Books (March 01, 2007)

Canada Innovates: Sustainable Building

Edited by Luigi Ferrara and Emily Visser. Toronto: School of Design, 2006.

Not so long ago, “sustainability” used to be just a buzzword that most people knew little about, a novelty value-add that architects infrequently offered as part of their design services. Thankfully, the general population has reached a critical stage of awareness and the architectural profession has developed considerable expertise such that sustainable building is a publicly recognized imperative. Canada Innovates: Sustainable Building is an important publication in the furtherance of these goals, as it documents the leadership and innovation that researchers and practitioners have demonstrated in this country.

The Canada Innovates publications showcase fresh new approaches to design in relevant emerging topics within a Canadian context. The first volume in the series covered the Canadian influence in the area of digital media, and this second volume, borne out of a research project conducted by the School of Design at George Brown College in Toronto (of which Luigi Ferrara is the director), includes perspectives from practitioners, constructors and clients on the design and construction of sustainable buildings.

Essays by editors Ferrara and Emily Visser set the framework for the sustainability discussion, while Professor Terri Meyer Boake offers a historical perspective. Future directions are canvassed by Ian Chodikoff, editor of this magazine, and Peter Busby, a pioneer practitioner in Canada’s sustainability initiatives, offers his valuable insight on future best practices.

Over 50 projects are featured in detail from across the country comprising educational, institutional, commercial, residential and community planning categories. A number have graced the pages of this magazine in recent years, such as the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, Red River College, the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, the Gleneagles Community Centre, and the BC Cancer Research Centre. Five of the 50-plus projects are examined in significant detail as major case studies/landmark sustainable buildings.

What enhances this publication as a truly practical reference is the inclusion of an impressive resources section that encompasses an explanation of green building rating systems, an architect directory, a listing of LEED- certified buildings in Canada, names and websites of national and regional organizations involved in the sustainable building industry, a product catalogue and a list of suppliers. LJ

Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture

By Lisa Robertson. Toronto: Coach House Press, 2006.

Lisa Robertson, the Canadian essayist and poet, is not an architect, but her interests in the discipline led her to describe herself as a soft architect. Robertson is the kind of author who would hold a book launch in a Value Village–she did this last year when Coach House Books reissued Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture.

This work is largely a manifesto for Robertson’s Office for Soft Architecture–a compendium of writing for art catalogues, magazines and journals. This selection is followed by a series of short meandering essays, written in 2000 to describe dream-like walks through urban and interior spaces. Robertson uses the Office as a kind of pen name for writing that deals more directly with things architectural or urban. She explores the field of architecture, surface, public space, domesticity and modernity in her essays on pleasure grounds, thrift stores, Thoreau, artist Liz Magor’s shack installation, Parisian apartments, the “Vancouver Special” house type, fields of strawberries in Burnaby, and Vancouver postcards. Most essays are focused on Vancouver where she has lived since 1979 and where she founded the Office in 1996.

While living in Vancouver she has witnessed its changing urban texture: “place is accident posing as politics.” Her text bears witness to this transition where much of what she loved about the city seems to be disappearing. Through her writing she becomes the soft architect, making lyrical space for the history of surfaces as they fluctuate. One essay considers water as a soft urban surface and, in Canada’s wettest city, she explores Vancouver’s public fountains where “some are wigs and some are crinoline.” Another essay, which sources canonical works like Semper’s Four Elements of Architecture and Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture, describes colour as “surface pretense,” and painting, like architecture, is “an applied art.”

Robertson’s elaborate descriptions and meandering lines of research uncover subjects in a way that is ultimately unique. Her essays are well sourced and stand as scholarly work, while the book itself is indexed and carries a breadth of sources from Koolhaas and Venturi to Rousseau. In its entirety, the book bears testament to an able writer who metaphorically became an architect so that she could focus her attention on things physical and on a city in transition. JB

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