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by Jihad Bitar, PhD
Urban Designer, VIA Architecture

Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the City of Surrey collaborated to create an educational two-module course entitled SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program. The overarching goal of this program is to inform and spread knowledge about the role of transportation in shaping our cities, using Surrey as the case study, as well as to reach out to the local community and get some serious ideas established relating to transportation and the City of Surrey by the end of the course.

I had the privilege to be in the first group of professionals to participate in this program and, as a participant, was asked to give back my personal opinions/ideas/suggestions about what I think it means to the future of the City of Surrey.

Through the SkyTrain windows on my weekly trip to the SFU Surrey campus, I noticed that the first scene to welcome us to Surrey is a substantial swath of land covered with dirt, car junk yards, construction sites, webs of highways, train lines, and big machinery taking over the landscape of Surrey’s gateway. In fact, this area is the industrial zone of the City, so something needed to be said about it– and the course was the best platform for me, personally, to try to answer the challenging question of industrial zones, transportation, sustainability, and community interaction in this area.

A sustainable industrial zone is essential for the future of any city, and the connectivity of these zones to our cities through a healthy transportation network is the key for a prosperous future. Dealing with industrial sites is a very challenging matter; some cities may decide to rezone those areas to a more residential use like the Pearl District in Portland or like the Distillery District in Toronto. Others they may use it simply for commercial or cultural use, similar to Granville Island here in Vancouver, or as heritage museum sites where there is a dying industry such as coal mining, as they did at Zollverein Heritage Site in Essen, Germany. However, the success lies, in my opinion, in keeping the land industrial while upgrading it to become a reflection of our times’ industry.

Industrial areas are the real engine room for the prosperity and functionality of our cities. Regardless of how dirty, rundown, or even toxic our industrial zones may become, they are the workplace of our citizens; they are the first step for any idea to materialize and be manufactured– before it has its own life that will go on to aid in our cities’ financial and physical growth.

Keeping that in mind is the key element that will keep our industrial zones moving along, however, we also have the duty to upgrade those zones to reflect the level of development we reach, and to make those zones sustainable both environmentally and financially, while keeping them safe at the same time without losing the core purpose of these zones.

I’m sure that we have a very long way ahead of us before mastering and perfecting the way we use, build, and maintain our industrial zones, but we need to start somewhere– this is the best time for the City of Surreyto start on the correct path.

The video below is the proposed idea that I, in collaboration with colleague Andrew Fayn from MXD Development Strategists, put together during the lecture program:

News Roundup

Sep 24, 2012

Siemens Develops More Effective Wind Turbine Blades Based on Dinosaurs (Inhabitat)
Designers are taking a step back into the land before time to find inspiration for new wind turbine blades. Siemens has released three designs for new aerodynamic turbine blades based off of the biology of the now extinct dinosaurs.

Good Design, Everday Objects: Scissors (Apartment Therapy)
Scissors are merely an every day object that some believe don’t get enough attention for their design. Neal Stephenson, science fiction writer, mentioned in an interview how he thought scissors were cool; potentially giving them the atttention they deserve. Compiled in this article are various designs of scissors, all in all displaying the union of form and function at its best.

The Most Beautiful McDonald’s in America (Scouting New York)
On Long Island near Jericho Turnpike, if you find yourself driving around and taking the scenic route, you usually end up looking for a coffee shop or the everyday classic McDonald’s for a bite to eat. Well, in this case, you may just drive by the building, confused as you look at the sign as to where the actual McDonald’s is. The Denton House is a historic building from 1795 that was purchased by the chain restaurant yet the citizens of New Hyde Park put up a fight to have the building restored. And so it was, and it now stands as the most beautiful McDonald’s in America.

World’s Skinniest House Now Under Construction in Warsaw (Architizer)
You’ll have to see this to believe it; Keret House: the worlds skinniest house in Warsaw, Polandwedged between two city buildings. Construction started just last month, and it will stretch 47 inches at its widest point, and 27 inches at its narrowest. It will be used as a residence and installation space when completed. The house’s unique design is intended to attract artists and designers alike who will use the space in a creative manner.

News Roundup

Sep 10, 2012

Past Merged with Present | Composite Photographs Blend Scenes from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Present Day (Colossal)
Photographer Shawn Clover created these composite photographs, blending together past scenes from the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906, with present day images. The overlap of past and present is wonderful to look at and gives a great perspective.

