Venice Biennale, Giardini Venue
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Cambridge Galleries was selected by the Canada Council for the Arts to represent Canada at the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia.
41° to 66° Architecture in Canada: Region, Culture, Tectonics was based on the 2005 exhibition, 41° to 66°: Regional Responses to Sustainable Architecture in Canada, which was organized by Cambridge Galleries and curated by John McMinn and Marco Polo.
41º to 66º celebrates contemporary Canadian architecture from coast to coast and north to the arctic circle. The exhibition reflects the emergence of six distinct geographic regions in Canada-- the Arctic, West Coast, Mountain, Prairie, Continental and Atlantic--whose unique characteristics have evolved in some cases from geographic location and isolation, and in others from the development of a local material culture, i.e. techniques and materials used in crafts, furniture and early aboriginal and pioneer constructions, such as the igloo, tepee and sod house. The influence of these regional characteristics is now being absorbed by and interpreted in modern Canadian architecture.
The ascendance of regionalism as a theme in Canadian architecture has been accompanied by a parallel evolution in sustainable design. The two phenomena offer important overlapping insights into local climatic and environmental conditions as well as cultural and material patterns and traditions which align when attempting to identify common underlying currents in 21st century Canadian architecture. The thesis of 41º to 66º is then, that regional architecture, intersecting with sustainable architecture, typically embodies local culture and geography, whether that be derived from rural vernacular building practices or indigenous cultural traditions, and thus offers a rich alternative to the perception of sustainable architecture as driven by technology and energy performance.
The 41º to 66º exhibition is co-curated by architecture professors John McMinn and Marco Polo and features 35 architectural projects by 27 architectural firms from Halifax on the east coast to Vancouver on the west coast and Yellowknife in the far north. Steve Mykolyn of TAXI Canada is collaborating on the exhibition communications, design and promotion.
John McMinn graduated from McGill University in 1983 and the Architectural Association (AA), London in 1990. He spent the early part of his career working in London and Paris with Peter Rice and Ove Arup International. He has taught at several schools of architecture, including the AA in London, the University of Toronto and since 1999, the University of Waterloo where he is Associate Professor. In 1992 John was awarded the Canada Council Prix de Rome in Architecture. In addition to teaching he maintains an active building design practice and contributes to numerous architectural journals. John has been involved in a variety publications and curatorial projects, such as co-curator of Exploring Materials: The Work of Peter Rice, the RIBA Gold Medal exhibition and catalogue (1992), editorial and design consultant for An Engineer Imagines by Peter Rice (1994) and co-author of the book and exhibition Yolles: A Canadian Engineering Legacy (2002).
Marco Polo graduated from the University of British Columbia School of Architecture in 1985, and subsequently worked in professional practice in Toronto before becoming editor of Canadian Architect in 1997, a position he held until 2003. Marco joined Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science in 2002, where he is now Associate Professor. He served as editor of The Prix de Rome in Architecture: A Retrospective, and co-edited, with Professors Colin Ripley and Arthur Wrigglesworth of Ryerson University, In the Place of Sound: Architecture/Music/Acoustics. His research, which concerns the history, theory and criticism of Canadian Modern architecture, was recognized with the Ryerson University Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science Research Excellence Award for 2006.
Steve Mykolyn is Executive Creative Director and Vice President of taxi Canada, an agency recognized globally for its ability to seamlessly combine advertising, interactive and design under one roof. He has produced campaigns for brands such as Telus, Canadian Tire, Molson, Pfizer, BMW Canada and WestJet, receiving hundreds of awards, including a Gold at Cannes, One Show Pencils, and the Art Directors Club of New York. In 1997 he wrote and directed an award-winning documentary film, El Dia La Noche Y Los Muertos on Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, which was selected to close Hispanic Heritage Month at the Smithsonian Institute. Steve’s books include Amusing World, a collaboration with photographer Russell Monk and author Douglas Coupland and Metal Leather Flesh, an exploration of motorcycle culture. His latest work, the 15 Below jacket, a collaboration with fashion designer Lida Baday, is a breathable, waterproof jacket for the homeless which is set to launch in Spring 2008.
Ædifica, founded in 1979, is an award-winning multi-disciplinary practice located in Montreal, Quebec and St. Louis, Missouri. Supported by a staff of over 100, the Ædifica team is composed of architects, interior designers, engineers, graphic design and computer imaging specialists, project managers and technicians who deliver creative, strategic and integrated solutions for the built environment. Ædifica activities are spread across North America and the United Kingdom with a strong focus on architecture, retail design/rollout, workspace design and mechanical/electrical engineering.
