs and local designers, Marian Bantjes and Yves Rouselle, couldn't point anything distinctly Canadian about Rethink's projects. However, Tan Le, one of the judges from Seattle apparently insisted he could spot Canadian graphic design from a mile away.

Perhaps, one must be on the outside looking in to see it. That said, Bantjes, Rouselle, and Mark Busse, who is the president-elect for the GDC in BC, all agreed Quebecois designers have an identifiable style. Busse says, "It just has a flair, a stylishness."

Bantjes says, "They're less conservative and have a European feel to it."

Outside of Quebec, there were regionally distinctive works. One example is the annual report of the Nisga'a Nation designed by the firm, Herrainco Skipp Herrainco.

The business document actually went by the bold title, "Collected Wisdom." More like a coffee table book, it captured life after the First nation signed a treaty with the federal and provincial government. Instead of a dry report on things post-Nisga'a treaty, the book featured lush photographs and stories reflecting the world through the eyes of tribal elders.

The designers here demonstrate a sensitivity to how the Nisga'a people regard themselves and how they wish to represent themselves to others. It suggests a regional knowledge and a design response indicative of how much urban British Columbians, like the designers, have a high regard for First Nations and their accomplishments.

One the national front, it's a mug's game to pinpoint a Canadian style, colour, font, or method. There is no formalistic language embedding Canadianess within the rectangle of paper or the computer screen. However, Canadian designers do fill them up with cultural icons and motifs that are unmistakedly Canadian.

One website design winner used the metaphor of an old-school hockey team to describe themselves. The site has the texture of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards. Another selection, featured an anti-war poster with a Flanders Field red poppy growing out of a bomb.

Call them cliches, call them Canadian archetypes, they are as culturally specific as a BC pot plant, which by the way, you could find tucked away in a thick knot of foliage found in the environmental graphics at the exhibition. Thanks to Canadian designer Marian Bantjes.

(The exhibition will travel across the country later this year. Check out the GDC's site for more info.)

February 28, 2006

Vancouver denim designer stays true blue

(A radio version of this column aired on Monday, Feb. 27)

Monday morning at the airport, Jason Trotzuk is off to Quebec City. Next week it's Hong Kong and China. Global conquest in the world of denim requires logging lots of flight time. But that's the price you pay, when you design jeans that make women look, as Trotzuk says, "smoking hot."

As founder and designer of the year-old company, Fidelity Denim, Jason Trotzuk has had a dizzying 2005. When women like Cameron Diaz, Lindsay Lohan, and Michelle Kwan don your dungarees, the media takes notice. Trotzuk says, "It's been a frenzy."

With mentions in the New York Times, Elle, and Fashion proclaiming Fidelity "must-have" pants, Trotzuk is capitalizing on the public relations ride but he's also working hard to back the hype up with a strong product.

"People in the press like to focus on the fit," he says. "But there's also the fabric and the finish."

Trotzuk, who sees the classic 501 Levis as the ideal to aspire, wants Fidelity jeans to be more than a fad. He says, "I'm in it for the long haul. We use the best fabrics, that means Italy and Japan. And Fidelity means allegiance and loyalty... so I don't want looks or treatments, holes and stuff, that are designed at 11 AM and out of style by 4 PM. I want women to wear my jeans five years from now."

Then Trotzuk evokes the history of denim pants, from James Dean, to the designer brands of 1970s, to New Wave and the skinny legs, to Bruce Springsteen and the revival of working-class authenticity. He says, "Jeans after 50 years are still essentially the same. There are three things that last in American culture: blues, barbecue, and blue jeans."

With that legacy and responsibility in mind, Trotzuk is constantly in and out of airports, staying on top of the growth of Fidelity Denim. Today's trip will bring him to retailers in Quebec and Montreal where he will collect feedback with customers and fit them in Fidelity jeans. Immediately after that, he's off to Hong Kong and China to touch base with his manufacturers and suppliers.

With so much travel in his schedule, has he considered relocating from Vancouver to cities like New York or LA? Trotzuk answer: "No. The world is getting smaller. Alberta is as close to me as Germany. Asia is just immediately West, if you like to think that way, there's a huge market to the south, and I can be anywhere in the world in 24 hours."

Fit, fabric, finish. Product, promotion, placement. Geography. "I've got all the angles covered," says Trotzuk.

If you want to try on a pair of Fidelity jeans, you can find them at Aritzia, Holt Renfrew, and Fab on West Fourth in Vancouver.

February 25, 2006

DIY home-building guru makes way to Vancouver Island

According to the blog, Lloyd Kahn is on his way to BC. Kahn is best known for his advocacy of do-it-yourself homebuilding.

He will be documenting structures for his upcoming book, Builders of the
Northwest Coast

In 1973, Kahn published the iconoclastic work, Shelter. It captured the world of counter-cultural constructions of the 1960s, including yurts, sod roofs, geodesic domes, and recycled shacks, decades before "green" architecture became a catch-phrase.

Along with building theorist, Christopher Alexander, Kahn exerted a powerful influence on socially-conscience architects and architecture students at the University of British Columbia.

Keep visiting for updates as Vancouver By Design is working hard to bring
Lloyd Kahn "On The Coast."

February 22, 2006

Design Exchange withdraws competition

The Design Exchange mailed the below in its Express newsletter:

Oops! We Made a Mistake!

Our recent Express alert included a teaser announcing an upcoming project with This project is only at the conceptual stage and no decision to proceed has been made. We apologize for any inconvenience the announcement may have caused.

For further information, contact: Paola Poletto, Senior Director, DX Programs.

February 20, 2006

Design competition opens to controversy

A competition sponsored by the Department of Canadian Heritage has raised the ire of graphic designers.