Velodrome Proposal | BNKR Arquitectura (Arch Daily)
In the city of Sinoloa, Mexico, cycling has gained in popularity and the city is looking to incorporate cycling as a mode of transportation into the city’s plans for new public spaces. Thus, BNKR Arquitectura proposed plans for building Culican’s velodrome unites a professional sports building with a cycling-oriented park development. It is presented as a new public space that connects the professional and amateur worlds of cycling in a public atmosphere.

Softwalks Turns NYC Scaffolding into Pop-Up Hangouts (Architizer)
A project called Softwalks, has created a DIY kit that allows individuals to transform unsightly scaffolding on the streets of New York, into a pop-up seating and meeting area. The kit comes equipped with a chair, a counter, a trellis, and even hanging baskets that can all be attached efficiently to scaffolding poles. What a great way to turn something obtrusive into a public space.

Samba By Brad Stebbing for HIVE (Contemporist)
Brad Stepping, an Australian designer, has created the Samba lamp for HIVE. The design is inspired by the movement of dancing hips; bringing curves to life in any home or interior space. The lamps are crafted from rattan, a natural material that is coiled using the rattan rods. The thicker coils of rattan create a distinct look on the inside of the lamp that adds to their design and aesthetic appeal.

Chinese Skyscraper Mimics A Pair of Pants (Architizer)
China’s newest skycraper, Gate to the East, is supposed to resemble a great archway, yet to most, it merely looks like a pair of very large pants. The archway was supposed to resemble that of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and be an architectural focal point. The new skyscraper has gained lots of international attention and has been said to resemble anything from a pair of pants, to boxer, and even a pair of long johns.

Best Buildings In Greater Vancouver: Millennium Line Skytrain Stations

This week, the VIA-designed Millennium Line Skytrain Stations in Vancouver were featured on Huffington Post British Columbia’s Best Buildings, Ugliest Buildings In Greater Vancouver list (thankfully, we were on the Bestlist!).

Huffington Post British Columbia asked some prominent B.C. design gurus what they thought.

Architect and planner Michael Geller (@michaelgeller) says a building works when it meets the taste of the general public, rather than an expert’s. He believes that people like a level of decoration and attention to detail that puts a building’s design beyond the norm.

Prolific architect Bing Thom (@BTArchitects) says a building is beautiful when it resonates with its space. It must be “well-mannered,” not jarring, disturbing or boring, he told Huffington Post B.C.

SFU Urban Studies student Brandon Yan (@pre_planner) feels that, for a building to be attractive, it must use simplicity and quality harmoniously and combine form with function.

VIA’s design of the Millennium Skytrain Stations fell into the top seven Most Beautiful buildings:

Not so much a building as an infrastructure project, every station along the line that carries commuters from Vancouver to New Westminster and Coquitlam features a unique design. SFU design Brandon Yan says they provide a “wonderful experience for transit users.”

With these definitions in mind, here are the rest of their picks for the prettiest and the ugliest buildings in Greater Vancouver.

Transit + Food = Sustainability in Philadelphia

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability, VIA Architecture

Photo credit:  VIA 

I had the recent pleasure of attending the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) annual conference on Sustainability and Public Transportation, held this year in Philadelphia.  Like many transit agencies, Philadelphia’s SEPTA has adopted a number of ambitious goals toward sustainability performance.  However unlike most agency plans, SEPTA’s “Septainability — Going beyond Green” sustainability program includes a specific goal related to Improving Access to Local Food via Transit.

In SEPTA’s case, this has taken the form of several initiatives:

  • Identifying and studying Philadelphia’s food deserts and their access to transit.  Access to local food is being improved through adjustments to the transit network, with a goal of having fresh food available within a 10 minute walk of 75 percent of Philadelphia’s population.
  • Partnering with local groups such as The Food Trust, The Enterprise Center, Farm-to-City, and  The Common Market to create farmer’s markets at four SEPTA rapid transit stations throughout the city.
  • Creating a “Farm-to-SEPTA” Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for its own employees, where fresh produce is delivered directly to the agency headquarters.

