In the summer of 2005, a series of posters were hung 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, to pause and perhaps, to explore the more unusual features of the community.
If a passerby’s interest was piqued, the poster provided minimal directions to lead them to 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.
Below is a map of the locations featured in the Have You Seen This? Project.
This project grew from my search to engage in a different conversation in architecture—one that focuses on our relationships to place. Stories 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.
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.
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.
The Dyson Airblade is a fabulous hand-dryer. The thoughtful design is beginning to appear in many washrooms around the city. A slick renovation (think granite topped garbage bins) to the ground floor washroom in Robarts includes these dryers. Unfortunately, in this location, women do not use them.
There is a simple explanation. Old-style dryers blow air down onto your hands. The Airblade works differently. You must slip your hands into an opening from above, and then move your hands up and down through the air which blows horizontally. This design means the fixtures must be hung lower than traditional dryers. At Robarts, the Airblades are hung too high for any but the tallest of women to use.
I am 5’6″, not exactly short. To get my hands into the dryer I needed to bend my arms into an awkward position. That said, discomfort is not the primary reason I will never use these particular dryers again. That decision is based on a gross-out factor. The height of the dryer caused the water from my hands to blow up into my face. Being spritzed with water from a dryer in a public washroom was repulsive.
I experienced this in September 2010. I was back in the building recently and returned to the washroom to see if the issue has been rectified. It hasn’t. The dryers are in the same position. I think this is a great case of not following through to see how things are or aren’t working in a space. The fix is easy; lower the dryers. As I observed during my first visit, the women today all ignored the dryers and went straight for the paper towel―once spritzed, twice shy.
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.
The ordeal started about 6pm. The first vomit was in the living room, over the edge of his bed onto the floor. From there, he moved onto my bed for vomit number two. Next he vomited beside my desk, very close to his bed. Telling you the specific locations of the other seven regurgitations is not necessary; I know where they were because I cleaned them up. Tonight, Rascal showed me where his world, particularly when in discomfort, exists within mine.
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.
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 backdrop of the city looked when draped in smog. I was immediately reminded of Claude Monet’s haystack paintings. He painted the same haystack at different times of day; in each instance the shift in light transformed the simple subject matter.
I first saw the green roof in bright spring light, and now again on a thick summer day. I decided then to return for each of the remaining seasons to record the cycle of the plants and the changes in the view of the city. I discovered that if one dresses for the weather, it is a glorious year round space. Standing on the podium in the winter was certainly brisk, but the garden was still full of character.
For the moment, the green roof feels like a shared secret. Finding your way up to it takes a little work. Follow the swooping walkway that leads up out of the north-east part of the square. There is no sign stating what lies ahead. In February, I had to go around an appropriated parade barrier and then walk up the snow covered ramp. Don’t let any of this deter you. Once at the top, the gate was open to welcome me in.
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 to be slow. As we stood at the back of the line waiting to go down to the lobby, the wall beside us peeled opened to reveal a giant freight elevator. The crew pushed their cameras past us into an elevator straight out of my dreams. I am guessing it was 40 feet long, 16 feet wide and 20 feet high, about the size of small Toronto condo, one with great potential for a mezzanine.
Of course different dreams conjure different elevators. Some nights utilitarian ones like this materialize, other nights the elevator is ornate, wood panelled, like an old bank. The consistent feature is size―always unusually large.
I stood there in awe. A peculiar reoccurring element from my dreams is an everyday part of these people’s world. I took a couple of photographs, but felt awkward explaining why to those standing inside. Oh, how I wish I had asked to step into the elevator and ride down a floor or two. One rarely has the opportunity (while awake) to experience the bizarre built world from their dreams.
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 chance to speak to the architects who designed the building and the employees who work there. After a guided tour of the ground floor, our group was left to wander or ask questions.
I had a brief conversation with an architect from Taylor Hariri Pontarini Architects, the firm that designed the building. He told me that the client gave him a lot of freedom to work with details and materials of his choice—exciting prospects for the firm’s first large project. The building is as elegant inside as it is from the street. The gathering spaces that dominate the ground floor are filled with light, and are simultaneously intimate and expansive.
