What Is The Future of Parking?

Cars and the way we use them are set to change significantly in coming years. Experts believe self driving cars will mean we use these now ubiquitous vehicles less.

Forbes has a good article about this here. Basically we need to start designing parking garages that are set to be habitable spaces some day. It means a little more cost up front, probably. Look at it as future proofing ….

Do Facts Matter?

I heard a podcast on a road trip to my daughter’s ringette tournament in Waterloo this weekend that resonated. The podcast is an NPR product called ‘The Hidden Brain‘ and the topic of the December 25 cast is how facts are often not compelling to people. We humans seem to need a little emotion to find something compelling; a particularly relevant idea given contemporary US politics, and I often find myself in situations in professional life where I need to convince people of something, and I’ve often wondered why the facts aren’t changing peoples minds in certain situations.

In the podcast, host Shankar Vedantam used examples like Donald Trump talking about the ineffectiveness of vaccines, or why people have trouble buying into climate change to show how emotional appeals are often more compelling than factual arguments.

Research has shown that sending out new information doesn’t usually change people’s minds by itself. Host Ravi asked how, then, can we convince people of things. He says fear is a good motivator for inaction, while hope is the best motivator for action. In an illustration of this concept; a camera was used to monitor how many times staff washed their hands upon entering or leaving a patient room. With just the camera in place, staff only washed their hands 1 in 10 times. With a message that congratulated staff for washing hands, the rate of compliance increased dramatically. Fear didn’t spur anyone to action in this situation, but the emotional appeal of being congratulated did.

The Greatest Crime Ever Committed by Architects

One of the most arresting pieces of installation art I’ve ever seen is the Book Burning Memorial in Berlin’s Bebelplatz . It commemorates the books Nazis burnt as part of their war on intellectuals, and on those they ostracized and persecuted. A glass plate is set into the square, providing a view of empty white book shelves as a symbol of the books’ absence.

Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism has an exhibit on now that deals with a different but related theme; the point of view that a very specific architecture was put in place to effect the crimes committed by the Nazis. It’s a piece about what was built, rather than what was taken away as in Bebelplatz. Here’s the information that Carleton is providing about the piece:

The Evidence Room – Anne Bordeleau, Robert Jan Van Pelt, Sascha Hastings & Donald McKay

The greatest crime ever committed by architects
— Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, exhibition principal and University Professor, University of Waterloo School of Architecture

The Evidence Room is currently on view, through February 16th 2018 in the Lightroom Gallery at Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism. This powerful installation features some of the thousands of documents which historian Robert Jan van Pelt introduced as evidence in a court case in London in 2000. His expert testimony was key to outcome of the case, proving that Auschwitz was purposefully designed as a death camp.

This version of exhibit features over twenty of these documents cast in white plaster. The casts were produced under the direction of Dr. Anne Bordeleau, director of the School of Architecture at Waterloo University, and feature architectural evidence such as drawings, correspondences and photographs. The work is a silent witness to this chapter of human history, and a reminder of architecture’s complicity.

This is a rare opportunity to view this work locally. The Evidence Room has been shown in 2016 at the Venice Biennale and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and in 2017 at the Royal Ontario Museum. We are very grateful to have this important exhibition with us, and to share it with the larger Carleton University and Ottawa communities.

Gallery hours are 9:00am – 4:30pm, Monday – Friday, and can be opened at other times by special request.


Visualize This

December was a blur and this is a post about an NCC / Carleton University joint Urbanism Lab event that took place way back in early in December at the National Gallery here in Ottawa. The event was called ‘Imaging The City’ and speakers included Emma Greer of Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) in Turin, Fadi Masoud from the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, and Stephen Fai of Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism.

Together the three of them represent some fascinating ideas about big data, cities, and some unique applications of urbanism and mapping. I hope you’ll find their work and what they talked about as interesting as I did.

Emma and CRA have an ongoing partnership with MIT’s Senseable City Lab and digital imaging and mapping are constantly part of what they do. They enagage in a process they call ‘futurecrafting” where they employ many sources of data to measure urban dynamics. Transponders on taxis and cel phone locations and usage, just for example.

In one project they engaged with trash to find out where standard plastic water bottles are manufactured and where they go to be recycled at a national level. The group has also analyzed the bacteria and viruses in sewage systems to better understand urban health trends. Findings from both these explorations are fascinating.

Their group has studied prescient questions like: can the city operate with 20% of the cars we use today? What will a more robotized world look like? How can we better align buildings’ use by occupants and energy use? CRA imagines the challenge of the 21st Century to be one where the designers use big data and become mutagenic agents, improving every aspect of how we do things.