The fourth and most interesting initiative has been the establishment of the Walnut Hill Community Farm on SEPTA property, adjacent to the 46th Street Station on the Market Frankfurt light rail line in West Philadelphia.  SEPTA’s project partner is The Enterprise Center, a community organization that provides access to capital, building capacity, business education and economic development opportunities to high-potential, minority entrepreneurs. SEPTA provided the group with a 10 year lease with additional options up to 20 years to use the land, which is a 1/4 acre parcel previously used as a staging area for construction at the station.

Photo credit: The Enterprise Center


The property is divided roughly in half, with the south side devoted to vegetable beds, and the north part with a vegetable stand and remaining space planned for a city parklet.  Rainwater is collected off the 46th Street Station roof and is stored in two 1100 gallon cisterns, with irrigation pumps powered by a small photovoltaic panel mounted to the station wall.  Vegetables grown on the property are sold at the Friday farmer’s market at the vegetable stand, as well as contributing to a 65-member CSA that is augmented by produce grown on other properties inside and outside the city limits.

For SEPTA and the Enterprise Center, the benefits of operating the Walnut Hill Farm provide direct return to the community. These include access to fresh food, maintenance of green space, pride of place resulting in less graffiti and vandalism, educational and employment opportunities for youth, and overall capacity-building within the neighborhood.

Understanding of the complexity in promoting healthful food choices has evolved considerably in the two years since the project opened. At that time, access to fresh food appeared to be the primary issue, but even with improvements to the network of accessing food sources, many people are not following healthy lifestyle choices.  It is now understood that there are other missing pieces in making the connection between growing food and eating it, specifically knowledge around budgeting, planning, and actual food preparation.  To further support the local food network and close these gaps, the Enterprise Center is building a Culinary School nearby, which will provide meal planning and cooking classes that are designed to suit neighborhood cultural food preferences.

Cisterns store rainwater collected from the station roof. Photo credit: VIA

For SEPTA, the project is an opportunity to not only underscore and broaden its sustainability goals, but also a chance to build community partnerships.  Projects such as these not only create goodwill for the agency,but provide a chance to collaborate with groups such as Drexel University, the US Department of Agriculture, the Delaware Valley Regional Food Systems Committee, the City of Philadelphia’s Get Healthy program, and non-profits such as the Kellogg Foundation. The connection between food and transit may not seem obvious at first glance, but SEPTA has provided an excellent example of the way that mobility and food access can be complementary parts of a sustainable urban livability model.

46th Street Station with farm stand visible to the left. Photo credit: VIA

Photo credit: VIA

For more information on SEPTA’s Sustainability Program:

For more information on the Walnut Hill Community Farm:

News Roundup

Aug 27, 2012

Sky Condos by DCPP Arquitectos (Dezeen Magazine)
DCPP Arquitectos, proposed a twenty story apartment building for the city of Lima in Peru. The building is to face a golf course, and is miraculous for it’s cutting edge design with vertiginous swimming pools (including a diving board) projecting from each individual apartment. This is not the only proposal that DCPP Arquitectos have put forth involving vertiginous swimming pools. In their vision for the apartment building, they “sought to create an icon for the future, a new luxury housing concept in Latin America; combining the idea of incorporating the exterior space to the interior life of the apartments and creating a new relation between public and private areas.” (DCPP Arquitectos).

David Byrne Designs “Nonsensical” Bike Racks for BAM  (Architizer)
Anyone that knows David Byrne, knows that his favourite mode of transportation within the city is biking. His newest installation of creative bike racks designed for BAM, are the words ‘micro lip’ and ‘pink crown’ which have no intended meaning but are merely chosen for their form. The “from indicates towards the easy modularity of the content at hand”. The letters can be rearranged, and are an always evolving project of the community.

Slipstream by FreelandBuck (Contemporist)
Wtih his exhibit currently in New York at the Bridge Gallery, FreelandBuck’s Slipstream design shows the dynamics of flow, and an escape from the solid. It is a large, physical structure that confronts the translation of a 2-dimensional digital line drawing in a 3-dimensional space.

Coaster or Trivet? Its Both! (Apartment Therapy)
The Zesch line by Dutch design studio Michiel Cornelissen Ontwerp, has made trivets/coasters, that could dually be mistaken for ninja throwing stars. The coasters are made from laser-cut bamboo and their intricate shape allows them to connect, creating a larger trivet giving it a dual use.

by Brent Toderian of TODERIAN UrbanWORKS
(Orignally posted on

As Olympics excitement grew in the first week of the London 2012 Games, we in Vancouver watched with great interest, and occasional feelings of deja-vu. In Atlantic Cities, I wrote about Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics experience with Olympic jitters and the host city funk, and the ability of the Games to change cities through the “power of the collective experience.”