Toronto based architectsAlliance, comprised of a team of 70 architects, designers, planners and technologists provide a full spectrum of services, applied to a scope of practice that ranges from academic and institutional buildings to large-scale mixed-use developments. From condominiums and classrooms, laboratories and research buildings, affordable housing and entire communities, aA is represented in projects across Canada, the United States and Europe. aA is the recipient of numerous national and international awards that attest to their reputation as an innovative design firm.
Atelier Big City, (Anne Cormier, Randy Cohen, Howard Davies), founded in 1987 in Montreal, is known for its innovative and often gregarious approach to architectural design. The work of Atelier Big City tries to provocatively push the envelope of what one might imagine to be possible in an architectural project. They believe that combining multiple points of view in the development of concepts generates an alternative to traditional design solutions and of authorship. ABC is particularly interested in the notion of public space and the architectural promenade, which they see as a journey between built projects and their environs. They see the role of the architectural project as a ‘mediator’ of marginal areas and are attracted to metaphysical/interpretive themes and the stimulation of the senses through the use of innovative materials, colour, volume and structure.
Marc Boutin Architect is a research-based critical practice, informed by the application of intense design methodologies to diverse conceptual and physical contexts. The work in the studio is characterized by an inter-disciplinary approach to design, seeking value that can only be achieved through the synthesis of art, architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture. The Calgary-based studio explores architecture of direct experience, pursuing the active participation of the user, the engagement of the social landscape, and appealing to all five senses through the orchestration of those elements that are central to architecture’s presence: light, structure, material and technique. The work of the firm has been recognized by national and international awards, competition wins, exhibitions, and publications.
A large firm renowned for design, technical and project management excellence, Bregman + Hamann Architects (B+H) plays a unique role in the Canadian architectural community. Since its inception in 1953, B+H has designed award-winning buildings and collaborated with top international architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Santiago Calatrava and Daniel Libeskind.
Based in Toronto with offices in Vancouver, China, India and the United Arab Emirates, the firm’s expansive portfolio includes commercial, mixed-use, institutional, renewal, planning, hospitality, retail, health care, residential and transportation projects.
Sustainable design solutions and the incorporation of cultural and community ideals is this firm’s philosophy. With over two decades of experience as one of Canada’s pioneering “green” architects, Peter Busby joined forces with U.S. based Perkins + Will in 2004. Busby Perkins + Will believe that architecture is a service: one that seeks to build relationships, fulfill client’s visions, contribute to human well-being and enhance the health of the planet. The Vancouver-based practice is known for innovation (design, technical, material), attention to detail and a high level of personal service. This firm has received numerous awards for projects that combine advanced sustainable design with architectural excellence.
Linda Chapman has in-depth experience in the field of green building design, and is considered a Canadian leader in the straw bale construction movement, with dozens of straw bale buildings and several published reports to her credit. Linda Chapman Architect, founded in Ottawa in 1991, was established to enable her to fully focus on sustainable architecture. Chapman’s design philosophy is to help clients build better environments that work well, look beautiful, utilize the most appropriate and durable building materials and technologies, and are worthy of the resources spent.
Croft Pelletier architectes, located in Quebec City, have devoted their practice to cultural, commercial and residential projects which articulate from a design point of view, the firm’s commitment to critical theory and conceptual development, the expression of ideas through materials and the active involvement of the client in the creative process. Croft Pelletier projects are inspired by, and seek to reflect a unique synthesis of factors such as the program, the spirit of the site, history and scenography (a cinematic perspective), ambience, the landscape and the constructed environment.
Diamond + Schmitt Architects is committed to the design of buildings that support both the aspirations and functional requirements of their users—architecture shaped by the life within it and by the life around it. Established in 1975 in Toronto, Diamond and Schmitt Architects have achieved national and international recognition with over 100 awards for innovative design excellence and a broad range of completed projects delivered with responsible project management and budget control. Working with colleges and universities, government, healthcare institutions and private clients, the firm has designed performing arts centres, medical and research facilities, academic buildings, exhibition spaces, public spaces, master plans, and mixed-use projects.
AEAC was established in Vancouver in 1991, and was preceded by previous Canadian practices, Arthur Erickson Architects (1972) and Erickson, Massey Architects (1963) AEAC provides consulting services in architectural design, urban design and interior design, in collaboration with other related professionals to serve all levels of government, institutions, developers and private clients. One of Canada’s most celebrated architects, Arthur Erickson and his associates have been involved in master planning and design of several universities, large hospitals, recreational, transportation, tourism and development complexes, as well as major city developments.