I love the premise of Doors Open—a chance to peek inside a world that belongs to someone else. My favourite conversation that day was not with the architect (as I’d expected), but rather with a woman who has worked for McKinsey & Company for many years (since before this building was opened in 1999). She shared with me stories about the first decade in the life of the building.
She really likes working here. She told me how the space is used, and the personal connections employees have to the place. She spoke a lot about the communal areas, particularly the courtyard.
Training sessions are held in the main boardroom. Midway through a long session, the large sliding doors that lead out to the courtyard are opened to refresh the participants. Her colleagues use the courtyard and the adjacent indoor lounge to meet clients, and as an alternative place to work. The courtyard also plays a role beyond work. It has functioned as a place for celebration, an employee was married there recently, and as place for memorial, a tree was planted in the garden for a staff member who died during a company retreat.
After hours use of the building is fairly common. The woman I spoke with has access to the parking garage on evenings and weekends. This allows her and her husband to take advantage of the great location, close to shopping and cultural activities. Her husband enjoys relaxing with a coffee in one of the several seating areas in and around the atrium. For her, as nice as the space is, its still her workplace and not a spot to unwind.
What didn’t she like? The stairs were the only thing she mentioned. To an eye trained in architecture, the stairs are a key design move in the atrium, the place where all of the employees gather for weekly video meetings. But people have fallen on the stairs so she no longer uses them. Instead, she takes the utilitarian elevator, which is hidden away in the corner.
Too often we judge a structure by its looks, frequently via a photograph, without ever having stepped inside the building. This Doors Open visit made clear to me the power of stories to tease out how a place works (or doesn’t).
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 sun. Crossing The Strip at grade is discouraged. As an alternative, pedestrians are presented with a series of bridges where they can safely pass over the traffic. Thankfully, these bridges are equipped with escalators because climbing stairs was definitely not part of my, beat the heat, plan.
One particular detail on the outdoor escalators caught my attention. They had pale grey handrails, not the typical black. The light colour does not absorb nearly as much heat from the glaring sun. Out of habit, I grabbed onto the escalator handrail. The muted tone meant my hand was greeted by warm rubber instead of being scorched. This may not be glamorous design, but it is certainly desert weather smart.
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 lifted her receipt up into the air. The piece of paper danced around the dome, riding the air current while the woman chased after it. Several people paused, theoretically to help, but really to watch.
Anyone who frequents Dupont Station has experienced the effects of this indoor wind. It usually appears in one of two ways, as a door that takes gargantuan strength to open, or as a door that opens and closes with no one nearby, like a ghost is at work.
After a few near misses the woman caught her receipt. With the show over, I knew my next task was to push the door open, and that it would take all my strength. It did. Yet once outside, I was greeted by calm evening air. I’m sure an engineer could explain exactly what causes these odd occurrences. For now, the visual of the evasive receipt is a good clue.
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 it. During my first visit, I remember admiring the blue tiles that cover the walls inside the stall—the unusual shade compliments the sky blue paint near the sinks.
I have been using the washroom regularly for several weeks. Today, for the first time, I opened the stall door and saw yellow. I was confused. I opened each of the unlocked doors to discover a different colour. Apparently, without realizing it, I had gone to the same stall each time. What other surprises have I been missing while on repeat?
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 almost teenagers, to stop midway. With the older sister leading, the boy and girl returned to the path of the labyrinth to reverse their way back out. Walking the labyrinth one direction seemed enough for their father. He continued to ignore the lines as he walked away.
Once out, he waited by the steps, eventually moving into the shade. His gazed was fixed on his children; I only noticed him look at his watch once. The two did not rush and when they reached the exit, both celebrated with a fist pumping dance. Their mission accomplished, they joined their dad and left the square.
Soon another young boy and his father appeared. The two ran and played together the entire length of the labyrinth. When they reached the middle, the father gently pushed the boy across the lines to exit, no reverse walk for him.
