Bloc 10 Housing, Winnipeg, Canada by 5468796

by Trevor Boddy / The Architectural Review / Published in November 2012

The question of affordable housing lurks, the recurring bad dream of contemporary architecture. The difficulty of building dwellings simply and well imparts a night terror to many of us, and we are unable to deny its sepulchral truths in the days that follow.  The Art Nouveau era—much like the similarly sinuous boom of the last decade—were times of splendidly urbane apartment blocks, or villas in city or countryside brimming with lush ornamentation and restless surfaces.

But at the end of the First World War, the profession turned as one (in Continental Europe, at least, where destruction was most concentrated) to the problem of affordable housing.  Whether the German debate about existenzminimum, Le Corbusier’s speculations about the house as a “a machine for living,” to the prototypes, both good and bad, tested at Stuttgart’s 1927 Wiesenhofsiedlung, new housing forms to repair a blasted Europe were the heart of the Modern project.

Half a decade into this global recession, there is scant evidence of the profession rising from its fluffy bed of Aestheticism Nouveau to again confront the creation of mass housing that people can actually afford. In Canada, au contraire bien-sur: Frank Gehry’s recent presentation of a staggeringly dense cluster of three calypso-ing condo towers for Toronto’s Mirvish family; a Foster’s team under Nigel Dance opening Vancouver’s muddled Jameson Tower (amazingly, the mega-firm’s first constructed high rise apartment building); and in the same city, BIG from Read More

A light touch: Bing Thom’s Library in Surrey BC, Canada

by Trevor Boddy / The Architectural Review, London / Published in March 2012

Daylight and books are often regarded as incompatible, but this library in Metro Vancouver is a poetic and scientific sculpting of light that animates a dramatic interior

Architects have come to view natural light as a generic commodity, not a precious animator of architectural form. One of the many unintended effects of this era of sustainability is to strip sunlight of the spiritual and synthesizing qualities that it held for designers right up to the time of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, and instead to consider it as mere illuminating photons or trickles of electromagnetic energy, like power from a plug. Beginning with Saint-Denis, Abbot Suger’s medieval doctrine of lux continua, the integration of light into public buildings has served symbolic as well as practical purposes, but lately it has been reduced to yet one more interchangeable item on energy management checklists.

However, the ability of sunlight to partially heat buildings is − architecturally speaking − one of its least interesting qualities. Thanks to ray-casting three-dimensional computer programmes for design and rendering, architects have, ironically, never been better able to predict how their creations will respond to the arc of sunlight, but never at so much of a loss about just how to put light at the necessary centre of form-making. Day-lighting has been reduced to a dismal science.

To say that Bing Thom Architects’ new central library for the Vancouver suburb of Surrey is obsessed with … Read More