Canadian Architect


Book Reviews: November 2014

November 1, 2014
by Leslie Jen

Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
Contributions by George Baird, Thomas Fisher, Mark Kingwell and Mirko Zardini. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2013.

Rising like a phoenix from the ashes, KPMB Architects has been in existence since 1987 when Bruce Kuwabara, Thomas Payne, Marianne McKenna and Shirley Blumberg assumed leadership from their erstwhile employer, Barton Myers, when he decamped for the sunnier climes of Los Angeles. And like the phoenix, which soared with renewed youth and promise, KPMB has in its distinguished 27-year history become what is arguably Canada’s pre-eminent architectural practice. As a testament to its prodigious output, this is the third monograph of the firm’s work since 1997, documenting its most significant projects since 2004.

KPMB’s indelible imprint is keenly apparent in its home city of Toronto: the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Royal Conservatory TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning are iconic cultural hubs; Vaughan City Hall is a remarkable example of place-making in an otherwise bleak and sprawling suburban condition. Further afield, the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa exhilarates with its lantern-like addition; Manitoba Hydro Place in Winnipeg breaks new ground with a highly collaborative integrated design process; and when complete, the Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is certain to elevate the discussion and practice of architecture in Saskatoon.

What unites the disparate array of building types is the profound enhancement to the public realm they engender. KPMB’s best work seems to emerge from conditions in which historical context and heritage demands force the firm to exercise its particular and consummate skill in stitching together old and new in the creation of something not quite seamless, but rather sublimely harmonious. The results are enduring, respectful and unfailingly elegant.

Leslie Jen is the Associate Editor of Canadian Architect.


Operative Landscapes: Building Communities Through Public Space

Operative Landscapes: Building Communities Through Public Space

Operative Landscapes: Building Communities Through Public Space
By Alissa North. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2013.

Operative Landscapes offers a thorough breakdown of what it means to design a landscape in the 21st century, foregrounding the vital role communities play in creating successful urban public spaces. Alissa North methodically describes the process of public-space design, and provides an in-depth look at how landscape architecture can act as a medium to develop and expand healthy sustainable communities.

The book refers to numerous projects worldwide, including Dockside Green in Victoria, BC (produced by a team including landscape architects PWL Partnership and architects Perkins+Will), which demonstrates the adaptive reuse of an old industrial site as a sustainable urban space integrating wildlife habitats and green spaces, along with a transportation plan that prioritizes walking and cycling. It has become a unique ecologically oriented community that will evolve over time.

The need for improved urban public spaces and green infrastructure has never been so widely recognized, and this is beginning to take shape across the globe. Referencing strategies in Europe, North America and Asia, Operative Landscapes provides a compilation of global landscape architecture projects that showcases the current trajectory of the profession. Increasingly, landscape architects are moving away from simply designing aesthetically pleasing green spaces, instead creating functional landscapes that operate within a larger context. These new landscapes provide valuable spaces for community engagement and development, making the book a good starting point for students, professionals, and anyone interested in landscape architecture.

James MacDonald-Nelson is a third-year landscape architecture student at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto.


New Architecture on Indigenous Lands

New Architecture on Indigenous Lands

New Architecture on Indigenous Lands
By Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

In this recent examination of First Nations architectural projects, authors Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka predict a new architecture is on the rise—with implications that stretch far beyond reserve boundaries. They cite the design sensitivities implicit in First Peoples’ world views, but also the field’s ability to bypass “homogenized conventions of mainstream white society.” This design approach—a blend of the cultural, sensory and symbolic—offers a depth and insightfulness absent from current practice.

The true value of this book lies in its extensive testimonies regarding best practices. Those who have worked in the field understand the myriad of non-standard procedures related to design, consultation and approval. The expanded notion of design, encompassing spatial, social, spiritual and experiential factors, is one challenge. Others include the collective design process, qualitative data, community engagement and consensus-building. The authors have done their research, balancing it with the necessary historical, legal and economic framework.

The authors cite an additional important challenge: infiltrating the design assumptions of Western-trained architects. This is critical for a number of reasons. Canada’s Aboriginal population is growing at nearly four times the non-Aboriginal rate. Reserve-based projects are also becoming increasingly visible. Many now border, or exist within expanding cities. Finally, there is a cultural rebirth occurring as First Nations, once outlawed for engaging in the spiritual, linguistic and cultural expressions of their ancestors, are fervently trying to put the pieces back together. Architecture—as a depository of cultural meaning and a community-based teaching tool—will play a prominent role in this revival.

Wanda Dalla Costa is the Director of Redquill Architecture, a firm specialized in design for First Nations clients.


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