Ugly Proves Functional

New Years celebrated in a cozy little house. Ugly linoleum covers the floors. As the night continues, linoleum becomes a better and better idea. Dancing and the resulting spilled drinks make the floor feel like that of a movie theatre. I suppose a comparison to a sticky club floor is more appropriate, just out of my usual.

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ABOUT: Have You Seen This? Project

poster installed 02 W grey

In the summer of 2005, I hung a series of posters on the lamp posts of several overlapping downtown Toronto neighbourhoods. The posters of the Have You Seen This? Project were an invitation to the individuals who lived in, or passed through these neighbourhoods, an invitation to pause and perhaps to experience the more unusual features of the community. The project explored both the power of an individual to make their mark on the urban fabric and the network of visions that exist within the city.

If a passerby’s interest was piqued, the poster provided minimal directions to help them find the magical spot. Their curiosity was rewarded by the location itself as well as by another poster, or two, to guide them elsewhere if they chose. The project included a website that featured all of the posters so the network remained even if a poster was removed.

Feedback on the project came in several forms. Through the website, participants shared their impressions and suggested other sites to add to the project. In the urban environment, participants’ actions demonstrated their attitude towards the posters as a form of local communication. In the residential neighbourhood just north of Queen West West, posters were removed almost immediately. While in other areas, posters were still hanging weeks after their installation, the tabs containing directions to the location torn off.

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ABOUT: Everyday Stories of Behaviour and the Built World

HBandBW about2b-w

This project grew from my search to engage in a different conversation in architecture—one that focuses on our relationships to place. I have always been particularly attuned to what happens after the construction of a building or a public space is complete. What happens once the ongoing dynamic between place and user begins?

Stories and images are how we choose to share our experiences. These everyday stories of architecture and the city tease out how a place works (or doesn’t). They are the moments where human behaviour and the built world collide. For me, any number of things can spark a story, including:

Floor, Best Seat in the House
Using an architectural element outside of its prescribed function provided us with a different (I think better) show than people in the proper seats experienced.

A Lesson from the Washroom
Stalls in the communal washroom in my office taught me about who I am.

Crevice Claims Another Victim
The crevice between my kitchen counter and stove claims another victim. And I am left to clean-up, yet again.

Unintended Literary Participant
A window on one building overlaps with a balcony on another and brings a writer’s protagonist life.

Station Plays Games
The invisible forces at play in Dupont Station found a new way to make themselves seen. I was transfixed.

Rail in a Muted Tone
Las Vegas is all about the surface details; this one isn’t glamorous, but it feels so good.

Museum Station Fair
Re-routed subway trains transform a quiet station into a carnival filled with old fashioned signs, bewildered riders and life-size sculptures.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
In an unusual combination of events, my home played both my protector and my aggressor. I was left afraid and wondering if I should stay or go.

Improvised Park Play

My local park has been under renovation for a year and a half. It has been painful to watch the slow pace. The new playground area opened last fall, and this spring the remainder of the park looked complete, however, the construction fence remained. Signs finally appeared asking for patience while the new grass took root. Yesterday, the fence came down, and today, a lovely, warm Saturday, neighbourhood families were out in full force.

The park is divided into three zones, a playground, a field and an area shaded by trees. With the redesign, the three sides of the field adjacent to the street are now bounded by a long short wall, a taller sloped wall and a few steps up to a building. The long wall is low enough to sit on, yet high enough to prevent kids from easily running out onto the road. Now able to move with more freedom, boys and girls are doing what they do best, inventing play.

The kids, depending on their size, step or climb onto one of the low ends of the sloped wall. They walk up the curve, and when they arrive at a height where they feel comfortable, they stop, look around, and then jump onto the soft, newly laid sod below. It is encouraging to see all elements of a park accessible for play, not just those designed specifically for the purpose.

To Walk or Wait?

I was enroute to watch an outdoor movie at David Pecaut Square, when the power was cut to the subway train I was riding. We were at St. Patrick station and according to the announcement, there was a problem one stop south at Osgoode. The train doors opened and the lights went out.

One never knows how long a delay will last. I figured, if I left the subway and started to walk, the trains would resume the moment I stepped out of the station. The movie was about to start and by walking I’d miss the beginning. So I waited.

I noticed two women carrying cushions. I heard them mention King Street, and guessed they too were on their way to the movie. An update came over the intercom. The fire department was on the scene at Osgoode.

One of the women pulled a large bag of chips and a bottle of pop out of her bag, definitely movie snacks. She opened them, and the two started to eat while they visited. A few minutes later I smelled smoke; it must have been coming through the tunnel. That was my signal to leave. Seemed like I was going to miss the beginning of the film, regardless of my actions.

