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Monday News Roundup

Feb 07, 2011

Do the words route or line better describe transit? (Human Transit)
The word for the path followed by a transit vehicle is sometimes route, and sometimes line. Whenever you have two words for the same thing, you should ask why.

Duany predicts decline of strict green building standards (Partnerships for sustainable communities)
Charlotte, N.C.–Decrying the high cost of “optimization” of development in a lean time, Andres Duany called for a return to common sense development principals that harken back to the 19th Century and predicted declining use of the LEED standards for building efficiency.

An Ideal City Doesn’t Exist: An Interview with David Gouverneur (Next American City)
A native of Venezuela, Gouverneur has made a career out of injecting environmental and social values into the process of placemaking. He was kind enough to take some time out of his sunshine and paper-filled morning to share his recipes for healthy cities.

The people of the texture world: adding people into renderings (The New York Times)
I happened to spend a lot of time looking at renderings, and found myself drawn to a recurring feature that, strictly speaking, had nothing to do with the suggested structures: the little human figures who inhabit the rendered world.

Building permits bounce back (video) (The Globe and Mail)
BNN gets analysis and insight into Canadas building permit numbers for December with Victor Fiume, general manager, Durham Custom Homes, and president, CHBA.

The Life and Death of a College Bikeshare System in Maine (The City Fix)
n 2007, a few students and staff at Bowdoin College started the Yellow Bike Club, an informal system of bikes left on campus and re-purposed for the shared bike program. Spray-painted yellow, secured with U-locks and repaired in an old shed on campus, the system of just a few bikes was born. Initially, there were seven bikes and about 50 members, now the program is in disarray.

Secretary of Energy Announces “SunShot”, Gives $27Million to Cut the Cost of Solar (inhabitat)
US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu just pledged $27 million in funding for nine solar energy projects that will help with his “sunshot” effort — a plan to cut the costs of solar energy by 3/4 in the next decade.

Landscape and Architecture Converging (Planetizen)
The Architect’s Newspaper explores the “fertile new approaches to building” springing from the growing use of landscaping in contemporary architecture.

Car-Dependent Suburbs May Be Slums of The Future, Says Urban Planning Report (Treehugger)
A study released by the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) in late 2010 found that “Australia will be forced to rely on huge quantities of imported oil unless it radically overhauls its transport and urban policies” according to The Age newspaper who reported on the findings.

Bikes for Boomers? Panasonic’s Electric Bike for “Elderlies” (Treehugger)
If you take it for granted that bicycles are a safe and green part of the transportation system for all ages, then this makes perfect sense. Panasonic has just introduced an electric bike with 20″ wheels and a “low floor design” that makes it really easy to get on, start with a boost and stand with your feet flat.

Princeton Plans Largest Solar Field for Any U.S. University (inhabitat)
Long a leader in top-notch academics, Princeton University is now a leader in green technology and clean energy. The Ivy League school announced last week its plans for a 27-acre solar field to partially power its New Jersey campus.

Friday Feature: Brian

Feb 05, 2011

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian Kenny and I’m an architect in our Seattle office. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and moved to Seattle in ‘97 after graduating from Virginia Tech. I consider myself a suburban refugee – during summer jobs I spent 2-3 hours driving each day around the D.C. Beltway. That “drove” me (ha ha) to find a livable city where I didn’t have to do that and Seattle passed with flying colors! VIA is the fifth office I’ve worked in since moving here. My wife Lori is also an architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I was doomed from the start with a classic architect childhood: drawing all the time, unhealthy Lego obsession, treehouses, etc. Growing up in the 80’s I was always the “art kid” but also loved to take apart lawnmower engines, build models, launch rockets, and devour Popular Mechanics articles about the “World of the Future in the Year 2000!” (Are we there yet?).

What did your family think of your chosen field?
My dad worked for NASA and my mom was a librarian but they always supported my interests. While I’ve never asked, I’d bet they were relieved when I switched from being an Art major to the Architecture program.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Virginia Tech had many fantastic professors who pushed us to find our own path in design and in life. But I continue to be influenced daily by my second-year studio professor Jay Stoeckel. Our very first day he shocked us by stating that he didn’t care if we ever became architects – his concern was our education. We learned of numerous alumni who’d used their design training to thrive in a wide variety of other careers and professions.