Farrow Partnership in Toronto works at the intersection of architecture, brand identity and business strategy. Farrow Partnership is re-imagining the frontiers of design by utilizing advance brand discovery methods, incorporating an intensive collaborative process with the client leading to breakthrough ideas that define what their design will say to the world. This unique approach has been met with enthusiastic testimonials from clients, dozens of design awards and international media attention.
Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden architects + urbanistes, located in Vancouver are known for imaginative problem solving in the face of complex urban issues. Their focus is on the integration of place and form, the development of a keen sense of context for each design as it relates to its environment, and the engagement of people within the space. Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden believe that integrating the design of the public realm into every project is the key to a viable and sustainable community. Comprised of a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary team, Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden have been recognized for their work in mixed-use; waterfronts; public markets; housing; educational, cultural and municipal buildings; recreational facilities and major urban plans.
Hughes Condon Marler Architects (HCMA), with offices in Vancouver and Victoria, is a highly creative and technically proficient team with a passion for integrated, innovative and sustainable architectural solutions. Partners Roger Hughes, Darryl Condon, Karen Marler and Stuart Rothnie have initiated an open studio concept that promotes collaborations and discussion at all levels within the firm and with outside specialists. HCMA has won a number of major architectural competitions and awards for its work public and private institutions including educational and post-secondary facilities; urban town centers; museums and libraries; health care, recreational and sports facilities, and large-scale residential developments.
Kobayashi + Zedda Architects (KZA), based in northern Canada (Whitehorse, Yukon Territory), have been recognized throughout Canada and the circum-polar region as a leader in First Nation and sustainable architecture. Over a ten year period KZA has received numerous awards and has evolved as an architecture and urban planning firm to understand the climate, land, and peoples of the rugged and sparsely populated Yukon Territory.
Richard Kroeker is based in Nova Scotia where he works on architecture and community projects and teaches at Dalhousie University, Faculty of Architecture and Planning. His primary focus has been on tectonic issues and their relationship with natural and cultural contexts. In 2000, he was awarded a Canada Council grant for the study of First Nations architecture in North Eastern North America. This is part of a continuing interest in developing new ways of constructing buildings based on a study of Mi’kmaq precedents and follows his involvement in community projects in Columbia and West Africa.
Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB), an 80+person practice based in Toronto, is known for its consistency of architectural excellence through a diversity of project experience. The integration of architecture, sustainability, performance, aesthetics and making buildings that support the public realm is at the heart of KPMB’s work. The firm has played a major role in Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance and is responsible for many architectural projects built for the city’s significant cultural organizations including the Toronto International Film Festival, The National Ballet of Canada, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, the Young Centre and the Royal Conservatory of Music. Since it was founded in 1987, KPMB has won over 100 awards, including national and international design competitions and ten Governor General’s Awards, Canada’s highest architectural honour.
Brian Lilley believes that landscape, be it urban or rural, is the constant against which people can dwell meaningfully both “on” and “within” their buildings. Landscape embodies a material palette, and material innovation in the service of a strong cultural idea leads toward an inherent richness of form and experience. Mr. Lilley teaches cultural integration and sustainable technologies at Dalhousie University, Faculty of Architecture and Planning in Halifax, Nova Scotia and is a partner in Piskwepaq Design and collaborates with several Halifax based architects.
Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects is a leading proponent of critical regionalist architecture. Projects designed in Atlantic Canada have brought recognition to the firm in the form of national and international awards, publications and exhibition and have led to a transition in the practice toward increased public and international commissions. MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple have also been active in architectural education, the principals, Brian MacKay-Lyons and Talbot Sweetapple, they have held 12 endowed academic chairs and visiting professorships in Canada, Europe and the United States.
Considered the leading "green" architectural firm in Alberta, Manasc Isaac Architects (MIA) was the first firm in Alberta to design sustainable integrated buildings, and has over ten years experience in the field. MIA is committed to improving the environment and recognizes their responsibility to make a positive contribution to the community with each project. The firm believes that “Great architecture is recognized through awards, publications, and ultimately by the delight that people have in being in the building”.
Marshall Tittemore Architects (MTA) is committed to integrating sustainable design principles into all of their projects. MTA maintains offices in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta and has built projects in Canada, the United States, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. MTA employs an "Integrated Design Approach," with attention paid to green design and the development of alternative approaches to building construction.
Patkau Architects is an internationally recognized, award winning architectural design studio based in Vancouver. There are currently three principals: John Patkau, Patricia Patkau and Michael Cunningham. In over 25 years of practice, Patkau Architects has been responsible for the design of a wide variety of projects from gallery installations to master planning, from modest houses to major urban libraries. “As the circumstances of the work change, our interests expand. We seek to explore the full richness and diversity of architectural practice, understanding it as a critical cultural act that engages our most fundamental desires and aspirations. We refuse singular definitions of architecture: as art, as technology, as social service, as environmental agent, as political statement. We embrace all these definitions, together, as part of the rich, complex and vital discipline that we believe architecture to be”.