Vomit Trail as Communication

My cat is named Rascal. I gave him that name as a kitten because he was exactly that, a rascal. Occasionally he still lives up to the name. Today he certainly did. The good news is there was no chicken bone blocking his system. The bad news is it took hours of vomiting and a middle of the night trip to the emergency vet to determine he was okay.

I realize writing about my cat and his vomiting seems odd. I decided to because I think the incident offers a rare opportunity to track patterns of movement and use for one who can’t speak.

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Annual Museum Station Fair

Apparently the Museum Station Fair―where rerouted subway trains transform a quiet station into a carnival filled with old fashioned signs, bewildered riders and life-size sculptures―is an annual event. Visit this weekend, May 14 and 15.

If you miss the fun this year, look for the Fair’s return in May 2012.

Link to post from Museum Station Fair 2010

City Oasis, Monet Style

Last spring, I discovered an oasis in busy Toronto, the redesigned green roof on the podium at city hall. It was my final stop, after a long day of Doors Open tours and the crowds that the event generates. I sat on one of the benches nestled between the gardens and looked south past Queen Street. Surrounded by the city, I felt calm and removed from the chaos below.

My next visit was on a steamy hot day in July. I expected the plants to be taller and fuller. What surprised me was how different the

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Elevator of My Dreams

I  am a dreamer, or maybe better put, I remember my dreams. I often wonder how my sleeping brain can create such fantastical, unfamiliar places. One particular element appears in my dreams rather frequently―an elevator the size of a large room. To my astonishment, I saw just such an elevator today.

Leslie and I were among the last to leave the studio after a taping of the George Stroumboulopoulos show. Sometimes it pays

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He Said. She Said. The Architecture Version.

I’ve been holding onto this post for a while, writing and rewriting it to help me to understand my relationship to architecture. Time to stop thinking, and commit to a final version before I’m lapped by Doors Open 2011.

Architecture was the theme of Doors Open 2010. My visit to the McKinsey & Company office was an unusual opportunity to hear both sides of an architectural story, through the

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Rail in a Muted Tone

I know, I’m in Las Vegas, I should be writing about glitz and glam (with a side of sleaze). That’s Vegas after dark. This is about Vegas and the intense desert sun.

I think it was 104ºF today, for us Canadians that translates to 40ºC, or stifling hot. Surprisingly, the sidewalk of the eight-lane road, better known as The Strip, was still scattered with pedestrians. My walking strategy for the day was to escape the sun by making detours through the cool, dark casinos.

My plan fell apart when I reached a major intersection; there was no way to dodge the

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Station Plays Games

As with many of my posts, this one starts with a mundane activity—riding the escalator to street level at Dupont Station. I walked up the moving steps behind a woman carrying a shopping bag. Before either of us could make it outside, the air pressure in the oblong dome began to play its game with the door. As a regular at this station, I know the game well. Here is where the everyday became transfixing.

This time, the wind added a new element to the fun; it swooped into the woman’s bag and

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A Lesson from the Washroom

I have recently started working out of CSI-Annex. (A shared office, not the latest incarnation of the TV show.) The newly renovated space has a communal washroom, and for a semblance of privacy, each stall is fully enclosed. In previous posts, I have cited the power of the seemingly utilitarian washroom to reveal the character of a building. This time, the revelation is about me, rather than CSI-Annex.

It seems I am a habitual person. I suppose I knew this, but the washroom stalls confirmed

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Labyrinth, A Meditation on Age and Behaviour

When I arrived at my spot in the shade, two kids were waiting in the centre of the labyrinth in Trinity Square Park, each speaking words of encouragement to their father to continue following the intricate path towards them. He staid the course and met his children at the end, the middle of the labyrinth.

As they left, all three crossed the pattern they had traced with their steps on the way in. Something caused the kids, who were really

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Museum Piece Uses Street Parking

The most famous van in Canada is parked on the street in front of my house. The decals on both sides and the distinct shape make it unmistakable. The now vintage, beige vehicle that followed Terry Fox during his Marathon of Hope has been there for several weeks. This is not the first time I’ve seen the van. It used to park one street over so I was not completely startled when it appeared out my living room window.

Leslie was here last night and I pointed it out to her as she left. Her surprised reaction got me thinking. This van played an important role in an event that has become part of Canadian lore. It seems like it should be in a museum. I love the fact that it isn’t, that the van is parked on a residential street in Toronto with snow providing a subtle cover. Seeing it there makes me wonder about the stories of those who live around me and about what parts of our collective identity might be just down the street.

Floor, Best Seat in the House

Josephine has a talent for sourcing all things free. Today I met her for a jazz performance, part of the free concert series held in the amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

The seating in the amphitheatre was already full when we arrived. Fortunately for us, the glass balustrades on the fourth floor allow the space that overlooks the stage to become impromptu audience seating. However, my lateness meant the chairs set-up behind the performers were also full. We found a spot along the fourth floor bridge, laid down our jackets, sat on our quasi cushions, and peered down through the glass toward the musicians.