On our last day he said he’d tried to instill an attitude towards, and a habit of, self-education and pushing ourselves to our limits – this would serve us the rest of our lives. We hung on his every word because most were pretty profound…

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
School was competitive so it was essential to learn to listen to what’s inside and not measure yourself against others. Also, as a generalist I seem to find everything interesting but in college I had to learn to focus.

What inspires you?
The world! People! Art! Science! Any and everything! (see above). To narrow it down, I love how wildly unrelated ideas can cross-pollinate to generate new ones. I try to encourage this when my mind is chewing on a problem but then picks up the scent of a solution when I’m not working on it…

What schooling is required for success in your career?
I earned a five-year BArch degree so I didn’t need a Masters, but there are also 4-year undergrad degrees where a Masters is required to get your license. Many people do a 3-year Master’s program after undergrad in something else. And then you have to earn a number of years of experience and take a plethora of exams before you can acquire your license and legally be considered an architect. But I feel that if you’re training, thinking, working, and acting like an architect then effectively you are an architect, just not a licensed one which is an important distinction to make in public.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Stubborn but open-minded people! Also, architects have to work with a huge variety of trades and professions, not to mention your clients. This means your most brilliant idea won’t go anywhere if you can’t communicate it effectively.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
A few quotes I’ve internalized:

Advice is cheap.
~Anonymous

Resolve to always be a beginner.
~ Rilke

The best place to be an architect is at a cocktail party…
~Ron Van der Veen, Seattle architect

Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Unfortunately opportunities have shrunk dramatically during this mother-of-all-recessions. Many architects are still out of work which has increased competition for new graduates. But before getting too gloomy, I’m very optimistic about the long-term demand for creative people to solve the challenges of of an urbanizing world.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Architects make plans – that’s what we do. But to drop another quote, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. So by all means pour your heart and soul into your efforts, but also know that things will rarely turn out how you expect. And that can be a good thing!

European Transportation, a traveler’s perspective Part 2 of 2

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Coordinator for VIA Architecture

If you read part I of this post, you will recall some of my conclusions about Paris and their transportation preferences – little city, little cars, huge metro system. This week I will be talking about my observations while in Belgium – trams, trams and more trams.

I will start with the first city I visited in Belgium called Ghent. It is a beautiful town and at night when the lights ricochet off the facades of the buildings it feels like something out of a fairy tale. The city still has much of its medieval architecture including Gravensteen castle, from which this picture was taken, which just adds to its fairy tale like nature.

The main form of transportation in the city centre appeared to be walking, bicycling, bussing and the use of the 4 tram lines. Many of the streets in the city centre were closed off to cars, likely because they are very narrow and made of cobblestones. However, as the picture below depicts, some of the narrow alleys are used by cars despite their difficult maneuverability. The cars appeared to be slightly bigger than those we saw in Paris which with alley’s like this did not make much sense. However, with a little elbow grease and the proper angling in of the side mirrors, we were ready to go.

Like many places in Europe, Ghent has entire bicycle parking lots. As there appeared to be lots of areas where cars couldn’t drive, bicycles seemed to be the obvious choice to navigate the narrow roads. It should also be mentioned that the cyclists ride in style. Girls will bike with heels or boots and skirts. I did not see spandex or reflective jackets as is common in Vancouver. I suppose Lululemon has not yet infiltrated the European market.

Upon leaving Ghent, we got a little lost and ended up in a small town called De Panne in Belgium. It turned out that there was a tram that went from De Panne, down through a number of different cities and ended up in Oostente, a beautiful seaside town which we were more than happy to visit. We were shocked that a tram would have such a long route but after about an hour, we arrived at our destination. I am not sure what the word ‘bad’ means in Flemish but I took this picture for pure comedic value, sorry West End I think you are beautiful but you seem to have made some enemies in Belgium.

