Diagraphics of Elevational Geometry (totemic ichnography):
Small Apartment Building for Byward Market, Ottawa. 07/03/2001
The Byward Market of Ottawa, once a depressed area of the city became a unique and vital urban place unrivaled in Canada, because of the late seventies initiatives of an Ottawa urban activist architect, and the magnetic intellectual influence he had on fellow architects and local community groups to "see" the area and its importance to the vital substance of the city,
Its popularity and success however generated urban planing policies which did well to foster an ambiance suitable to the carnevalisation of the district whose main purpose somewhere in time got defined to be the perpetuation of fun-ambulism 1, and that did everything to squelch contemporary architectural interventions whose motives were always to simply inject that essential urbatectonic life-force that the area required.
What has resulted, is a sad Walt-Disneyisation of its architectural historical character (the original activist architect himself being an active landlord of this), and, the consequent deterioration of the area to one of being an urban "sink" whose sole vitality is superficially based on the dynamic of "herd commodification".
Consequently, in a confused state, and due to the few years of economic depression that it had undergone, time now has introduced it to a development overzealousness which is entertaining and accepting interventions by speculators and developers from Toronto and their Third World (acceptable to Toronto) building standards ( fueling the densification of the area by introducing cheap apartments disguised by the marketing label of "lofts", and "empty"2 mediocre building stock under the label of "modernist" architecture 3).
The above preliminary sketch proposal is for an owner of a small lot in the area. The aesthetic intent is to develop a form that speaks to the "carnivalization" and "fun-ambulism" of the place. It represents a low-density development consisting of distinct cubical volumes, whimsically arranged with respect to each other and containing a single apartment of 1350 sq.ft.
The letting of each apartment find its unique expression in space and the manner in which formal connections between them are theorized become the primary architectonic devices contributing to the nurturing of "the ego-figure" 4 so absent in, if not uncongenial to, contemporary Canadian apartment architecture.
Forming explores "transience" and its integration with the dominant themes of "envelopment", "exposure", and "detachment" as they are coloured by degrees of compositional freedom particular to apartment building typologies.
Being rethought here is the nature and value of primary circulation systems of apartment buildings and the architectural devices normally overlooked or existing as wispy subconscious accidents.
The threshold, a liminal state, defined place betwixt and between, a moderating pause to acclimatize oneself to the difference between inside and outside, personal and private, physical and emotional, becomes articulated here as a distinct and individualistically expressed spatial quantum. It is a quasi personal domain within that major or dominant space, that unfolds the external inter-relationships of the private apartment units, and, that generates those diametrically opposed forces of envelopment and exposure. It becomes the place where balancing of these tensional forces takes place, physically and symbolically.
The staircase, steps, the ramp bring to the condition of in-betweenness the dynamic of transition, expectation, disclosure and define movement's characteristics. Here, staircase is differentiated from stairs, stairs from steps.
The incorporation of "steps" rather than "stairs", ramps, and "liminal states" rather than "landings", creates an architecture suitable to osmotic interdependencies of spaces and consequent inter-layering of the thematic formal undertones they each contain.
The "staircase" as an architectural device, in this case, looses all iconic reference to such as it takes on a grander function than just that of a means of transition. It is elevated to being an important spatial condition wherein the personal and social bonds particular to the definition of close packed living ( the apartment building), can be exer/or cised.
Spatial interdependencies are punctuated where the 10'-0" square freight elevator stops at common stops. The elevator and its common landings become at once devices and archetypal forms as they also take on the function of aedicule and courts simultaneously, and in this case, the dynamic or kinetic places of neighbourly encounters and momentary detachment from the personal.
Stair is introduced as an emergency exit device, an attached light steel structured fire escape, weather-enclosed using woven metal fabric. As a steel cage its thematic content stands contrapuntally to that of the ego-figure, and in irony with it.
1. Fun-ambulism: Word coined by this author, not to be mistaken as funambulism meaning " tightrope walking" and so conjuring literary allusions to Nietzche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra". It is intended to represent the urbanite tranquilized by contemporary society's syrup of "partying" and "working for the weekend" and public socializing through participation in "staged" common events; escapism through fun; fun as an opiate to hide the shortcomings of social providence; fun as an instrument with which the social politics of repression subliminally work to numb and dispel the need to defend one's unique sense of self and the private embellishment of personal space.
(from essay, Hyperbollicsyllabicsesquidalymystic Tailor by O. Sbrissa, 1971)
2. 'In regard to human constructions, ugliness, badness as such, is not most feared, but emptiness, that is to say, lack of identity, lack of focus, promoting a feeling of unreality as may be transmitted, for instance, by an ill proportioned flashy apartment yet designed, it seems, to banish space and time and so the sense of any function to be performed there.
A crack in the plaster would be a relief. The squalid, the ugly, do not necessarily lend themselves to this numbing sense of unreality, disintegration, the undoing of the ego-figure.'
Clearly there are profound implications in ascribing to art such a fundamental role in establishing for each culture its form of stability, the images of reconciled conflict and integration that strive to make us, in Hegel's phrase 'Einhausung'--at home in the world.
Colin St. John Wilson, op.cit.
3. For an example of such Toronto building typologies see "Light, Air and View" by Marco Polo, Canadian Architect, March 2001. Although Polo praises such developments, they can be viewed as examples of the powerlessness of contemporary Canadian architects practicing in Toronto, of professional laziness on all levels, politically, socially, and artistically, and as paradigms which speak of the general crisis in the contemporary Canadian architectural community in which too many members have become simple instruments manipulated by interests not conversant in architecture and not interested in its vital needs but that are allowed to participate under its banner with doings that undermine its science and reduce it to a common element of metropolitan commodification.
4. Ego-figure: ' an epitome of balance or stable corporeality, more concrete, more object-seeming, than any image of what is called the personality' . . . 'a witness of the ego's power to project a good image of its own balance that incorporates under this figure a symposium of meanings, many of which would else have suffered envelopment by one meaning' Ibid.