Our vantage point, sitting above and beside the performers, presented a unique view of the

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Grocery Store Obstacle Course Obsolete?

Vito, the resident carrier of groceries at Fiesta Farms, appears to have adopted another technique to help customers avoid the obstacle course. Instead of carrying one person’s shopping, he stations himself at the barricade. When I walked out of the store, he greeted me, then asked that I leave my cart there. He told me he’d watch my groceries while I retrieved my car. He already had one cart under his care.

I walked across the street to my car, drove it out of the parking lot and pulled alongside the sidewalk. Vito was finishing up with the other

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Performance Art at the Interior Design Show?

The Interior Design Show is primarily about materials and finishes. Nowhere was this more apparent than the Audi display. A shiny white floor defined the extent of the large area. I think there was a cafe; I know there was a car and a lot of people wandering through. Unfortunately, the crowd and the white floor were at odds.

Two men dressed in black circled the space, each carrying a mop. Their job was to clean the black marks left behind on the white floor by people’s shoes. This tells me that someone chose a surface that looked great as a sample, but looked horrible once it was put to use. Maybe using this material was the car company’s commentary on a lack of consideration for functionality in interior design?

Room for Debate – Part 2

The mayoral debates have opened a door into some interesting gathering spaces in the city. Today I attended one held on the Trading Floor at the Design Exchange. I have been here before for various lectures and events, but never a debate.

The five candidates sat at a raised table, visible to all in the audience. Well circulated, cool air filled the old home of the Stock Exchange. The air quality was far superior to the stuffiness I experienced during a previous debate at Trinity-St. Paul’s. I left that debate drained, after struggling to concentrate. Today, I was

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

My afternoon began uneventfully enough. I was standing in the living room ironing, when I heard the upstairs doorbell ring. The family that lives on the second floor is away so when the person switched to an insistent knock, I answered the door.

There, stood a small man dressed in a denim shirt and jeans, both several sizes too large. He smelled of alcohol and asked me repeatedly, “Was I was the woman he met, who told him to come to this house?” I’d never seen him before. I repeated this fact to him several times, but my answer didn’t seem to satisfy him. Feeling frustrated and uneasy, I said goodbye and locked the door.

I also locked the back door and closed the open window in the bedroom. I was home alone, and his intense stare and repeated question spooked me. A few minutes later he

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Room for Debate – Part 1

This is my first time in Trinity-St. Paul’s even though I have lived in the neighbourhood for many years. I have always been curious to see inside the heavy stone walls. I am here for the local mayoral debate. As one would expect, there is lots of talk, some of it interesting. Most of the thoughtful words are spoken by the poet candidate, Howard Gomberg.

The acoustics are great, but it is stuffy and I am finding it difficult to concentrate. Audience faces look tired, yet there is not too much

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Unintended Literary Participant

This is one you’ll have to imagine. I have photographed the stage, but not the participants. I am sitting near the back of the Bluma Appel Salon, a full audience in front of me. Author David Mitchell is standing at the lectern reading from his latest novel. He is animated and keeps interrupting himself to provide us with context for the passage he is reading. Mitchell is very engaging, but I am having a hard time focusing on him.

There is a window behind Mitchell that looks out to the condo a short distance away. On a balcony, a shirtless man wanders back forth.

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Reprieve from Grocery Store Obstacle Course

It is Saturday afternoon, about two o’clock. As I am turning north onto Christie Street, it begins to pour rain. A few blocks up, I pull into the Fiesta Farms parking lot, managing to snag a spot at the front. My father’s old adage, “People leave at the front too” proves true on a good day. I grab my umbrella and grocery bin, and run for the door.

A spot at the front is appreciated at Fiesta Farms regardless of the weather, because getting your groceries to the car takes a little extra work. There are two options. You can

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Movement in the Ballroom

If you squint your eyes while looking at this photo you can almost see the people dancing as guests once did in the rooftop Crystal Ballroom. Of course these people are not dancing. This abandoned ballroom was meant to be full of people, and the expansive room only begins to return to life as these guests stand quietly, sharing their observations about a place long closed to the public.

The idea of dancing stays with me as I walk past these conversations, through the space. I feel the room swaying. I think this sensation has something to do with the large windows and the light streaming in through them. Or maybe it is the view out the windows that makes me feel unsteady, a view that still reaches all the way to the lake. Regardless, I enjoy the sensation of movement. I imagine the feeling to be similar to a guest’s experience when the Crystal Ballroom was in its heyday.

Did Your Grandmother Hang at the Windsor Arms?

I am at the Windsor Arms Hotel for a YWBC volunteer appreciation tea. The first time I visit a building, I always make a point of checking out the washrooms. A room, so tied to function, can reveal a lot about a place. The washrooms here are what I expected, full wood panel doors on each stall and luxurious finishes. The interesting part came as I left.

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