While on the tram I noticed that people would listen to music or watch TV or youtube on their phones which would be fine had it not been for the fact that it was on speaker phone and billowing out through the tram. In Vancouver there are signs reminding riders to turn down their devices even while using headphones, I am not sure what people would have done had they heard entire songs and TV shows. Another frustration came from the signage on the tram. Although it had a sign which listed stop names, not all the stops were listed (I am guessing this was a result of having so many stops as the line was about an hour and a half long). At one point we heard the name of a stop so we tried to see how much longer we had but we couldn’t see the name of the current stop on the sign so we just hoped for the best. Despite this, the tram was very comfortable and smooth on the rails below.

At the end of our ride, which felt kind of like a longer darker version of the train that travels around Disney Land, we arrived in Oostente. We found a nice Chinese restaurant, yes Europe has amazing Chinese food, and a hotel and called it a night.

A few warm croissants here, some fresh mussels there and a warm chocolate Belgium waffle and it was back to Paris to prepare for our flight back to Canada. It truly was a planes, trains but little automobile experience.

Monday News Roundup

Jan 31, 2011

Seeking an example of sustainable urbanisn in Seattle (Planetizen)
Seattle has the political momentum behind sustainable urbanism, but it doesn’t seem to have a physical neighborhood example of how sustainable urbanism can work, according to this article.

Building the virtual city (Planetizen)
Beatville is a new “open source, multi-player environment for real cities”, which purports to be a useful tool for democratizing urban planning. Does it live up to the hype? Urban Omnibus checks it out.

Giving a lift to Vancouver’s downtown eastside: build taller buildings (The Vancouver Sun)
A group of academics have challenged Vancouver’s Historic Areas Height Review, which recommends city council permit buildings on several sites to exceed the existing height allowance to further the long-standing goal of densification, supported by consecutive city councils.

Green building: where to live? (Cambridge)
Are cities the best place to live? Are suburbs OK? A fight grows in urban planning, with Harvard at the center.

Affordable housing, parks to receive budget boosts from city council (The Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver City Council will decide Tuesday where to spend its $337-million capital budget, with priority going to creating affordable housing, community centre developments and more park space. The budget will also provide funding to support the city’s green initiatives, including improvements to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, work on sewer separation and initiatives related to the solid waste plan.

A new tool for fighting rural sprawl (Crosscut)
Developers can already buy up development rights in farmland and nearby forests, transfering the rights to increase density in cities and towns. This new proposal from Cascade Land Conservancy would tap the increased taxes to help pay for urban infrastructure and amenities. It solves economic and legal issues that have held back such transfers.

Top 10 Nations With Clean Power – Hydropower, Nuclear or Small Populations Figure Heavily (treehugger)
Apropos of President Obama’s intent to have 80% of US electricity come from clean power sources by 2035, GE has just released a graphic detailing to the top ten countries with the cleanest energy sources.

Gallery: 5 Up-and-Coming Canadian Cities (The Vancouver Sun)
Here are five Canadian cities on the up and up.

The future of transporation funding in uncertain times (Planetizen)
In this Q&A, urban planning professor Mitchell Moss explains how budget crises at the federal, state and local levels will affect transit funding in New York City and other places.

First Full Bamboo School in Philippines Stands Up to Tough Stormwinds (inhabitat)
A new school in the Philippines (where they know quite a bit about buildings being blown down by powerful tropical winds) has done one better by utilizing a flexible, storm resistant material that is also locally grown and rapidly renewable – bamboo.

Glass-Clad Bike Transit Center Opens in Downtown Washington DC (inhabitat)
A newly-opened bike station in the heart of Washington, DC has been likened to an eye, a bike spoke and even a bike helmet. The glass-enclosed station sits adjacent to Union Station, where it makes low-impact commuter travel a reality.

Friday Feature: Naomi

Jan 29, 2011

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Naomi Buell and I do marketing and business development for VIA Architecture. I also try to make people laugh whenever I get a chance.

What made you decide to go into your field?