Located in Canada’s far north, Pin/Taylor Architects are guided by love and respect for the northern Canadian Shield landscape, the cultural needs of First Nations people, the variable lighting conditions and the climate. The firm strives to develop a formal and material palette that is culturally significant, is sensitive to nature and merges buildings with their surroundings. Understanding centuries-old traditions, the vast wilderness and the stark, pristine light of the far north is a life-long endeavour. Founded in Yellowknife in 1983 by Gino Pin, the office has evolved over the years, with several partners, contributing to the firm’s projects, including Lea Matthews, Harold Strub and currently Simon Taylor.
Shim-Sutcliffe Architects’ interest in the construction and fabrication of buildings, sites, and their intersections has forced them to question fundamental relationships between object and ground, building and landscape, man and nature. Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe are partners in life as well as architectural collaborators. The Shim-Sutcliffe studio located in the downtown core of Toronto, frequently references the city’s vibrancy, diversity, ethnicity and particular landscape to reflect both global and North American sensibilities. The studio works in an intense and probing way, sharing ideas through drawings, models, and discussion with the numerous remarkable clients who have put their faith in them over the last fifteen years. Shim-Sutcliffe’s built architectural work has been honoured with eight Governor General’s Medals and Awards for Architecture along with American Institute of Architects, American Wood Council, Canadian Wood Council, Architectural Record Interiors and the I.D. Magazine Design Review awards.
Creating community, integrating sustainable materials and technologies, and applying the principles of Feng Shui are the three pillars of Christopher Simmonds’ design philosophy. “When a group of spaces is shaped to encourage human interaction and participation while respecting individual autonomy, privacy and safety, an environment can be created which sustains community.” Based in Ottawa, Canada’s national capital, Simmonds designs spaces to be flexible enough for multiple uses and adaptable over time and is rigourous regarding, in the selection of materials not only for aesthetic purposes, but with regard to ethical manufacturing processes, durability and disposability.
Smith Carter Architects and Engineers Incorporated has a profile as one of Canada’s largest integrated architectural and engineering practices, merging logic with creativity for nearly six decades. The firm strives for innovation and ingenuity in projects and company operations, recognizing that many factors beyond traditional design services are pivotal to success. They are committed to the principles of LEED and sustainable design and continue to have a high ratio of LEED-accredited professionals on their team. Their commitment to sustainable design is evident in their award-winning Winnipeg headquarters which achieved national recognition including the prestigious Governor Generals Award in 2006.
Continually striving to balance economic, environmental, and social responsibilities, Stantec Architecture is recognized as a world-class leader and innovator in the delivery of sustainable solutions. Founded in 1954, Stantec has offices across Canada, and provides integrated professional design and consulting services in planning, engineering, architecture, surveying, economics, and project management, with projects ranging from individual buildings to large-scale utility, energy and infrastructure projects.
Syverson Monteyne Architects (SMARC) is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Founded in 1994 by Dean Syverson and Tom Monteyne, the SMARC philosophy is to resist the tendency to see the world only as a marketplace of commodities to be bought, sold and manipulated. They aspire to be responsible stewards of the global environment and insist that everything they design be justified by balancing the value to the client and society, against cost to the planet. SMARC believes in the value of designs that are both good-looking and well-built, so that they endure for the long term. They believe in the physical and psychological well-being that emanates from a calm, ordered environment. They believe that good design does not need to be expensive and that a drop of imagination is more valuable than a bucket of money.
41˚ TO 66˚: REGIONAL RESPONSES TO SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE IN CANADA
by John McMinn and Marco Polo.
Throughout history architecture has played a crucial role in helping to define humanity’s relationship to its larger physical and cultural context. Architecture has not merely been a means of providing shelter, but has operated as a constructed model of a larger order embodying the temporal and cosmological understanding of the world in which we live. Currently, we are experiencing the early stages of what will be recognized as a major shift toward sustainability in all aspects of human activity, described by technologist Ian McLennan as “the fourth wave”, potentially equivalent to three earlier fundamental shifts in human history represented by the agricultural, the industrial and the information revolutions.1 This shift is demanding from architects and critics a broad and sweeping reassessment of the way buildings are made and used. Bridging the pragmatic and the transcendent, architecture can play both a practical and a symbolic role in the development of a carefully attuned cultural response to the larger paradigmatic movement of sustainability.
