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Tuesday News Roundup

Jan 04, 2011

We hope you all had a great New Years. To get back into the swing of things, we thought we would provide you with a “Tuesday News Roundup.”

Big Homebuilders Not Yet Embracing Green Standards (Planetizen)
With few exceptions, America’s largest homebuilders are slower than companies in other fields to act on environmental concerns, according to a survey conducted by Calvert Asset Management Company.

Spending on major infrastructure in Canada to reach $96B, report says (Vancouver Sun)
Premier Gordon Campbell and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Kevin Falcon officially launch construction of the new Port Mann Bridge and unveil its design in Surrey, Feb. 4, 2009. Spending on Canada’s aging infrastructure continues to grow, with the current crop of projects expected to total $96 billion, says ReNew Canada magazine, which Tuesday published its Top 100 projects 2011 report.

Vote on the future of Vancouver’s carbon tax (Tyee)
Liberal candidate George Abbott would put the carbon tax to a province wide vote stating that “This is an important enough decision we need to make it with the people of British Columbia.”

New report says roads don’t pay for themselves (Planetizen)
A new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group PIRG’s report estimates that road construction has cost the American public $600 billion since the highway system began.

Planning Challenge 1: Commercial Aggregation and Subdivision (Planning Pool)
The word “subdivision” is almost synonymous with the “suburbs.” The building blocks of many suburbs are subdivisions with names ranging from the biblical (“Green Acres”), to the pompous (“Kingdom Heights”), to the pastoral (“Pheasant Run”). The problems of inner-city rejuvenation, brownfield restoration, and strip-mall redevelopment are miles away from the great subdividing maw of suburbanization at the rural fringe.

Green-Roofed Superblock for Fargo, North Dakota (Inhabitat)
Fargo, North Dakota needs a new 500-car parking garage stat, so the city launched the Downtown Fargo: Urban Infill Design Competition to source creative solutions for creating a downtown block that still provides adequate parking spaces.

The urban landscape from A to Z (grist)
We’ve covered a lot of urban ground in the past year, so we thought it would be fun to take a look back (and a couple of peeks forward) by going from A to Z in the urban alphabet. Here are some of the things we’ve been watching, and will continue to school ourselves on.

Sol Cinema: The World’s Smallest Solar-Powered Mobile Movie Theater (GOOD)
Roughly two decades after the demise of the drive-in comes The Sol Cinema, a solar-powered mobile movie theater that seats eight adults and does so with vintage charm.

The Definitive Guide to New Transit in 2011 (Planetizen)
Yonah Freemark over at the Transport Politic presents an exhaustive catalog of openings and construction of new transit in the U.S., from the Wickford Junction Commuter Rail Extension in Rhode Island to Phase 1A of the Expo Line in Los Angeles.

The year ahead in bikes (grist)
There’s been a bicycle movement brewing for years, and since 2008 it’s been unstoppable. Things really ramped up in 2010, but it’s looking like next year will be even better. Here’s what I predict we’ll see in 2011.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Stephanie. I’m an urban designer and intern architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?
My art history degree led to an interest in architectural history, which led to an interest in the process of how me make (and inhabit) buildings – and how buildings make us.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They were pleased to have go from visual arts into a more respectable (and profitable) profession!

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Marc Boutin, my senior studio prof and thesis adviser. His work really influenced my interest in cities and urban design and how buildings create urban spaces.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
The biggest hurdle by far is the one I’m facing right now: writing all the licensing exams while completing my intern hours to get my full professional registration.

What inspires you?
My walk to work in the morning. Riding my bike late at night in the summer.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
You must have a Master’s in Architecture to become an intern and work towards professional registration. In general, you can have any undergrad degree to get into the master’s. Visual arts or another design degree of some sort is very useful. Alternatively, a more technical background can be an advantage such as an architectural technology diploma. An undergrad in business would also be incredibly useful once you get into the work force. Architects are generalists, so the more you know the better!