I was taking communications at school and found it to be too theoretical and not applicable enough for me and my friend told me she thought I would like business. Once in business I realized that I had always been a marketer, right from my days coming up with slogans for my Kool-Aid stands (No PST, GST or MSG).

What did your family think of your chosen field?

As an only child I think they would have been proud of me no matter what I did. Having recently helped my mom with her business cards and e-mail signature though, I think she is happy I chose marketing. My dad has always encouraged my writing skills so anything that connects me and words together seems to make him happy.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?

I had two marketing teachers that taught me so much in University. I later found out that they were actually husband and wife which just seems to make sense. They were both very knowledgeable helpful and encouraging and had the best marketing assignments. My one professor told me “there is no such thing as the general public” which means you can’t market to everyone so you better find out who your target market is. I think about that at least once a week.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Definitely financial. I mean don’t get me wrong business school is challenging but filling out Student loan forms was way more stressful.

What inspires you?

A good song on a beautiful day.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

I have a degree in business but any degree in marketing or communications gets you off to a good start. I would suggest choosing a school with a co-op program or do an internship as companies will want someone with experience.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

You should be creative and innovative and understand people. Having an eye for design is a great attribute as well.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

I personally am a fan of the secret. Positivity breeds positivity. I truly have found that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)

There will always be a need for marketing and there are new specializations for social media marketing and that field is certainly growing.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

Well I may be a little biased but I would say go for it because it is the best career ever. It’s fun, you get to do so many different things and so far I have found that the other people in it, the ones you get to work with are pretty awesome to.

by Matt Roewe, Director of Mixed Use and Major Projects

Last Saturday (January 22, 2011) Sound Transit and the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development hosted an Urban Design Framework workshop for the Capitol Hill light rail station development sites. This workshop is part of an ongoing community engagement program in collaboration with the Capitol Hill Champions, which consists of a joint committee of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Hill Community Council.

For those of you who have not heard about the Capitol Hill light rail station development sites, these properties represent an incredible opportunity to strategically enhance one of the most established, vibrant and diverse places in the city. As a consequence of the underground bored tunnel and station construction effort, there will be five residual parcels on two different city blocks that will be available for redevelopment when the station is finished in 2016. The station is intentionally sited in the heart of the neighborhood and if designed well, will ultimately serve as the civic center of the community.

Earlier workshops focused on uses appropriate to this location. The neighborhood has a long list of desired uses and activities including:

  • 50% affordable housing
  • arts and performance space
  • subsidized local retailers
  • restaurants/cafes
  • community meeting facilities
  • a hotel and a cultural/resource center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community

Also desired is an open city square that can be used for outdoor farmer and merchant markets, concerts and civic events.

The current zoning, called neighborhood commercial, allows buildings from 45′ to 65′ tall with a development capacity of about 400,000 square feet. The lone odd shaped parcel on the west side of Broadway is zoned as part of an institutional overlay for Seattle Central Community College and will allow about 100′ of height. That site is tough to develop individually as it straddles a third entrance to the station and is best suited as part of a project that includes college land to the south.

I participated in the workshop as a representative of the Seattle Planning Commission. I’m also interested as an architect/urban designer who works on transit oriented development and station area planning. Incidentally I’m also a board member of Capitol Hill Housing, an affordable housing provider who manages and operates about 30 buildings in the neighborhood.

This particular workshop focused on design quality and scale. About 60 people participated in the 4 hour session. A great range of divergent opinions were expressed by a range of participants that include neighborhood residents, business and institutional leaders, civic groups, students and plenty of professional architects and planners. Expectations were high, but the room was full of collaboration and enthusiasm. There definitely was interest in tossing out the old zoning and establishing new development standards specific to this site and including incentive based public benefits tied to added value creation.

