Canadian Architect

Feature

Viewpoint: Going Public

November 13, 2017
by Adele Weder

Most architects think of their work as a public good, since even private houses are present within the wider community and, occasionally, catalysts and prototypes for larger ideas and projects. But how to define this broad theme of “public purpose”? Last months’ EDIT Festival in Toronto and the World Design Summit in Montreal overtly took on that mandate as a basis for discussion; our report on EDIT in this issue will be followed in January by gleanings from the Montreal summit. Buildings, on the other hand, usually convey their message more tacitly, and over time.

The feature projects in this issue could hardly be more disparate: a Minnesota office building, a Toronto library, a Whitehorse mining centre, a Tokyo kindergarten. But each of these buildings serves a discrete and exceptionally important public purpose. T3, the office building designed by Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture, is vying to be a paradigm for future mass-timber projects in the United States, a transition which could significantly help reduce the environmental footprint of high-rise construction. The mining centre, by Kobayashi + Zedda Architects, provides training in the less- invasive kind of mining for resources on which the market society western world still craves— in reality, if not in theory. The Albion library, by Perkins+Will Canada, is a jolt of colour in an anemic suburban landscape and a reminder of the importance of books and community for our collective well-being.

Public Architecture. Fuji Kindertarten. Tezuka Architects. Moriyama Prize.

In Tokyo, children play spontaneously on the oval rooftop of the Fuji Kindergarten, winner of the 2017 Moriyama RAIC International Prize. Photo via Tezuka Architects.

In addition to these significant projects by Canadian architects, we are proud to help celebrate a faraway project by a Japanese firm, one has stood the test of time and can serve as a paradigm for our own country. Takaharu Tezuka, the subject of our feature interview this month, was the lead architect of Fuji Kindergarten, this year’s winner of the Moriyama RAIC International Prize. Tezuka Architects’ child-focused project, and the Moriyama RAIC jury’s bestowal of honour upon it, is a show of recognition of the value not only of architecture but of children. And what could be more enriching to the public good than a solid and joyful educational foundation of the young?

But then it’s difficult not to wince at the attitude towards the architecture of our own publicly funded schools. Twenty-plus years ago, Patkau Architects designed Strawberry Vale public school on Vancouver Island to offer many of the same benefits for children as Fuji Kindergarten later would: child-centric classrooms, interflowing spaces and spontaneous access to the outdoors. That school, however, was derided by British Columbia government officials— not because it was over budget (it wasn’t), but in large part because of its distinctive architecture. Its visual drama would “send the wrong message to taxpayers”, a bureaucrat flatly told me at the time. In the ensuing months, the provincial government slashed school construction budgets to the point where architects struggled to build a school that would not leak within a decade. And all to send a message to the Canadian public that they could trust the government not to waste their tax dollars on the education of children.

Financial politics can discourage the collective investment in buildings that confer a public good over decades. That has been part of the impetus for architect Raymond Moriyama to help endow the Moriyama RAIC International Prize, and part of our motivation in covering it. The kindergarten is true to the ideals that Ray Moriyama sought when he first launched the Prize in 2014. “This award, hopefully, will be about more than beautiful architecture,” he explained to a journalist at the time. “I want it to recognize qualities of inclusion, equality, true democracy.”