In Heidelberg, Germany, CRA worked with Commune Patrick Henry to create a new identity for the site. They proposed a new commune for the sharing economy. Residential garages became fab labs, co-living blocks are to be used for ‘sharing’. Corporate and institutional entities became very excited about the project.

Fadi talked about zoning maps and his work to improve how they’re made and used. He showed an amazingly simple photo of a suburb outside Yuma, Arizona, by Ed Burtynsky to illustrate how the danger of land use classifications as we know them today is that they grossly over simplify issues. He pointed out that the tools used are the same all over North America.

Yuma, Arizona from the air. Photo by Edward Burtynsky.

Around Florida’s Biscayne Bay, because of rising sea levels, tides are causing ‘good weather flooding’ in urban areas. Symptomatic of the issue, an octopus recently turned up in a parking garage. Nevertheless, Floridian politicians have recently struck the word climate change from official government documents.

Fadi pointed out that the last time even our Canadian Capital region’s flood plain maps were updated was in Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s time; last spring’s flooding in Gatineau provided evidence that it may be time to take a second look.

Stephen Fai talked about projects he is engaged with at CIMS. They are working with Public Services Procurement Canada (PSPC) to model the Parliamentary Precinct in considerable detail. They also have an ongoing relationship with the Dominion Sculptor, Phil White, where they scan sculptures on buildings and use CNC milling and Mr. White’s own sculpting skills to restore them. Stephen talked about modelling the Capital, a project he’s working on with the NCC, the City Of Ottawa, and others. He showed a project he’s doing in Prince Edward County mapping breweries and the associated suppliers, and talked about how that could translate into economic research for the whole region of eastern Ontario.

Catherine Bonier of Carleton University and Stanley Leinwand of the NCC moderated a discussion with the speakers after the presentation. They talked about the importance of the work they’ve been doing as public, accessible, and easily available to the general public. Some of the work the speakers are doing seems so simple from a certain point of view; they’re connecting dots that really should have been connected before, but no one had an ability to do it. Sometimes they’re work simply opens up a new way of looking at a problem.

Fadi talked about how excited government officials in Florida have become about the work that they’re doing. The public and officials, both, have much more access to this information.

Well known Canadian urban designer Robert Allsopp was in the audience and pointed out the utility of Google Earth Pro, then asked whether insurance companies’ data is publically available. Fadi said mostly the data they use in his work comes from public sources, and hopefully it is open source.

Stephen Fai mentioned that the US is considering repealing some of the laws that make the internet free and open to all. He indicated this is causing great concern among the ‘big data’ and mapping community.

A programmer in the audience decried the fact that so many programmers are involved in such unimportant work. He indicated that people of his background should get involved in solving the urban scale problems he saw at work in the presentations.

Listen To The Street

“Listen to the street.” this is the simple but valuable conclusion of this Pecha Kucha presentation by City of Ottawa Architect Christopher Moise. Usually we architects want to talk about heady often over complicated ideas, but here Christopher Moise makes some startlingly simple but truthy (forgive the Stephen Colbert – ism) observations about cities. Take a look here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=iCQyXEgT4PE

Back To Blogging After a Six Month Hiatus at see-change.net

Wow is it December already? This year has been really busy and hasn’t left much time for the blog. A quick look at the stats shows that people are still visiting though, so I’m glad you’re still finding the content worth showing up for!

Since it’s been six months since my last post, here are some things that have been going on:

  • The Capital Illumination Plan is done. Find a link to the completed oeuvre here.
  • Artsfile did an article about the Plan.
  • My employer, the NCC, published a blog post about it here.
  • I bought a house in a Campeau development from the ’60’s this summer and I’m really happy with it.

Houses Built For Human Health

Technology in buildings should be a supplement, not a life support.

Paula Baker-Laporte and Bobby Ilg presented on Friday at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s conference in Ottawa, detailing a very fresh (for North America) approach to residential architecture.  

Their architecture is one of thermal mass, natural building materials, and radiant heat. This is an approach that comes from a d people understanding of social cl buildings and what they can do to humans. Paula wrote a book about healthy buildings that details her approach. 

In the US, full health data only exists for about 7% of chemicals are used in a typical new building. Paula is an advocate that we should be building more naturally, and relying less on chemicals. 

An example is foam insulation which is marketed as a ‘green’ building material but it requires a full safety suit and respirator to install. Seems fundamentally questionable. Wool batt insulation, by contrast, requires no equipment to install. 

Contemporary building construction is using a lot of unknown materials but isn’t generating better results in terms of building performance or human health. The Building Biology movement looks at the building as an organism, and works to ensure its health, improving the health of the humans that use it at the same time. 

