Parking Projections

It is always inspiring to watch an architect find her voice in the profession in ways that go beyond standard practice. For Vancouver architect Peeroj Thakre and her husband, graduate architect Henning Knoetzele, the evolution of professional identity includes design advocacy in the form of Urban Republic, a nonprofit organization that pulls in expertise from architects and nonarchitects alike. The couple recently completed their first major design intervention–the Gastown DriveIn.

Having worked in a number of firms, Thakre wanted to discover what she could accomplish through her own initiatives. So in 2008, she made a leap of faith and left the firm she had worked at for several years to form ph5 architecture inc. with Knoetzele. The name of their practice is derived from the initials of their first names, as friends commonly refer to the couple as “PH.” The biggest challenge for ph5 currently is to obtain larger commissions, possibly at the institutional level. That day may come very soon, as Urban Republic is a vehicle enabling Thakre and Knoetzele to conduct speculative explorations into temporary urbanism.

The Gastown DriveIn was installed on the rooftop of a parking garage in Vancouver’s downtown Gastown neighbourhood. Participants immediately understood the project’s intentions: Urban Republic’s ephemeral experiment demonstrates how an underused utilitarian space can be transformed from banal anonymity by day into a communityoriented social space at night, where people can congregate either inside or outside the hermetic capsules of their cars to enjoy campy flicks together.

The threenight drivein opened just after Labour Day with Hard Core Logo, a film directed by Bruce McDonald that follows a punk band touring Western Canada. Other films in the series include Fetching Cody, David Ray’s story of drug addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and Eve and the Fire Horse, a film by Julia Kwan about a precocious nineyearold girl growing up in a traditional Chinese family in Vancouver. Cineworks partnered with Urban Republic to program the short films, all of which relate to poignant cultural issues affecting Vancouverites.

To project the films, Thakre and Knoetzele designed a screen measuring nine by 12 metres, which was assembled on site due to the height restrictions of the parkade. The entire project cost just over $20,000–raised through a number of sources–with most of the money spent on the projection screens and audiovisual equipment. Admission was a mere $6 per vehicle–standard evening parking garage rates, and pedestrians and cyclists were welcomed free of charge.

This wasn’t Urban Republic’s first public installation. In 2007, they organized a video installation of natureinspired imagery to celebrate the Pine Street Community Garden’s inaugural harvest. And in 2005, both Thakre and Knoetzele were involved with Space Agency’s FrontierSpace–the temporary transformation of Gastown’s Trounce Alley (see CA, October 2005). Their next project will look at a suburban site beyond the downtown core.

One of Urban Republic’s strengths is the fact that the organization works with people who aren’t architects; they recognize that artists, filmmakers and community leaders can contribute vital and complementary expertise to public projects. With a little more time and a few more projects behind them, Urban Republic will undoubtedly be appreciated by Vancouver for the tremendous value that they have provided in reaching beyond the architectural community as a successful agent of change for the city. CA

For more information on Urban Republic, please visit their website at www.urbanrepublic.ca.

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