Despite this rich potential, to date the practice of sustainable architecture has largely been viewed through the lenses of technology and energy performance; consequently the discourse surrounding it has remained separate from the broader discussion of architecture as a cultural project. If sustainability is to emerge as a widely accepted public imperative, it must be understood within the broad cultural scope it clearly embodies. The thesis of 41˚ TO 66˚ - representing Canada’s southernmost latitude and that of the Arctic Circle, between which lies the vast majority of the country’s population – responds to the marginalization of sustainability in relation to the larger critical discourse on contemporary architecture, which has been, in part, self-imposed. An earlier generation of green buildings, reacting to the energy crisis of the 1970s, primarily consisted of individual houses located on rural sites. These projects, typically based on strategies of passive solar gain and inherent thermal mass properties of the earth, developed a distinct neo-vernacular architectural language that became associated with the counterculture movement that spawned it. Canada, this first generation of green buildings enjoyed a brief period of public interest before being marginalized by the return of low energy prices. A new set of formal and aesthetic preoccupations, coupled with the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s, eclipsed this generation of green buildings from mainstream architectural discourse. A subsequent wave of interest in sustainability was inspired by the 1987 report Our Common Future, prepared by the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development led by former Norwegian Prime Minister Grø Harlem Bruntland, which called for “a form of sustainable development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”2 Through the early 1990s, a second wave of sustainable design with a strong focus on questions of performance resulted in the tendency to neglect other less quantifiable yet critically important aspects of architecture. A green building subculture emerged, focusing on the technology of energy consumption at the expense of other architectural preoccupations, resulting in a number of buildings that scored well on energy performance but that failed to address a range of critical qualitative architectural issues. The 1998 Green Building Challenge conference held in Vancouver became the first of a series of key biannual gatherings functioning as the primary international venue for the discussion of ideas and practices of sustainable building and development worldwide. Teams from a wide range of countries presented examples of their leading current green building projects based on internationally utilized assessment standards. With an eye to countering the potentially negative public response to a limited, technocratic interpretation of sustainable architecture, the organizers of the Canadian entries decided to consider architectural quality as a criterion in the selection of projects to represent Canada at subsequent international conferences.3
Contributing to the critique of the over-reliance on quantitative measures, British researchers Simon Guy and Graham Farmer have noted that “Scientific analysis…tends to occupy a central position in conventional methods for categorizing, understanding and assessing the ‘greenness’ of buildings. The dominant approaches are characterized by performance threshold models, which assess the impact of a building against a range of criteria, which can be directly measured and weighted.”4 While such models address the important goal of material and energy efficiencies and establish crucial performance targets for new projects, they presuppose a definition of green building too limited to capture the public imagination, which is a critical component of fostering a broader culture of sustainability. In North America, this tendency to quantification is underscored by the adoption of U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEEDTM Green Building Rating System5 as the yardstick by which to measure a building’s green credentials. Adapted for use in Canada by the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) in 2004, LEEDTM now forms the basis for an understanding of what constitutes green building across the many bio-climatic zones of the United States and Canada.
The adoption of such a universal framework inevitably rubs up against the fact that significant regional variation has long represented a fundamental aspect of architectural culture in Canada. Native building traditions were firmly rooted in responses to local climate and locally available materials, as were the buildings of early settlers. This resulted in a variety of distinct vernacular building traditions constituting appropriate and context-specific responses that would today be seen as sustainable in a broad, holistic manner.
REGIONALISM AND SUSTAINABILITY
Not limited to vernacular traditions, a deep concern for regional identity also applied to what architecture critic Peter Buchanan described as the “heroic period” of Canadian architecture,6 characterized by bold expression inspired by the grandeur of the Canadian landscape, which resulted in a generation of iconic buildings that attracted global attention. Despite sharing a fundamental commitment to the tenets of Modern architecture, throughout the 1960s and ‘70s Canadian architects developed distinctly regional responses to local climatic phenomena and landscape conditions. The West Coast style pioneered by Vancouver architects Thompson, Berwick and Pratt and Arthur Erickson exploited the opportunity for extensive glazing afforded by a mild climate and the need to maximize daylight while referring to muscular post-and-beam constructions of First Nations architecture. On the Prairie, architects like Douglas Cardinal of Red Deer, Clifford Wiens of Regina and Étienne Gaboury of Winnipeg/St. Boniface developed a boldly expressionist architecture that related both to landscape conditions and to traditional forms such as tepees and grain elevators. In Central Canada, architects like Ron Thom, Carmen Corneil, Jerome Markson and Macy Dubois developed a tactile, humanistic modernism that grew out of the long-standing tradition of masonry architecture in the Continental region. And, in Atlantic Canada, architects like Angus Campbell of St. John’s adopted a modest contemporary language suited to the craft traditions of the region.