Numerous other adults, young and old, sat around the periphery of the labyrinth. None, including me, walked it. Kids encourage us grown-ups to take the time to pause, explore, and maybe even play. On this sunny July afternoon, only those with children alongside embraced the impulse to walk the twisting and turning path.
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.
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 show. We had no problem hearing the musicians, but we only caught the occasional glimpse of their faces. Instead, I was mesmerized by George Koller’s finger work as he played the upright bass. This more subtle element of the performance was highlighted because of our improvised seat.
An unexpected pairing of auditory and visual came thanks to University Avenue, our background for the stage. The ebb and flow of traffic on the busy street animated the music. Today was jazz, but I imagine the coupling of movement and sound would be effective regardless of the type of music being performed.
This was a lunchtime concert and daylight flooded in through the wall of west facing windows. An illuminated audience is not usually part of a jazz show. I realized that because of the light and my seat, I was watching the audience almost as much as the performers. I was fascinated to see the expressions on people’s faces as they listened, watching who fidgeted and who focused. For me, the audience became part of the performance.
Our spot on the floor was certainly not the most comfortable seat in the house, but it offered a dynamic combination of city, audience and performer like I have never experienced.
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 customer. I opened the trunk and soon he was there to help me load my food into the car.
The physical challenges that created the obstacle course at Fiesta Farms have not changed. The approach to helping circumvent them has. Vito can watch numerous carts simultaneously, but he can only carry one person’s groceries at a time. And with him standing there, it no longer feels like you are leaving your weeks worth of food there for the taking. If this new practice is embraced by the others, and not just Vito, than the obstacle course is obsolete. Unless of course, you are running it for your own sense of accomplishment.
Read original post, Reprieve from Grocery Store Obstacle Course
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?
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 able to focus on the questions, the responses, and the asides which helped me to decide my vote.
I may have found my inspiration in the cool air, but the effect was not necessarily universal. This was confirmed by several women in the washroom afterward. They were still shivering as they complained about how cold they were during the debate. I hope their reaction to the temperature did not effect their ability to concentrate and to leave the debate well informed. I learned years ago to always bring a sweater.
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 returned. He rang my doorbell once, twice and then probably fifteen times in quick succession. This time I didn’t answer. I was locked inside my house and I felt protected from him.
Eventually he left, and I continued with my ironing. That is when the party-wall, that divides my house from my neighbour’s house, began to move. What the hell was that, I thought to myself as I ran towards the back door. It wasn’t my neighbour and his renovations as I initially expected. No, it was an earthquake—a rare event in Toronto. The stranger at my door caused me to lock the world out of my house and me in. I felt protected. The earthquake, perhaps five minters later, sent me running from my house. I was afraid to be inside. I’m confused. Should I stay or should I go?
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 shifting in the pews. Only after sitting and listening for an hour, did I realize what was keeping me from leaving. It was not great political rhetoric, but the thick red cushions softening the otherwise hard wooden pews. They seem to make anything tolerable.
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. He pauses, leans against the balcony railing, and then continues moving. I’m sure he is oblivious to his large audience and I know Mitchell is unaware of him, but the two men play off each other for us.
The shirtless man hovers just above Mitchell’s shoulder. He is different then the man in Mitchell’s narrative, yet watching him I see him as part of the story. He seems like a character acting out his creator’s words. For me, this unexpected scene, prompted by the overlap of two distinct spaces and activities, is one of the joys of dense urban living.
What surprising, perhaps jarring, urban overlaps have you seen?
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 abandon your cart full of groceries at the barricade, return with your car, double park, and load. Or, you can choose the obstacle course. To do this, carry everything you’ve bought over the barricade, between the parked cars, across the road (being careful to avoid moving cars), to the parking lot and your trunk—hoping not to have to dig for keys.
I don’t mind this added adventure in an otherwise mundane shop. I do know others who avoid what is really a great grocery store because of the challenge of getting their food to their car. There is no adventure for me today. The fates have aligned. The rain has stopped and the boys are there to help carry my groceries to the car.
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.