Principals of healthy buildings include:

  • Heavy walls that retain heat
  • Radiant heat 
  • Few or no chemicals; natural materials 
  • little waste
  • No pollution
  • Hyic buffering (can safely store water)

Bobby saw Paula speak at a conference a few years ago, and has embarked on his own healthy building journey, building his own healthy house on a 50’x100′ lot in Ottawa. 

The frame is heavy timber with Japanese style joinery. Insulation is clay coated straw. A couple of natural builders in Ottawa have now built a shop where they’ll build and dry straw panels for buildings. 

Bobby worked with RDH building envelope consultants from Waterloo to show the city how the building would perform, in order to get a permit. He had to demonstrate how the building met Ontario Building Code durability requirements, under part 5 of the code. 

Carbon emissions comparisons were done for typical high performing (as in LEED Platimum for example) and high performance natural buildings. The natural buildings have negative carbon footprint for many years. Quite an impressive feat. 

More information at:


Wood As Mainstream Building Material

In the world of residential construction wood has long been a primary building material. Innovators in Canada and the US are now making this true in North America for commercial and institutional buildings. 

Angelique Pilon and Pénélope Martyn, from UBC, are two of these innovators, and they made a well attended presentation this week at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Conference here in Ottawa. 

I’ve been very interested  in this trend and have blogged it extensively here, and one of the key innovations that has made this possible is mass timber, a family of built up wood products that are becoming increasingly available on the market. 

Advancements in product types have gone hand in hand with advancements in fabrication and computerization of the design process, making mass timber buildings more and more viable. 

One reason that UBC is able to be an innovator in this field is that they can commission, own and operate their own buildings. They also view wood construction as character making for their campus, they require LEED Gold for campus buildings, and they have targeted creation of a net positive campus by 2025. Their definition of what is a ‘net positive’ campus is quite interesting and worth checking out.

Angelique and Penelope showed some of UBC’s recent mass timber buildings as case studies. A couple of the campus’s indegenous centres are stunning examples of this construction type.

One of the key issues around this building type is forestry management, of course. The speakers indicated that while Canada is a leader in this field, there is work yet to do. 

Innovations in Canadian Urbanism at RAIC

Canada is a hotbed of urbanism and urban design thinking. This was a topic of a panel presentation at the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada (RAIC) conference here in Ottawa. Presenters included David Gordon, Alexandru Taranu, Dan Leeming, Éric Turcotte, Rick Merrill, Ute Maya, and Antonio Gomez-Palacio. 
My notes from the presentation and panel are below. 

According to David Gordon, the bar for Canadian urbanism is constantly being raised by public agencies. Canadian cities are completely distinctive from US cities. We have: 

• higher transit usage

• two hours driving from wilderness

• the most multicultural cities in the world (Toronto in particular)
Canada is an increasingly urban society (about 80% today). Or is it? Vancouver is actually 78% suburban, by population. Montreal is 85% suburban. In Canada only 12% of the population live in urban cores. We are a suburban nation. Most building in Canada takes place in suburban contexts. ‎Any perspective on what is Canadian urbanism should take these factors into account. 
Dan Leeming talked about impacts of climate change as outlined in a recent study by The Lancet Commission. They have outlined a 5-year action plan to deal with the impacts. 
Progress is being made to address climate change. ‎Dan outlined some of the measures that Canada has taken on the last 10 years. 
Arcadis has identified a Sustainable Cities Index (2016). Number one is Zurich. Two is Singapore. Vancouver, the highest Canadian city, is number 23. New York is the highest US city at 26. ‎This index is skewed toward cities that have jobs, of course. London is fairly high on the list, but set to slide, based on Brexit. 
Dan concluded by indicating that global gaps between GHG reduction targets and actual results are widening. The US is going backwards on this. We need a new non- confrontational approach to reach common interests. The World needs to rally around climate change as we did around HIV / Aids and polio. 
Eric’s presentation centred around transit as a structuring element of cities. Toronto’s the third largest metropolis in North America, and growing. The average Torontonian spends ‎79 minutes driving every day. 
New transit lines are coming but not quickly enough. These new transit lines are being delivered via P3 processes. Something that’s unique in this process is Metro Link’s principles of design excellence for train stations; seeking to balance functionality, simplicity, and ‘place making’. ‎ They are seeking to ensure that train stations don’t have to be relocated as density is built up around stations. 
Suburban stations are currently mostly car-oriented. Proposals will make ‘places’ around these and ensure pedestrians can move around them. Pearson airport remains poorly connected, however, in spite of the new train that connects it to downtown. ‎Plans now exist to radically improve this condition.