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 http://lloydkahn-ongoing.blogspot.com, 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 Culture.ca. 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. paola@dx.org

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, Culture.ca.

Culture.ca 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 Culture.ca, 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.”