Here are my summary notes and personal conclusions (the opinions expressed here are my own and are not representative of VIA, Capitol Hill Housing, or the Planning Commission):

  1. Blurring the property lines that define where the mid-block crossing should be on sites A1/A2, as well as B1/B2. Both those long segments may want to be one developer with connected garages. ST should remain flexible on this rather than specifically delineating those as four “pads”…rather two long pads should be a welcomed option.
  2. A sweeping pedestrian desire line from the primary entrance down Broadway, arcing through site A1/A2 (possibly building this as a ground level internal arcade with building over it) then through to The Nagle Market Square and on into Cal Anderson. Three teams came to this conclusion.
  3. E Denny between sites A + C should be dedicated and designed to function as a square or plaza. Service and limited access can be controlled by electronic bollards subject to time of day and key card access. No need to delineate curbs as long as appropriate programing and features allow a clear path for sire and service.
  4. ST and the city may want to be open to breaking away the strict street grid on the plaza space at E Denny. The RFQ/RFP process should be flexible for this to break down given the right geometry and outcome from item 2 above.
  5. Parking is a major concernas it is essential to the retail and market rate housing in this location. Certainly this will be a paid, below grade solution with best practices in sharing and managing this as multi-tenant/user asset.
    1. Making enough parking would be welcome by the merchants. But walk-able/environmental advocates fear that it will generate too much traffic. A delicate balance should be the goal, rationalized with a good traffic and market/real estate study.
    2. Automated below grade parking may be necessary for the tower residents (see below) and to take advantage/necessary regarding the footing depths of a tower having to go down about 80′ to match the station box depth.
  6. Massing Option 4: Putting the height on the NW corner of the project makes sense in terms of shadows and hierarchy of form. The other sites could transition down from 65′ of height, gradating down toward Cal Anderson Park. Even consider one story kiosk like buildings near the square if certain elements want to be special single use jewel boxes.
  7. Just one building could be built as a high-rise(in the NW Corner) as the construction costs are heavy and the visual impacts would be limited to one location. I suggest starting at 240′ tall. The additional development capacity would be viewed as value creation which would be part of an incentive program that requires the developer to provide public benefits.
    1. If there is more appetite for mutually agreed incentives of private funding for community benefits, go up to 700′. Think of a stellar tall tower as a beacon signifying this as an honorable civic place and as a huge, yet fun and welcoming transit investment. It also allows some expression of this place as Seattle’s ” Times Square” and as a way-finding symbol …”you have arrived” as you step out of the station…”we are at the heart of this community”.
    2. A hotel use in the tower was welcome, even targeting the gay/lesbian tourism sector. Calling this the “Peoples Tower” by allowing a public view platform and/or restaurants at the roof seemed to make sense as more of an inclusive structure. Who says the Space Needle should be the only profit making icon in the whole city?
  8. If 50% of the housing is targeted to be subsidized, we have to look hard at how this can be accommodated and where. If there is a luxury tower that helps pay for affordable, that ratio will need to go down, but for all the right reasons. I suggest the city set 50% of the current allowed zoning housing capacity as affordable. Then, if the zoning changes to allow significant more height, that added area would need to be exempt from that requirement…unless they want to 20% tax credit of course.

We have plenty of time as the RFP for development won’t come out until 2012 and the station will not be operational until 2016. Construction under current zoning would likely take another 1.5 to 2 years. If there is rezoning or if markets are soft, complete build out could take until 2020 or possibly longer.

What is an urban design framework?
In order to guide and inform the redevelopment of the properties acquired by Sound Transit, Capitol Hill community members, Sound Transit staff and City of Seattle staff will develop, in partnership, an Urban Design Framework for those properties. The purpose of the Urban Design Framework is to establish a shared programming and design vision for these properties and adjacent streets and public spaces. An Urban Design Framework is a set of recommendations focused on physical planning issues (urban design, land use mix, street and public spaces, sustainable design, etc.).

The Framework is a “bridge” to connect broad goals and policies, to specific physical planning recommendations. Focused on urban design and place-making, the Framework can include implementation actions that are cross-departmental, regulatory, capital and programmatic. In the case of the Capitol Hill light rail station sites, the Framework will address desired uses, programming and maintenance in addition to design. The extensive body of past planning work done by the Capitol Hill community (including but not limited to the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan), Sound Transit, and the City is a foundation for the Urban Design Framework.