In this post I include some broader thoughts that I couldn’t include for space reasons. I’ll focus on our many Olympic legacies, and key learnings around city-building for host cities and the Olympics movement overall.

Read the full article here.

News Roundup

Aug 13, 2012

Artistic Notebook Covers From Grove (Design Milk)
Introducing the new Grove Notebook, a refillable leather cover that is handmade in Portland. Grove has 5fifty artist-designed covers to choose from, but the best part, you can pick your own personal design, doodle or saying and get it engraved. There’s nothing better than a personalized, one of a kind notebook. What would you engrave on yours?

A Pavilion Made Entirely Out of Stacked Chairs (Architizer)
New York based firm, e/b office sought out to reinvent the conventional reading of chair. Chairs as they define, are meant for static repose with which to view architecture. Thus, they used chairs as building blocks for a piece of architecture, and created the pavilion called ‘Seat’. The chairs are stacked into a since wave which then forms a sort of vortex, and are merely held in position by bolts and clamps.

Can You Steal Design? (Life of An Architect)
The dilemma of authentic vs reproduction. Bob Borson looks at mid-century modern furniture, specifically th“Eames molded plastic chair with eiffel base” and compares it to a cheaper, knock-off version. He goes into the details of supporting design, and the availability of income and how that influences peoples opinions on the subject of such a dilemma. Ultimately, he searches for the answer as to how do you rationalize that it is okay to buy knockoffs of furniture but be upset when architectural designs are knocked off?

Architecture and Urban Planning in the Olympics? (Urban Planning Blog)
Fun and interesting fact of how architecture and urban planning use to be events in the Olympics. What would these events look and how would one participate? Pratik offers up his own idea of “perhaps a 400m with your T-square and set-squares”.

News Roundup

Jul 24, 2012

New York’s Lovely Abandoned Subway Station (The Atlantic Cities)
In his new book, Straphanger, Taras Grescoe writes of an abandoned “ghost station” beneath City Hall in New York. Grescoe gets a privileged tour of the station on a promise not to reveal which train still passes along its tracks to this day.

The Bronx Wants a 200,000 Square Foot Rooftop Farm (Treehugger)
If the City gets its way, the Bronx will soon be home to one of the biggest rooftop farms in the world: It will cover an astounding 200,000 square feet. That’s 4.6 acres. The spot is an active warehouse in Hunts Point, an enormous food distribution center where 115 private wholesalers sell food that reaches 23 million people in the metropolitan area.

San Francisco’s Parklets Transform Parking Spaces Into Urban Oases (Inhabitat)
With streets and other paved surfaces making up a full quarter of San Francisco’s land area, reclaiming wide zones of wasted space at curbsides, intersections, alleys, and other spots is a key motivation behind the growing parklet program.

Bike Shares: A Global Trend (Sustainable Cities Collective)
In cities across the United States, bicycles are becoming an increasingly popular form of urban transportation. A survey of 55 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. found that bicycle commuting rates increased, on average, 70 percent between 2000 and 2009.

A Mobile Library for Artists (The Atlantic Cities)
Books are difficult objects. They are heavy, awkward, difficult to move, easily damaged (by light, water, the human touch), and yet easy to steal. All of these make the task of distributing and sharing books more difficult, but the challenges grow exponentially when there is no building to facilitate this. One solution is the A47 Mobile Library.

Are Smarter Cities the Key to Social Mobility? (Sustainable Cities Collective)
An interview with Chris Cooper, IBM UK Architect for Smarter Cities

The Case for Public Transportation, in Infographic Form (The Atlantic Cities)

Architects Battle to Rule the Roost in “Raise the Roost” Design Competition

The Rainier Beach Urban Farm really went to the birds this weekend, and some lucky chickens will be getting fancy new digs.

It was Seattle’s very first chicken coop design and build competition. Seattle Tilth, Architecture for Humanity and Architects Without Borders teamed up for this event, aimed at inspiring people interested in raising urban chickens. All the proceeds went to Seattle Youth Garden Works, who help introduce homeless and under served youth to urban agriculture.

VIA took part in the event; to see how we did, read the full article here.