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
In order to get through architecture school you have to be fairly tenacious. It also helps to be a detail-oriented person.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Honestly? It probably wasn’t related to architecture or my career!

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
I think there will always be room for career growth as partners retire and more senior positions become available. The demand for architects is obviously dependent on the construction industry but it’s a pretty diverse profession and it qualifies you for all kinds of work.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Making buildings is a huge undertaking. My advice is to look before you leap, so to speak, and try to figure out which aspect of the process you are interested in. Some people are more interested in the technical side of construction (architectural technician), or how the structure will function (structural engineer), or what the space looks like (interior design). Architects have to know a little bit about everything and coordinate things. Someone considering a career like this has a lot of options and it’s good to know about all of them before making a decision.

Happy Holidays

Dec 22, 2010

As the eve of Christmas approaches, we thought we would take this opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season and an excellent new year.

This card was created by our own intern architect, Ivan Ilic. We only hope that Halmark doesn’t try to scoop him up.

So from all of us here at VIA Architecture, Season’s greetings and (aside from a post on Friday) we shall see you all in the new year!

Monday News Roundup

Dec 20, 2010

California approves more big solar powered projects (Grist)
The California Energy Commission on Wednesday approved two more big solar thermal power plants, ending the year having green-lighted a total of nine projects that would generate 4,142.5 megawatts if all were built.

The music of planning (Planetizen)
A website called “Isle of Tune” lets you build streets SimCity-style, with a twist- the houses and streetlights become musical elements in the sequence that you make.

TransLink to let public vote on name of electronic fare card (Planetizen)
TransLink plans to let the public decide what its new electronic fare cards, which are set to be introduced in 2013, will be named.

View corridors in downtown Vancouver are protected, city planner says (Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver city’s plan to consider allowing extra-tall buildings in the downtown core affects only seven specific sites and would not allow any intrusions into long-protected view corridors, the city’s director of planning said Thursday.

Can streetcars save America’s cities? (CNN)
In a down economy, pursuing the American dream can be challenging, but restaurant owner Todd Steele was willing to take a chance. He set up shop on a streetcar route and has benefited tremendously from it.

A video of Curitiba, Brazil, the birth place of bus rapid transit (youtube)
Hover over cc to get English subtitles and learn about the planning that went into the bus rapid transit of Curitiba.

You’ve Heard of Pocket Parks, but Pocket Airports? (Planetizen)
A NASA-related agency envisions a future when people will commute from small neighborhood “pocket airports” in their “Suburban Air Vehicles” (SAVs).

Five Technologies That Matter For Cities (Planetizen)
Mobile broadband, government-sponsored cloud computing, smart devices – these are a few of the technologies that cities should be thinking about for the future, says the Institute for the Future in a new report.

Smart Growth’s Future in Northern Virginia (Planetizen)
In an interview with Arlington County Board Vice-Chairman Christopher Zimmerman, Jonna McKone asks the local official about current and future transit-oriented development (TOD) and managed growth in the Washington, D.C. region.

‘Humane’ food sparks excitement, labeling controversy (Vancouver Sun)
ST. LOUIS — American shoppers face a dizzying array of labels in the aisles of their grocery stores, most designed to help them make healthy choices. Soon they’ll see yet another label — this one concerning the health of animals in the food chain.

Solar-Powered Machine Creates Rainbows From Recycled Rainwater (Inhabitat)
Rainbows are fleeting and beautiful illusions – a gift from nature to us. Certain climatic conditions are generally required in the creation of a rainbow — unless you’re artist Michael Jones McKean, who has found a way to shoot rainbows across the sky at will. Next June McKean will produce a rainbow twice a day for 15 minutes using reclaimed rainwater and sunlight.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jenny and I am an intern architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?