Read more here

Calatrava’s Turning Torso Tower in Malmo

An example of a single iconic tower amid a 4 to 6 story townscape.

Food for thought – feel free to share your comments and ideas.

Monday News Roundup

Jan 24, 2011

Heavy Traffic Means Less Social Streets (Planetizen)
Streetfilms looks back at Professor Donald Appleyard’s pioneering work observing the social life of streets, which proved that streets with less traffic fostered more social interactions than those with heavy traffic.

Unimaginable marriage of high-end architecture and car storage (The New York Times)
A Miami Beach Parking lot doubles as an event space. When cars aren’t in the way, the space is open for Bar Mitzvas, Wedding receptions, Charity events etc.

Portlandia parody show:Can a City This Self-Serious Take a Joke? (The New York Times)
The first episode of “Portlandia,” a new television show that pokes at the Northwest confection’s urban preciousness.

UNStudio Unveils Green-Roofed Library of the Future for Belgium (inhabitat)
UNStudio has unveiled designs for an Urban Library of the Future in Gent, Belgium that presents a refined sense of public space. The building’s light, transparent design creates a public gathering place that doubles as a learning environment.

The Good & Bad News Of World Energy Consumption to 2030 (Planetizen)
“From 2010 to 2030, the report says, renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels) will increase their contribution to energy growth from 5% to 18%.

UK’s Largest Solar Housing Project Also Tackles Fuel Poverty
(Treehugger)
Some folks may believe that solar feed-in tariffs are a subsidy for the wealthy, but it’s not just the rich that are getting in on the action. Just like some pioneering solar affordable housing projects in the States, one UK housing authority is pressing ahead with plans to install solar on over 650 houses by 2012. The initiative will, it claims, make it the largest solar housing project in the country, and other housing associations are looking to follow its lead.

Vancouver vs. suburbs: What homes you can get for around $750,000 (The Vancouver Sun)
What do buyers sacrifice by choosing to live within Vancouver city limits, versus a more suburban location? We compare the homes in the $700,000-$800,000 range in Vancouver to those found throughout the Metro area to find out.

Spaced Out in a Flat World (Observers Room)
Tom Friedman’s book The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (2005) is filled with anecdotes about change in different parts of the world that threaten our fat-cat lifestyles in the North.

City of mass construction: Toronto’s unstoppable condos show no signs of slowing down (National Post)
“There’s no other place on the planet where all this [activity] is happening,” says the president of Brad J. Lamb Realty, who specializes in downtown condo sales. “We have a large immigration of people coming to Toronto every year. We have a diverse economy that can support a reasonably affluent lifestyle. And we have a very stable Canadian economy.

Fear of Ghosts: Vancouver’s Hospice Uproar (The Tyee)
Proposed St. John Hospice location makes some Chinese residents uneasy as ghosts have ominous cultural meaning.

City seeks federal stimulus grant extension (The Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver city council has asked the federal government for an extension on a stimulus-grant program so it can finish $150-million worth of civic infrastructure projects. Affected projects include the two most expensive the city is doing under the program — a new visitors’ centre for the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and a police property and forensic storage facility.

A Comprehensive Urban Agriculture Plan (Planetizen)
A new project is seeking to create the first citywide, comprehensive urban agriculture plan for New York City.

European Transportation, a traveler’s perspective Part 1 of 2

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Coordinator for VIA Architecture

This past holiday season brought me the good fortune of traveling, something that happens to be my favorite activity. The trip brought me to France and Belgium and although it was only 10 days long, it was an amazing experience. While traveling I was fascinated by the different transportation methods and I kept comparing them to what people use in Vancouver. I took a few pictures to share my experience with others, so here they are to tell my story.

Like many cities, Paris uses a bike sharing program. The swipe of a credit card will allow you the use of a bicycle. I did not see as many people on bicycles in Paris as I did in Belgium and certainly not as many as I did when I was in Amsterdam but there was obviously an effort being made to provide them and I had heard that bike use had gained more popularity in Paris over the past few years. With a small pannier in the front (perfect for your baguette and fromage), who wouldn’t want to use one?

