Book reviews: June 2014
Pools: Aquatic Architecture
Edited by Trevor Boddy. New York and San Francisco: ORO Editions, 2013.
Last fall, Vancouver’s Hughes Condon Marler Architects (HCMA) released a book that focuses on the swimming pool. As its editor, Trevor Boddy, notes in the introduction, “There is surprisingly little in print about the public swimming pool as a building type.”
Which is a shame, considering that pools, to put it crudely, are where the action is. Aquatic centres and outdoor pools in Metro Vancouver are aging and the demand on facilities is going up. Since 2001, HCMA and its predecessor firm, Roger Hughes + Partners, have played a key role in upgrading or replacing a number of aging pool facilities in the region–and there is more work to be done.
Among the firm’s highlights is the stunningly beautiful Killarney Community Pool in Vancouver. It sits atop a berm and features a long wall of coloured glass. It is aptly described as “a lantern in the park.” Another local project, the high-profile Olympics legacy Hillcrest Centre, includes a number of pools. Here, like at Killarney, glue-laminated beams vault and swaths of glass connect swimmers to natural light and vistas. This is no surprise as big beams and big windows have become essentially de rigueur in public architecture in the region. And this book showcases how HCMA delivers those generous expanses while meeting “specific performance criteria that need fulfillment at high levels.”
As such, the book is more of an impressive portfolio than an examination of the building type. It leaves readers pondering: how do these buildings mediate our attraction to water? In what ways does the pool as pleasure palace (why else the prevalence of the super slide) contribute to its function as a social condenser? Does gathering in semi-nudity change the way we see social and racial difference, and what role does architecture play? The depth of such matters, though hinted at, is never fully plumbed.
JJ Lee is a memoirist, fashion writer, and holds a Master of Architecture from the University of British Columbia.
Make Alive: Prototypes for Responsive Architecture
Edited by Rodolphe el-Khoury, Christos Marcopoulos and Carol Moukheiber. Philadelphia: Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers, 2012. (Also published as The Living, Breathing, Thinking, Responsive Buildings of the Future. London: Thames and Hudson, 2012.)
Responsive architecture promises buildings that can interact with various physical contexts, as well as learn and adapt to user needs. In this book, there is an attempt to go beyond describing the technologies to explore their formal possibilities.
The book features 51 projects, either designed by the editors or by students under their supervision at the University of Toronto, MIT and the University of Hong Kong. One notable example is the IM Blanky. The quilt features a swirling motif stitched in conductive thread and decorated with beaded movement sensors. The network relays real-time data on the tilt and shape of the blanket. The prototype quickly drew interest from occupational therapy researchers, who foresee future applications monitoring sleep disorders.
Some of the projects, including the Blanky, were created at a University of Toronto research lab adjacent to Toronto’s Bay subway station. The subterranean lair houses 3D printers, laser cutters and a waterjet cutter that can silently slice through eight-inch titanium. Nearby there is a motorcycle on a plinth, a mannequin wearing a responsive dress and large sheets of moss in varying stages of decay–artifacts from projects in the book and from newer research.
The premise of the research is that every building component can be equipped with computational power. So the format of the book causes some frustration–it is merely a book. Photographs and a short text provide only a glimpse into projects like the Tunable Sound Cloud by student Mani Mani. This reader longs to click to enlarge, scroll through more images, and test the aural responsiveness of the Sound Cloud in a changing space.
Terri Peters is an architect and PhD researcher based in Copenhagen and Toronto.
John C. Parkin, Archives, and Photography
By Linda Fraser, Michael McMordie and Geoffrey Simmins. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2013.
John C. Parkin’s ascent to become a giant of postwar Modernism in Canada is at the core of John C. Parkin, Archives, and Photography. From the Ottawa train station that graces the book’s cover to the pioneering Toronto Aeroquay (now demolished), his firm’s elegant large-scale projects set the standard for what architectural Modernism was in this country.
An excellent wide-ranging introduction to Parkin’s work and formative experience, this handsome paperback gathers five essays and an archival interview with the architect. These are accompanied by Hugh Robertson’s exquisite, seemingly airless photographs documenting the work. This pairing brings into sharp focus Parkin’s construction of a contemporary architectural practice, which included the canny deployment of photography to support an aura of inevitable competence. Among the most striking images in the book is a mandala-shaped diagram illustrating the explicitly rational organization of Parkin’s office, with the client at the centre and radiating spokes of specialist consultants and departments, neatly summarizing the firm’s ethos.
Robertson’s photos are a high point. His studio, Panda Associates, produced images equal in evocative quality and persuasive power to the best North American architectural photographers of the postwar period. The Panda photographic archive is so strong and vital that it deserves its own standalone monograph.
The book showcases holdings from the University of Calgary’s Canadian Architectural Archives, home to both the John C. Parkin and Panda Associates archives. While the authors take pains to state that this is not a comprehensive monograph on the architect, they needn’t apologize. They have assembled an excellent introduction to Parkin and laid the groundwork for more exciting work to emerge from the University of Calgary archives.
Javier Zeller is an architect working in Toronto with Diamond Schmitt Architects.