A fascination with maps and plans, and of course – lego! I also thought it would be an interesting job.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

They were delighted – apart from the cost of me having to go away for university, when the local university was literally a 10min walk from our house. (It didn’t offer architecture as a course)

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

Hugh Campbell my 2nd year History & Theory lecturer and Studio Head. For his enthusiasm but also for showing that architecture is everywhere and affects so many aspects of life – it’s not just about 4 walls.

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

Trying to overcome nervousness in project critiques and believing in my work, so I think I was probably my own biggest hurdle.

What inspires you?


What schooling is required for success in your career?

Bachelors Degree in Architecture, (or a Masters is more common in this part of the world).

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

All types of people can be successful in architecture. Different aspects of the job play to different strengths – hence working in teams tends to work out quite well! Some useful attributes include creativity, practicality, ability to compromise, good communication skills and a logical mindset.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

‘Hold the head’, by my Dad. It is his stock advice in all of life’s problems, big or small. I think it’s good advice!

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

Not at home (Ireland) right now unfortunately, but I don’t think things are too bad here in Vancouver.

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

The college stuff isn’t easy, but the job can be great if you like learning new things, continuously being challenged and variety.

How Design Can Affect Your Mood

by Jennifer Kelly, VIA Architecture

Architects have long intuited that the places we inhabit can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Now behavioral scientists are giving their hunches an empirical basis.

Scientists are unearthing tantalizing clues about how to design spaces that promote creativity, keep students focused and alert, and lead to relaxation and social intimacy. The results inform architectural and design decisions such as the height of ceilings, the view from windows, the shape of furniture, and the type and intensity of lighting.

Such efforts are leading to cutting-edge projects such as residences for seniors with dementia in which the building itself is part of the treatment. [source]

Ceiling Height
Back in 2007, Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote a paper that found that an individual’s thoughts and actions were affected by the height of the ceiling:

“When a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly. They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics.”

 An Art Studio is better suited for high ceilings

But Meyers-Levy is quick to point out that there are good reasons for a low-ceiling height; like in an operating room where you want the surgeon to “focus on specifics.”

Building Views
What about the view that you have from your office or living room window? It would be easy to assume that if you had a window that looked out at trees, fields, etc., that you would be more distracted than if you had no view.

Quite the opposite is true — a study by an environmental psychologist found that views of natural settings actually improve focus. Other studies along the same lines have even found that children with ADD are more focused after being able to observe “green space.”

Great deck design (and not just for a view out the window, but a chance to relax before getting back to work!)

But what if your office or home is located in the middle of a city where your only option is an urban view?

While people already have a tendency to feel relaxed / rejuvenated by nature, psychologist Stephen Kaplan proposed that urban settings are too stimulating and that paying attention to them requires more work than a view of nature.

We can counteract this over-stimulation, by adding greenery to our windows and our decks, or living in a building that has a rooftop garden, so that, even for a moment, we can focus on nature and forget the bustle of the city below.

Every interior designer knows that the colors in a room can affect mood. Restaurant owners choose colors and designs that either encourage customers to stay and enjoy the evening (soft cushions, low light), or to eat quickly and move on so that they can seat more customers (bright colors, hard seats).

There are also times when individuals will pick out a color they think they like for their walls and furniture, but once the room is painted and furniture arranged, they find they feel uncomfortable. So before choosing your colors, take time to think about the emotions you want to bring out in a particular room:

Blue brings a calming feeling of serenity and is great for bathrooms or living rooms. But dark blue can evoke feelings of sadness, so refrain from using it as a main color in a room (see image below with dark blue as just accents):


Yellow is a “happy” color that lightens your mood and can help you feel more carefree. It is a great color for kitchens, where many people start their day, and is one of the most used rooms in the house. (beware of red, orange, and brown, which evoke feelings of hunger):

(What do you think about this one?! 