The metro in Paris was also a very popular method of transportation, in fact it has about 6 million patrons a day. My boyfriend and I learned just how busy it was when we experienced the morning rush hour and realized that getting the two of us with our luggage onto a train packed to the brim with people may be a slightly difficult task.

We waited for about 4 trains to pass before we could get on without hitting someone with our large bags, a Canadian courtesy I was told would not have been extended by anyone local. I liked how the trains clearly indicated what stations you had passed, which were to come and what the next station was with the use of light up signage.

That aside however, I found the metro to be extremely confusing. There were different lines and different entrances and you had to look at the name of the last stop to ensure you were going in the right direction. I was extremely happy that my travel companion took charge of leading the way because I think I may have ended up lost and in tears if it was up to me. Even the statistics made my brain hurt when I looked them up:

“The system boasts 211 km (131 miles) of track and 16 lines, shuttling 3500 cars on a precise schedule between 298 stations (not including RER stations), 87 of these offering connections between lines. It is said that every building in Paris is within 500 meters (3/10 mile) of a métro station. Roughly 6 million people per day patronize the métro, which employs over 15,000.”

I also found the faregates to be hard to navigate with large bags and sometimes the ticket wouldn’t work on a new line or different direction. After a few days I had accumulated quite the ticket collection.

Opened in 1900, the Metro is much older than the SkyTrain and Canada line that we have become accustomed to in Vancouver (happy 25th birthday to the Skytrain by the way), something that is quite evident in the station design. Typically the stations are made of brick and concrete and can be a little dark and ominous. However, I have read that some of the stations look like pieces of art themselves and that the station at the Louvre includes marble and even ancient artifacts. Perhaps I was simply frequenting the wrong stations.

Parisians occupy much less space than us North Americans. They have smaller apartments and hotels, drive smaller cars and in general come in smaller packages. With a city that measures only 6 miles across, I suppose it is a necessary measure. I took this picture both because it illustrates that point and also because the cars seem to defy certain laws of physics. For example unless these cars can also drive in a horizontal direction, how do they get in and out of their parking spaces? These cars are a bit of an extreme and as far as I saw, not all that common, but indeed Paris is a city of compacts and hatchbacks. Again with room for a baguette and cheese and wine, what else do you need? Let’s just hope they don’t need to fit a suitcase anywhere in there.

One of my favorite things about Europe is the train system. You can go anywhere you want by train and for someone who loves to travel, the train stations are one of my favorite places, especially the larger ones in Lille. They feel like a “choose your own adventure” hub, with a world (or continent) of possibilities. I even love the sound before every announcement, “da da da da votre attention s’il vous plait.” If you are there in the winter though, dress warmly as the only heating seems to come from the heat lamps (the large flickers of light in the image) dispersed throughout the station and you can only feel their heat if you are hovering right next to them. The trains themselves are quite clean and comfortable and the scenery is beautiful along the trip. Below is an image of the train station in Oostente, a seaside town in Belgium.

And with the transition from France to Belgium, I will end this week’s post and continue on with my Belgium transportation experience next week.

Monday News Roundup

Jan 17, 2011

Vancouver developer eyes a break from social housing requirement (The Globe and Mail)
For 30 years, the city has clung to a cherished goal of a social mix for residential megaprojects, requiring that one out of every five units be reserved for low-cost housing. This week, planners are recommending that goal be temporarily suspended for the final phase of development on the old Expo 86 lands after Concord Pacific, the Expo landowner, offered a special deal.

A guide to Green Building certifications (LEED, Built Green Canada, BOMA BESt) (Re:place)
How do they decide a building is green? The Tyee Guide to green building certification systems in Canada. Third in a series.

If everyone moves to the city, what gets left behind (GOOD)
Since 2008, more than half of humanity has resided in cities, and city dwellers make up more of the world population each year. Soon more than 25 cities will have populations of 10 million or more. Much has been made of the problems and opportunities presented by swelling urban populations and their impact on the environment. But considerably less fuss has been made over the corollary of this extraordinary urban growth: the fact that humanity is abandoning the countryside.