Over the past 25 years, following the decline of this “heroic period”, contemporary regional interpretations of modernist themes have continued to play an important role in the development of Canadian architectural identity. These manifestations of regionalism critically revisit the instrumentalist roots of modernism and take their cues from regional material and formal traditions, referencing a direct response to local climate and environmental conditions.
Recently, the enduring presence of regionalism in Canadian architecture has been accompanied by, and is often linked to, the development of sustainable design strategies. The two phenomena offer potential common ground for the pursuit of an architecture that addresses both local climatic and environmental conditions and cultural and material traditions. In addition to technologically appropriate responses to geography and environment, regional architectures typically embody the essence of local cultural identity intrinsically linked to local geography, be that the embodied wisdom of rural vernacular building practices or the environmental attunement and animistic cosmology of indigenous cultural traditions. This offers an important enhancement of the conventional perception of sustainable architecture as driven by technology and energy performance, helping to address the marginalization of sustainability in the broader discourse of architecture as a cultural project. Just as regionally-inflected heroic modernism inspired a generation in post-World War II Canada to renew the fabric of society and its architecture, so the paradigm of sustainability, steeped in regional cultural and architectural traditions, provides a progressive agenda for a current generation seeking to establish its own distinctive architectural voice.
The pursuit of a contemporary architecture that addresses the precarious balance between local place-identity and a global architectural culture, between vernacular traditions and modern, technologically advanced building practices, formed the basis of British-American critic Kenneth Frampton’s 1983 essay “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.”7 In the context of the current need to articulate a cultural and not merely a technological or pragmatic understanding of sustainability, Frampton’s seminal essay provides an interesting starting point for the articulation of a broader argument for sustainable architecture. A critical re-reading of Frampton’s essay raises the possibility of a discourse on sustainable design that reaches beyond its traditional energy-efficient confines. Arguing for an architecture resistant to an overwhelming global culture that threatens local place-identity, Frampton laments that “Modern building is now so universally conditioned by optimized technology that the possibility of creating significant urban form has become extremely limited.”8 However, Frampton’s notion of Critical Regionalism seeks to distance itself from a nostalgic, atavistic longing for some imagined golden age, placing instead the influences of the vernacular in a contemporary critical context. It seeks a distillation of those elements closely attuned to local conditions, not in terms of their formal manifestation, but in their ontological essence where essential characteristics of the architecture are linked to operative function rather than seen as discretely separable formal attributes. Critical Regionalism can be understood as an attempt to synthesize the seemingly irreconcilable polarity of what Ferdinand Tönnies identified as Gesellschaft – associations that result from rational deliberation which tend to isolate formal features of architecture as discrete – and Gemeinschaft – associations that develop organically where the character of, for example, a regional architectural type is significant and informative to contemporary architectural practice through its attributes of attunement to place, incidentally resulting in familiar and therefore meaningful formal characteristics.9 Frampton writes that to achieve this “ Critical Regionalism necessarily involves a more directly dialectical relationship with nature than the more abstract, formal traditions of modern avant-garde architecture allow.”10 While for Frampton this is clearly couched in the phenomenological concern for “place-making”, a contemporary architectural response, appropriate to its context on a variety of levels, would tend to be linked with local traditions of the material culture of the region. Many of the elements described by Frampton – in particular, those enumerated in section 5 of the essay, “Culture Versus Nature: Topography, Context, Climate, Light and Tectonic Form”11 – lend themselves to the pursuit of an architecture whose responsiveness to local conditions produces not only greater energy and material efficiencies, but that also addresses local cultural and tectonic traditions, leading to greener but also more meaningful architecture that departs from the canon of universalizing practice.
With this construct in mind, the articulation of a theoretical basis for sustainable architecture brings the discourse outside of the simulation lab and into the mainstream of critical practice. Viewed from this perspective, sustainability can be seen as part of a larger contemporary postmodern sensibility. The argument for appropriate technology and response to place that informs sustainability can be understood as an architectural manifestation of the nuanced, contextual and multivalent attitude of the post-colonial voice in contemporary critical discourse. The Critical Regionalist argument proposes an understanding of architecture as a potential vehicle for a productive dialogue between the forces of universalizing technique and local place-identity. This serves as a potentially important model for a contemporary architecture that adopts strategies of sustainability related to local climatic and geographic conditions and cultural practices, and that also participates in a broader critical discourse by engaging sustainability not only as technique or method, but as a cultural paradigm inspiring contemporary architects to establish their own distinctive cultural forms.