(couldn’t resist this yellow bedroom + bathroom)

Red is the color of passion, and can evoke intense feelings like love or anger. Perhaps a bedroom with red is a good choice, although it should only be used as accents, and not as a dominant color, as it could promote restlessness:

Orange encourages an enthusiastic mood, and would be a great color for a children’s playroom or for an exercise room (but not for a baby’s nursery, as it can be too overstimulating).

It can also be a great color for social gatherings, or to increase appetite (like if you want your loved one to make sure they get a great breakfast in the morning):

Green evokes a feeling of the outdoors and can help alleviate stress. With those qualifications, it would be great in any room:

(if you want to create a real forest, instead of just simulate one) link

Purple can also bring out a passionate mood — bonus: the darker the shade, the more passionate you feel. It is also associated with luxury and royalty. If used as an accent, it can bring warmth and depth into a room.

 (like a “darker shade” = “more passionate,  I’m not sure what “more neon” equals) link

Black is a very powerful color and should be used in moderation, or it can overwhelm a room. Here are some accents, as well as Gray colors, which can add a subtle elegance to a room:

(found on a website called “Clearly Fabulous“)

And of course, there’s White, which evokes a mode of cleanliness and calm (as long as it’s kept clean!):

Some fun accents in a white room:

 (not completely white, but I love this image + wanted to fit it in somewhere)

Other interesting tidbits about how design can affect mood:

  • Adequate sunlight improves student’s grades
  • When exposed to more sunlight, retirement home residents have less “cognitive decline” [+ have overall improved brain function]
  • Having lighting in your home that can change from day to night will help you not only to stay awake, but also to sleep at night.
  • Dim lighting helps people loosen up
  • Curved furniture and edges are preferable to sharp edges (because of the association of sharp angles with “danger”)
  • In Residential Health Care Facilities, the common practice of placing chairs along the walls of resident day rooms or lounges actually prevented socializing
    • A better plan to encourage interaction, researchers found, is organizing furniture in small groupings throughout the room
  •  Classrooms:
    • semicircle configuration increased student participation
    • putting desks in rows encourages students to work independently and improves classroom behavior
  • Carpeting can “grease social wheels”
    • In hospitals, carpet increases the amount of time patients’ friends and families spend visiting (which may speed healing)

Monday News Roundup

Dec 13, 2010

Update on the Rainier Urban Farm at the Atlantic City Nursery  (Urban Farm Hub )
Great updates on a local project we’re involved with.

One big idea – bring Vancouver together  (Globe and Mail)
Meeru Dhalwala has come up with a new way to bring people together. The co-owner and chef at the internationally known restaurants Vij’s – described by The New York Times as “easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world” – and Rangoli in South Granville has a Big Idea for boosting the spirit of community in Vancouver.

Bicycle freight – thinking outside the box truck  (Grist)
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is planning something that, at first glance, is unbelievable. He wants to ban semi trucks from the city.

Bicyclists Outpace Cars in Downtown, Says New Study  (Planetizen)
A new study of how people are using the French bikesharing system in Lyon provides ample data for American planners hoping implementing similar systems, and reveals that bicycles are faster and more effective than cars in downtown commutes.

It’s time to update the definition of Smart Growth (Kaid at NRDC)
It has been a dozen years or so, fifteen at the most, since a broad but committed group of advocates and organizations coalesced around a shared set of beliefs that, borrowing from then-Maryland-governor Parris Glendening’s landmark legislation, we called “smart growth.”

Defining Provocative Urbanism  (Sustainable Cities Collective)
Amid today’s writing on cities, there is a theme afoot.  Something called provocative urbanism could define today’s excitement and communication about cities, as the focus of multiple articles, tweets, videos and lectures.

Ride your bike, support urban farming  (Urban Farm Hub)
What’s cooler than growing food in vacant urban space? Riding bikes around Lake Washington to support urban farming!

Real Christmas trees aid the environment?  (Sacbee)
The Nature Conservancy is campaigning for people to use real Christmas trees, not the manufactured kind, as a way to lower our carbon footprint.