WindMade Label Will Tell You if Green Energy Powers Your Purchases (inhabitat)
The WindMade label, which was just announced today, will be a new way for you to see whether or not the products you’re buying were manufactured using wind energy.

Houston Architecture Office Doubles as Beautiful Eco Home (Inhabitat)
After several years of working in a downtown warehouse loft, Houston architects Russell and Rame Hruska, owners of Intexure, decided to move their studio and combine it with their home.

Prince Charles Plans Shanty Town for India (planetizen)
Prince Charles is planning to build a 15,000-person shanty town in India, modeled after Dharavi, the Mumbai settlement featured in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”.

Why Streetcars? Evaluating the Alternatives (The City Fix)
In a recent post on TheCityFix, Dan Tangherlini, the former director of the District Department of Transportation under Mayor Anthony Williams, makes the case for streetcars in Washington, D.C. I would like to bring some additional points to the discussion.

Map: Where High-Speed Rail Will Be Most Effective (GOOD)
A new report by America 2050 has looked at the places in the country where high-speed rail could attract the most riders and, therefore, be the most effective.

Chicago Bus Tracker: Transit goes 21st Century With User-Friendly Online GPS Tracking (treehugger)
Chicago’s Bus Tracker offers more evidence in favor of transit agencies releasing their data in open and usable formats. It not only allows transit users to track buses online and on their phones, knowing exactly when they’ll arrive at the nearest stop thanks to GPS equipment, but it also makes it easy for local stores to set up a screen that displays real-time info on buses.

Aiding the Immigrant Bicyclists of Los Angeles (planetizen)
For many immigrants in Los Angeles, bicycling is the only viable way to get around. A group of activists is trying to make that transportation reality safer and more reliable.

Should Coal Ash Be Getting LEED Credits (treehugger)
Coal ash never ceases to amaze: despite being radioactive and loaded with mercury, not only does the EPA claim it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, its use in construction is also a source of LEED credits in green building.

Is the Subway Ready for a Conversation Car (GOOD)
Can public transit be social? Alex Marshall thinks so. The urban planner (and New York subway rider) argues today in the New York Daily News for a “Conversation Car” on the subway. Reminiscing about how he used to strike up conversations with fellow riders before they all became attached to their gadgets, Marshall observes that today such “chatting up” is nearly non-existent, as subway cars feel more like monasteries than social spaces.

Aleppo’s Conservation Plan Focuses On Architecture With A Social Vision (planetizen)
Aleppo, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, is undergoing a conservation project that includes the restoration of hundreds of houses, a new park, and rebuilding city streets and services.

Friday Feature: Agnes

Jan 14, 2011


Who are you and what do you do?
Agnes LaPointe, intern architect. Born and raised in Malaysia, got my architectural degree and worked in Canada.

What made you decide to go into your field?

When I was a kid, my mom came home one day and caught me with crayons, with my bedroom walls completely covered with doodles… Guilty.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

You mean you get to draw all day and get paid for it? Cool! At least that’s what they think I do.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?

I have tremendous respect for a few of the professors from my architectural school. Their advice still continuously has an influence on my architectural career.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)

Learning how to communicate ideas, not just through drawings but also verbally and writing, in English!

What inspires you?

The beauty of life and everything that comes with it, especially my ever growing one year old.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

Two years of engineering prior to, 2 years Bachelor of Environmental Designs + 1 work term inclusive, 2 years of Master of Architecture + 2 work terms inclusive. At the end of it all it is only the beginning of a life long learning of this career.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

Attributes of (Businessman + Artist + Engineer + Accountant) = Architect

What is the best advice you were ever given?

You simply can’t know everything especially in this diverse field. But knowing how or where to get the knowledge and apply it is the key. Knowledge is power.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)

Just like anything else, supply and demand.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

Don’t take my word for it, find out for yourself. Go work for an architectural firm, take some courses or visit an architecture school. There is no better way to find out than first hand experience.