Tag Archives: architecture

Spaces

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Space is the new objective in our present day, North American culture. As Toronto fills up with millionaires and pushes working people asunder throughout the area around Lake Ontario, some brave enough to come as far as Peterborough, space has become the subject of discussion throughout many different communities. In my community space has always been a topic of fraught discussion. Money seems to only flow to bricks and mortar instead of people. That may be because construction and development have been the way urban centers pay for their growth. It’s an old model but the structures that give these businesses the access and power to rule have grown into almost monarch style fixtures on our financial landscape, so much so that one of their own occupies the White House.

Space however has become conceptual to many as their lives can exist through their laptop meaning that a coffee shop or a park can be a place for a business transaction. It can also be a studio or collaborative as more and more platforms allow creative people to interact online as well as in person. Many artists have turned to film and sound and music and photography or they film or record their art as a way to expand how they share what they are making – almost all can be done on a device of some sort.

But everyone who makes things needs a place to work. You need a place for your tools, a place to leave your unfinished thing so that you can sleep on how it’s going overnight, and a place you don’t need to tidy up because in fact the messy-ness can help you through a rough patch of configuring. If you write for a living you know you need quiet for great lengths of time. If you make noise you know you need to be a part from people who will complain. If you collaborate you need a place to meet. We can’t all take to the streets to figure our work out – we actually need professional places that can serve the things we are doing.

My studio last spring. I have some pride in the fact that a developer will never kick me out.

Business figured this out a long time ago and hence we have always had offices. Studios or work spaces are just as important. But buildings are not built for people, they are generally built because of investment money and the long chain of companies and individuals (who all have their own spaces) who stand to make a profit once that place is built. So, it’s never about a community or whether we need the building or not. It’s just a very pure financial transaction that only helps about ten people really. Sure there are lots of jobs and electricians and all sorts of working class heroics involved but really, at the end of the day ten people make enough money to retire, or buy a yacht or a space in some other exotic locale.

Of course there are many architects and developers who actually care and try their best to create places for people. However the ratio of them to those who don’t care is pretty lopsided. So, how do you change this? Laws. Laws that demand development take into account the nature of the community they are building in, laws that make spaces for all sorts of income levels and laws that protect creativity. “But laws will hinder investment and scare the money off!”  Yes it will because we should only want the best kind of developments and the best kind of spaces. We shouldn’t compromise on our space.

People talk a lot about how we have to decolonize our culture and begin thinking differently about this and that. What we should also do is begin thinking about spaces and how they must resist the pursuit of maximized profit. Space is an area between each other – how we share it and use it helps us develop how we work with each other and eventually defines who we are and who we will become.

State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Is imitation sincere? Really?

The phrase ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ dates to the 18th century but the original phrase was actually ‘imitation is a kind of artless flattery’. However the original idea comes from a biography of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius who felt that humans should resemble or imitate Gods not flatter them.

Personally I just get annoyed if someone imitates me or borrows my ideas for their purposes. This is because I miss the point; it isn’t a declaration of ill will but perhaps a misguided, misunderstood form of honouring. In any case I admit to not being very evolved. When someone “rips me off” I don’t want to act mature about it. For the most part I want to go on FB and shame them. I don’t – I’ve had enough therapy to know that kind of action doesn’t help any situation.

I recently introduced the film Manufactured Landsapes by Edward Burtynsky. Originally I really liked this film mostly due to Peter Mettler’s cinematography. I’m not a Burtynsky fan, too decorative for me. But I love Mettler’s films and I think he is a wonderful visual artist. In any case this film has not held up well over time, time being just six years. The film talks about our responsibility in resource use. It is a global film however it mostly centers on China and their enormous economic growth over the last decade. So, as you can imagine, if you haven’t seen the film, there are loads of sad looking factory workers, people picking through gigantic piles of metal and sad old people taking their homes apart brick by brick to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. Watching it now it seems ever so slightly racist.

During the discussion after the film, much of which needed extensive prompting because ultimately the film is a huge downer, a woman wondered what we thought of this new architectural trend in China people are dubbing dupli-techture. Presently there are hundreds of developments going up or being finished of buildings and towns which are exact replicas of European architecture. There is a Chinese Venice, a Chinese Eiffel Tower, a Chinese Alpine village and a Chinese Milan plaza. According to author Bianca Bosker this trend is very real and very serious in China, taken up by only the best architects.

Venice? Nope, China.
Venice? Nope, China.

Luckily when this woman asked this question I was not only familiar with the trend but I had also listened to a podcast featuring Bosker on CBC’s Q. Regardless of how I stated it, that the Chinese see these buildings and towns as homage to the greatness of the west, people in this discussion were kind of freaked out by it. The immediate reaction to an Eiffel Tower on a Chinese boulevard is negative and shock. Why?

I was lucky enough this spring to spend a weekend in our nation’s Capital at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. The first thing the ipad tour mentions is that it is built in the style of castles in the Loire valley in France. I can only think that French visitors in the early part of the 20th century felt slightly appalled at it when they first arrived. There is however no mention of this anywhere, in fact it was considered one of the more beautiful hotels in all of North America when it was built. That the owner went down with the Titanic and all the inside furnishings with him added greatly to its European ties.

So, why are some people irked by the Chinese copying European architecture with perhaps more zeal? There is an Eiffel Tower in Vegas and everyone loves that. Frankly the one in Vegas is far more vulgar, surrounded by behemoth millionaire hotels and fountains while the one in China is actually on a busy boulevard not unlike the real one.

Does imitation inspire a kind of disgust? As mentioned I can certainly relate. For some reason copying something and making it your own seems far more dignified than just direct copying. The Chinese architects spent years in Europe studying every brick that went into a bridge in Venice. Their imitation is almost obsessively attentive and meticulous. Is this the problem? Perhaps. Or are we all just a little bit racist like the film?

I find it hard to tell actually. Everyday I read about how China is buying up resources all over the world and that they are going to put a dam onto every single river in their country regardless of neighbouring country’s needs. That people in China are now vacationing in places with clean air as opposed to standard destinations like Paris-London-Rome. Every mention laced with a kind of fear usually reserved for extraterrestrial invasion from a B-movie. China’s economic growth is on such a scale that we all have a hard time comprehending what this will all mean for the rest of us. I’m not unsympathetic to people’s hesitation.

But I think this architectural mimicry is fascinating because China already has some of the world’s most impressive architecture. Everyone in the North America engages regularly in Chinese traditions and culture, from martial arts and food to math and pottery. I think this trend is foremost just that; it could dissipate as China adjusts to being modern and urban. Until then however the country seems to be imitating what is best about us in the west as perhaps a link to their newness. When you think about it, it isn’t unlike most of our architecture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I kind of like it and you could see it as sharing – an act that usually helps with fear, and it could be more than flattery, it could be an honour.

Pic from The Atlantic website

State of the Arts returns May 30