Pop-up cafes in parking spaces  (GOOD)
It’s not that New York does everything first, or even better, but when New York experiments, people (and cities) across the country take note. Case in point: the pop-up cafe.

How will cities be shaped by transit in the future?  (Grist)
According to Chris Borroni-Bird, director of GM’s advanced technology vehicle concepts work, we’re about to see a new chapter in the story of cars and cities.

Mass Transit on Track in Tehran  (Planetizen)
Over the past 30 years, the overgrown Iranian capital has arrived at unhealthy levels of air pollution and traffic congestion, but with the installation of a metro, BRT system, and bike rental program seems to be heading in a new direction.

City councillor floats downtown public square plan  (Vancouver Courier)
Imagine a block in the middle of downtown where you could sit and drink a coffee in the sun. NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton does, and she planned to champion her vision of a public space at city council Tuesday afternoon, after the Courier’s press deadline.

EPA Smart Growth Awards Live Blogging, Part 1: EPA’s Approach and the 2010 Winners  (The City Fix)

Can Planning Rebuild “Ghettos of the Mind”?  (Planetizen)
Dehumanizing urban renewal-era public housing developments across North America are being replaced by mixed-use, mixed income neighborhoods with affordable housing. Yet in Regent Park, Toronto at least, many troubling social problems remain.

Friday Feature: Bill

Dec 10, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?

Joined VIA in September ‐ currently coordinating the Skytrain integration with the Plaza 88 development in New Westminster and soon to inherit the entire Plaza 88 project.

What made you decide to go into your field?

It was about the integrity of architecture, what it has been, what it does and can do and being able to cultivate and employ a particular view of living through built form.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

I come from a lengthy line of radiologists – brother, sister in law, father, aunt, grandfather – I went into architecture….with blank stares.

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

Artists — who are less shackled by the realities architects face.

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

Financial yes and pressure from beauracracies along the way.

What inspires you?

The goal of the bigger picture and when 1 and 1 = 3

What schooling is required for success in your career?

For me it was 4 yrs to prove you are worthy to enter architecture + 3 yrs of architecure + 2 yrs to prove you are worthy to practice architecture….. then schooling yourself the rest of your life.

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

Good communicators, people who understanding the interconnectedness of things, generally people who have lived enough to know.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

No one gave me any good advice that I can remember ‐ I had to give myself advice.

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

Not growing so much but morphing – losing something and hopefully gaining something else. The profession needs to expand its influence to open up new avenues.

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

I say start early, get varied life experiences and a broad education then go into architecture. Don’t worry about the fashion or the details they will change anyway. Look for the substance.

a “small pitch” for the specificity of language.

by Richard Borbridge, Urban Planner for VIA Architecture
image credit

It is the bane of my every walk to work in the morning.

A short walk down the new Granville Street and there it rests – nary larger than a “no parking” sign, and just gleaming and fresh enough to unfailing catch my eye against the black lamp standard:

“up to small pitch”

The great eighth note above says “play here!” to the newly unshackled busking community – the eighth note… and the word Busking. But the words below speak clearly to an agonizing misrepresentation of musical performance knowledge.

A quick look at the definition of ‘pitch’ ranges from the by-product of tar, to a soccer field, to its rightful musical definition – the tone or frequency of a sound (which is high or low, not small or large) and finally, down the list and Chiefly British, “the stand of a vendor or hawker” – which, while perhaps the most relevant, is still a linguistic leap from the City’s intended meaning.

I understand that these signs are intended to coordinate the level of intensity of a performance on the street and the city’s introductory PDF confirms as much:

  • Small pitch (S): Minor amplification, designed for passers-by, not designed for crowd building
  • Medium pitch (M): Medium amplification, small crowd building, less than 50 person audience
  • Large pitch (L): Medium + amplification, circle crowds, middle of street or large plaza spaces, 100+ person audience

However, what the signs do say is gibberish.