The Role of Culture in Defining Sustainability
An emerging body of scholarly work supports the perception that the time is ripe for an approach to sustainable architecture that reaches beyond technological considerations to address a variety of intangible but essential cultural values. In their efforts to encourage a qualitative understanding of sustainability, Guy and Farmer challenge the dominance of quantitative assessment in the definition of sustainable architecture by enumerating six “competing logics of green buildings,”12 some of which address sustainability from a more qualitative perspective. Among these, what they term the “symbolic logic” addresses issues of regional and local culture as an important dimension of sustainability: “Rather than postulating a universal, radical change of attitudes, the symbolic logic emphasizes a fundamental re-orientation of values to engage with both environmental and cultural concerns. The emblematic issue is authenticity and the notion that truly sustainable buildings need to relate more fully to the concept of locality and place. Our ethical responsibilities are to resist the phenomenon of universalization prevalent in modern culture … current technologically based sustainable architectural approaches and design methodologies often fail to coincide with the cultural values of a particular place of people.”13 Or, as stated more succinctly by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban: “permanence is not a matter of the materials you use, permanence is whether people love your building.”14
Citing Ujam and Stevenson’s contention that “Without cultural awareness, any attempt to create a more sustainable environment is likely to falter as it encounters but fails to recognize very deeply structured personal responses to particular places that will tend to override shallow environmentalism,”15 Guy and Farmer conclude that “Contemporary architecture should therefore seek a greater understanding of local culture if it is to be sustainable.”16 This view is further supported by the notion that to be truly sustainable, buildings need to remain relevant and functional to the community they serve over the long term. Energy efficient buildings that fail to address cultural needs and values may suffer premature obsolescence and invite major modification or outright demolition and replacement, undermining ambitions for sustainability. Vale and Vale have argued that “One way to achieve longevity and avoid demolition is to design buildings that are capable of adapting to the user’s changing needs.”17 This argument can be extended to state that those needs may be defined not only in practical terms, but also on the basis of cultural, aesthetic and material traditions specific to a local or regional population for whom such elements are fundamental manifestations of self-definition and place-identity. Such an approach tends to draw “inspiration from indigenous and vernacular building strategies which are seen as indicative of ways in which culture adapts to the limitations of a particular environment … [drawing on] the holistic nature of traditional building in which physical, spiritual and environmental needs were integrated within the greater context of social groups.”18 Similarly, McDonough and Braungart address the notion of being “native” to a place, implying a more holistic relationship to local context, and by extension to the larger ecosphere.19 This links to the concept of the Traditonal Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of First Nations peoples in North America and elsewhere, where the material culture of a place is a repository of cultural values, a primary condition of which is embodied in the role of stewardship of that place.20
Despite the fact that green building practice has been dominated by quantitative concerns for energy performance, the important regional dimension of sustainable practice is self-evident. Even from the narrow perspective of energy consumption, fundamental design strategies such as building orientation, location and nature of fenestration and viability of alternative energy sources (solar collection, wind generation, ground source heating) must all be closely attuned to local climatic, microclimatic and geological conditions if they are to perform effectively. At a more strategic level, procurement of locally available materials and regional construction practices taking advantage of local labour skills also constitute effective strategies for reducing the ecological footprint of construction projects.21 These strategies have always been staples of vernacular traditions; Niklaus Kohler notes that “Because of the shortage of resources, traditional vernacular building practices have tended intuitively, through trial and error, towards economically and environmentally optimal solutions.”22 If this is true in the European context, which Kohler recognizes “as a society which is strongly marked by centuries of common history, intense cultural exchange and … approximately 200 years of identification with national states,”23 it is even more so in Canada, where a harsh climate, geographic isolation of settlements and limited access to technology demanded the development of vernacular responses – in both indigenous and early settler architecture – very carefully attuned to local conditions.