The contest is called My Canadian Cultural Gateway Webpage Competition. The Design Exchange, a design museum in Toronto, is running the open call to redesign the website, is a gateway into Canadian cultural content. It provides links to Canadian architecture, film, graphics, literature, arts and culture in Canada. It also has links to the CBC archives and Radio 3. There’s design news and a listing of festivals and events across the country.

The redesign contest will consider all entries. A committee will pick the top three proposals and there will be an online vote. The winning project team will receive $2500. So what’s the controversy?

Mark Busse, design director of Industrial Brand Creative of Vancouver, is infuriated by the whole idea. He says, “The open competition solicits free work from anyone who cares to call themselves designers.”

He says, “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be done. Actually, it breaks the ethics and practices code for registered graphic designers.”

Societies like the Graphic Designer of Canada or the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario prohibit their members from doing speculative work.

Busse says, “It cheapens the value of design and what makes it worse is that institutions like the Design Exchange and Canadian Heritage are supposed to support and encourage professional design.”

Usually, design projects from the federal government are put forward as request for proposals. RFP’s, as they are called, require designers to submit their qualifications, a portfolio of their previous work, and information about their design method. A jury or a selection committee would pick a number of teams to compete. Those short-listed teams would receive an honorarium. Busse says, “Even $500, would be fair. Then a winner would be picked. That’s the professional way of doing it.”

“You don’t walk into a dentist’s office and ask him or her to do one filling for free and if you like it you allow them to do the whole mouth.”

Both the Graphic Designers of Canada and the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario have asked for the competition to be withdrawn. Instead, they want Canadian Heritage and the Design Exchange to make a request for proposals.

Victoria's Peggy Cady is the president of the Graphic Designers of Canada. By e-mail she argued, “The result of speculative contests is that the client doesn't get what they really need. Good work is developed and matured through the process of a thorough briefing, consultation, research and design.”

Now, it may sound like research and design don’t need to go hand in hand, but according to Carmen Von Richthofen, executive director of RGD Ontario, good research “prevents copyright infringement and plagiarism.”

After a long day of answering e-mails from the design community, the president of the Design Exchange, Samantha Sannella still believes open competition produces the best work.

This might be the result of her own experience as an architect. In architecture, there is a tradition of speculative architecture that has created some important, visionary architectural ideas.

“This is only, version 0.5,” says Sannella, making reference to the numbering system used to designate prototype versions of software.

Sannella also adds that they plan to repost the contest and to explain to the professional community that there will be a formal qualification process as the design process continues. In other words, she says this is only a preliminary call for public visions, more like an online public consultation that will be refined later with professional input.

The new call will be posted in the next few days.

February 8, 2006

More money, fewer buildings, less design

(A radio version of this column aired "On the Coast" on February 6.)

Last week, John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver Organising Committee (VANOC), said the cost of venue building for the 2010 Olympics has gone up by $110 from $470 million to $580 million. Furlong wants B.C. and the federal government to cover the shortfall.

Furlong also added that VANOC had already cut $85 million to keep their building projects under control. They already stopped the construction of an international broadcasting centre in Richmond, B.C. Instead, it will be rolled into the press centre housed in the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre.

But what impact will cost increases and project cuts have on the design of the remaining Olympic buildings to be constructed in Vancouver and Whistler? Their costs are going up. Will it lead to weaker design?

It may be hard to calculate. For example, take the Richmond Olympic Oval which many consider the signature building of the Vancouver Olympics. It will be built by the city of Richmond with $60 million from VANOC and the rest from its own coffers.

VANOC claims they have saved $28 million by moving the long-track skating arena from its proposed spot in Burnaby to Richmond. However, the cost of the project jumped from $68 million as originally planned by the bid committee to $178 million.

Ted Townsend, senior manager of corporate communications for the city of Richmond, says VANOC's contribution remains the same. Richmond hopes to cover the extra costs by selling land next to the oval and creating a new urban centre for the area. Townsend describes their strategy as, "Olympics plus."

Another advantage Richmond may have is that they became involved in the Olympic project after Vancouver won the bid. As a result, they were able to calculate the cost of the oval in 2006 dollars unlike the Vancouver bid committee. In the race for the 2010 event, the International Olympic Committee required suitor cities to bid in 2002 dollars.

When asked if the oval's cost would increase anymore, Townsend replied, "We're going to be able to meet the budget."

On the design side, one of the principal architects of the skating oval, Gene Kinoshita of Cannon Design, remains unflustered by the announcements. He says, "Any changes we make will meet the functional and programmatic requirements of the project."

He added that as long as the building maintains the theme or concept the budget can change. Kinoshita says, "The main theme of the building is flow, flight and fusion."

The roof takes inspiration from the heron, one of the symbols of Richmond. The roof resembles a wing with feather-like overhangs that look on the upper arm of the Fraser River.

For example, the roof will be held up by 14 giant wood trusses. It recognizes the importance of the forest industry to the region. Preliminary designs envisage the supports spanning nearly 100 meters over the track and the grandstands. Each truss will end on either side with a metal connector, or blades, locking it to a concrete buttress. For Kinoshita, they capture the spirit of the sport. He says they are "like ice skates."

He also adds, "These elements are non-negotiable and if you keep them, you'll still have architecture."

The secondary trusses, however, may be sacrificed to cost-cutting measures. Kinoshita wants to see them made from wood but steel may become the necessary and cheaper choice.

Cedric Burgers, a West Vancouver architect and a former summer Olympian, warns that there's always a temptation to bring costs under control by cutting finishes. He advises that it's better to cut early and cut into big ticket items in a project. Burgers says, "Finishes take up 5% of your budget. Concrete and steel can take up over 80% of the budget."

He stresses a smaller building with high quality interior finishes will be far more successful than a big building with cheaper finishes.

Burgers says, "It’ll just look bigger and cheaper.”