The imprecise use of words and the overuse of imprecise words is hardly a new lament in the English language. My closest friends would be quick to point out that I’m hardly innocent. However, I’m not sure what prompted the City of Vancouver to establish ‘pitch’ as its go-to word in the busking regulation business.

I fear it’s the same prompt that has misrepresented “green” in many aspects of our lives, and so variably defined “sustainability” so as to be a deeply felt throwaway word. What do you think of when someone says “street”? Does your vision of the street demarcate public space, does it include the sidewalks or just the roadway from curb to curb? Is “road” any better? The principle of precise and relevant language continues to dog our public spaces, partly because these most commonly used words are so common and imbued with each person’s experience and perspective, rather than any formal definition.

A large component of the work of design professions is communicating – mostly through pictures. The reason both words and images exist simultaneously is because they serve different, complementary purposes. All too often however, we need to describe an image in words, which is when communication can break down. We fall back on the 10,000-or-so words most frequently used words in our vocabulary, choosing those that just ‘feel’ right, or we turn to neologisms and mash-ups that strive to fill in the blanks between our 7,000 favourites and the 171,476 words in the OED.

In this era of Google’s instant search (just type “define:” people) a bit of second-guessing is easy. Alongside the radical transformations words are undergoing as a result of new technologies – from the Internet to our infrastructure – it is vital that we share our meanings, not just our words.

So let’s all SaveTheWords and pledge a little more precision. Let’s hunt down just the right word and take back the nuance, especially in public spaces. Like “pitch”, when you only have one word to make your point, it had better be right.

PS – Since this writing they have appliqued operational hours on the signs. Any suggestions for a better busking word? “To small audience”, “little busk stop”? If they stickered over them once, they could do it again… perhaps better.

PPS – Other signs with problems

Friday Feature: Kate

Dec 03, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kate and I am an urban planner…

What made you decide to go into your field?

A few years after college I wound up in a job at an affordable housing non-profit in Brooklyn where we built and managed housing, community gardens, and provided tenant advocacy. I learned about the process of neighborhood development, and the ongoing gentrification of Bedford Sty. I became very curious about why certain spaces and neighborhoods worked better than others as well as the lines on the map you couldn’t see – tracing color, class and use.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

My mom’s a planner too! She helped to write the legislation for the first ISTEA Intermodal Surface Transportation Policy Act (1991) and went on to work to achieve Context Sensitive Highway Design in the State of California among other things.

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

Distractions – of all kinds

What inspires you?

Beauty in all forms – often what is distracting…Whether in thought or design.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

It makes sense to go for a Master’s to help transition into that first key job as the field grows in competitiveness, but really Planning is not about being trained as an expert, it’s just a particular way of viewing and being curious about the world. Lots of training can take place on the job in both analysis and systems thinking. I was an anthropology undergrad with a focus on cultural studies…I think of Urban Planning sometimes as applied anthropology.

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

I think planners are better if they can be translators; this requires having a flexible perspective about the way things are done, and to see linkages between the different disciplines. The best planners should have an ability to strategize and work hard to make things happen on the ground.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

I think I’ve probably forgotten it. Sadly.

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

Of course and it’s all about retrofitting now – making auto-oriented places more walkable, and building up neighborhoods to transform our geographies of nowhere. As the benefits and the reasons behind Growth Management become manifest (i.e. our resources are finite) there will hopefully be more political will to make these kinds of tough calls. There are lots of interesting places to work on these issues too, California, Chicago, the East, The Plains States…each place is having to grapple with transition and change. Shrinking Cities and Growing Cities.

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

Always keep in the front of your mind the kinds of problems you want to solve as you are moving forward in the field- environmental, community, social, or equity. I use this as a lens to make decisions, and seek out new opportunities.

For example – If you are considering a masters in planning- think about the City where the school is as your laboratory – and what kinds of issues it is addressing. It might end up having a lot of influence over your future.