These two models of vernacular architecture in Canada – of indigenous peoples and of early European colonization – offer distinct responses to the environment and consequently reveal significant cultural differences in the populations they represent. At the most basic level, there is a fundamental distinction related to overall attitudes toward the environment. Traditionally in the case of indigenous peoples, the relationship to environment is primarily one of symbiosis, with no concept of private ownership of resources such as land, water, minerals or plant life and no notions of improvement of the natural environment by human intervention. Nature is viewed as “being”, and humans are seen as part of nature. Indigenous peoples’ concept of time is synchronic rather than diachronic, with a much greater emphasis on cyclical rather than linear notions of time. Consequently, architecture is understood as an extension of the natural world, and construction is often undertaken with the expectation that it will eventually dissolve back into the earth.24
The Western model practiced in Canada by European settlers operated on the Judeo-Christian notion of human dominion over nature; the wilds of the New World were understood as threatening and dangerous, and were to be domesticated to serve humanity. Settlement was devised not to act symbiotically with nature, but primarily to mitigate its potentially deleterious effects on human populations. Architecture is understood as a shelter from and barrier against the natural world, and construction is designed with durability in mind. 25 This aspect of early settler attitudes toward the natural environment is widely understood as a defining characteristic of Canadian identity, and is often referred to as the “garrison mentality” after literary critic Northrop Frye’s description of the phenomenon.26
These two competing yet complementary approaches to vernacular architecture continue to inform contemporary practice and offer rich possibilities for the pursuit of strategies for sustainability, albeit from different perspectives. The indigenous perspective offers unique insights into a strong ethic of environmental stewardship through a strategy of minimal intervention and a reduced ecological footprint,27 while early settler models illustrate a wide range of cultural and technological responses to extreme climatic conditions finely and efficiently tuned as a result of limited available resources. Both however are representative of practices whose relevance has significant limitations for the present day, in that traditional approaches to architecture often fail to address the needs of an advanced post-industrial society with particular expectations of the built environment. The challenge is to distill those elements of the vernacular that address the issue of sustainability, both attitudinally and symbolically, without sacrificing the standards of health, safety and comfort that form the basis of contemporary technologically advance building.
The 32 projects included in this publication were drawn from a much larger group of contemporary buildings, all of which represented some dimension of sustainability. Relevance to the thesis of cultural sustainability and regional inflection formed the basis of the selection, with projects representing a variety of building types, a relatively even regional distribution and a variety of detailed contextual conditions, from rural to urban. Given the theme of regional variation and attunement to geographic conditions, many of the selected projects are situated in remote rural locations or settings peripheral to the dominant urban context of the bulk of contemporary architectural practice and discourse. Shim-Sutcliffe Architects’ Moorelands Camp Dining Hall in Ontario’s lake country and the Cape Breton, Nova Scotia houses by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects exemplify this type. However, urban projects, while less obviously representative of the themes articulated herein, are of equal if not greater importance. Given Canada’s urban demography, its urban architecture will of necessity play a central role in the development of a significant sustainable architectural culture. To this end, projects such as diamond and Schmitt Architects’ Bahen Centre for Information Technology in Toronto and Ædifica’s Angus Technopole in Montreal become important examples of projects that respond to highly specific social, cultural and local urban conditions, all of which are discussed in greater detail in subsequent sections.
The projects have been organized by region, with brief descriptions of the bio-climatic, physical and cultural conditions that gave rise, in the first instance, to vernacular architectural responses and, subsequently, to contemporary interpretations of sustainable architecture. The selected projects were designed by a wide variety of architectural practices, some of which have clearly self-identified as green building specialists, but many of which have not, and which view sustainability not as a technical specialty but rather as an essential component of contemporary critical practice. This is particularly significant in the context of 41˚ to 66˚, which seeks to articulate a broad view of sustainability that embraces architecture as, first and foremost, a cultural project.
A Model for Sustainable Practice
The projects included in this study represent six distinct cultural and geographic regions of Canada: Arctic, West Coast, Mountain, Prairie, Continental and Atlantic. The climate, geography and cultural heritage of these areas differ widely, resulting in highly particularized architectures which, in varying ways, marry contemporary technological building practice with unique local conditions. These examples of contemporary Canadian architecture speak with a polyphonic voice that is nuanced, layered and complex, reflecting Niklaus Kohler’s statement that “There is no conflict between regionally appropriate and environmentally appropriate building practice”28 in his proposal for Critical Regionalism. As such the work resists the numbing effect of both the universalizing impact of global technology and of nostalgic superficial representations of self-referential historic revivalism. The projects included in this study suggest an approach that may prove to be among the most effective strategies for advancing the cause of architecture that is sustainable at a number of levels, fulfilling its role not only as environmental mediator but also as a cultural project. Articulating sustainability as part of a larger cultural discourse points to a more holistic foundation for architecture that encompasses and expands on vital benchmarks already established in current sustainable practice models. Herein lies architecture’s potential, transforming from a contributor to the bedeviling problems of human impact on the global ecosphere, to being part of a sustaining solution to its, and our, ongoing viability.
John McMinn is Associate Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo, Cambridge, Ontario
Marco Polo is Assistant Professor in the Department of Architectural Science at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario
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20. Chakasim, Kenneth J.. “Sustainability: The AlterNATIVE Perspective”, unpublished manuscript prepared as part of course of study at Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science, 2004.
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