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by Katherine Idziorek, Urban Designer, VIA Architecture

Our most recent VIAVOX event, Chandigarh 2.0: A Discussion on Urbanization + Growth inthe Global and Local Context took place last month at Zeitgeist Coffee in Seattle. 

The VIAVOX is a tradition that supports our firm culture of building ideas and seeking to advance dialogue about design beyond the scope of our projects. The idea of the event is to provoke conversation about design and to give a voice to current issues affecting the practice of architecture and urban planning. Past VIAVOXes have focused on topics such as affordable housing partnerships, connected senior urbanism, and the renewal of neglected cities.

At our October event, VIA hosted Professor Vikram Prakash from the University of Washington College of Built Environments, who presented his ongoing work on globalization and urbanization in Chandigarh, India and facilitated a discussion focused on recognizing common issues faced by Seattle and Chandigarh as well as exploring strategies for dealing with rapid growth in a mid-sized city. Colleagues from our Vancouver office as well as area design practitioners and students from the University of Washington joined us in conversation.

Dr. Prakash teaches in the Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design and Planning programs at UW and is Director of the Chandigarh Urban Lab, a multi-year project and collaboration with the Chandigarh College of Architecture that is dedicated to researching small and mid-size urbanism in globalizing India. The author of several books on non-Western architecture, modernism and culture theory, Dr. Prakash is currently working on the forthcoming Chandigarh 2.0: The Modern City in Neoliberal India and a new textbook the history of Indian architecture.

Chandigarh, a rapidly growing, mid-sized Indian city, is an icon of modern planning and design. Its master plan was developed in 1951 by a team of architects led by le Corbusier, who oversaw the planning of the city as well as the design of many of its institutional buildings. Chandigarh was envisaged as a “new town” that reflected the ideals of a newly independent India and the modernist thinking of the time. The plan’s first phase of 70 square kilometers was mostly built out by 1965 – this area is now regarded as the city’s “historic core” and its organized grid is surrounded by subsequent rings of development of a completely different character.

Over the past 50 years, Chandigarh has become a thriving metropolis and an economic hub of northern India. Originally planned for a population of 500,000, the city is now home to 1.8 million. Once well-defined and contained, the urban area has grown far beyond the boundaries of the initial Corbusian grid. The city is currently working on a new master plan to guide future growth and to help manage the effects of India’s booming population on both Chandigarh’s historic core and the ever-expanding ring of urbanization beyond.

Although the history and genesis of our cities are quite different, the kinds of issues that Chandigarh is grappling with are not unfamiliar to those we face in Seattle as we seek to shape the form of urban development and accommodate increased density within our city.  Chandigarh also shares many characteristics with Seattle. It is a prosperous, well-educated city. High-tech jobs are an important part of the local economy, and its real estate is highly valued. The two cities are comparable in terms of population, and both sit within stunning natural environments. Both are facing challenges of increased urbanization: managing growth, providing access to transit, and guiding new development in a manner that is responsible and sustainable.

These issues became the focus of many of the questions that were raised during our discussion:

  • How do we accommodate urban growth in our cities? What is the role of growth management, and how does is shape the urban periphery?
  • What modes and systems of mass transit are most effective? What are the benefits of a line (underground) system vs. a grid (at-grade) system?
  • What role does urban agriculture play in a globalizing and urbanizing city? What are the concerns about food security and conservation of agricultural land as the urban core expands into areas that were once its hinterlands?
  • How can our cities retain their identities as they develop in an increasingly globalized and commercialized world?
  • What is the nature of the ecological relationship between the city and the outlying urban and natural areas? How can the natural environment be conserved in the face of development pressures?
  • How can we maintain equity in the planning process? How (if at all) are different groups represented? Does everyone have a voice?

Any one of these topics that was touched upon in our conversation could launch a discussion on its own, though talking about them in combination presented a useful overview of the issues affecting both Seattle and Chandigarh and began to churn up some ideas about how we might be able to share strategies and learn from one another’s urban experiences. Expanding the discussion into a global dialogue gave us Pacific Northwesterners an opportunity to think beyond the Seattle paradigm and imagine new ways of perceiving and dealing with the urban issues that we face.

So what’s next? Keep an eye out for a potential future “VIAVOX: Chandigarh 2.1.” In the meantime, let the dialogue continue!


A VIA-designed project, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in beautiful Ucluelet, BC, has won a Readers’ Choice Award from Condé Nast Traveler. You can view the full project detail on our website by clicking here.

Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is situated on a rock promontory in Ucluelet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, with 8.5 acres of rainforest and 1,300 feet of waterfront. The resort consists of 134 whole ownership units comprising 72 suites in the main lodge and 62 suites in the 14 oceanfront cottages scattered throughout the site, all of which sold out within four hours in August 2005.

Click here to view the Award’s highlight page on!


Good afternoon VIA Blog readers!

As you may have read on our (now) old blog, we at VIA have undergone a bit of a face-lift,  and have moved our blog here– to our new and improved

This move will allow our blog followers to also experience, directly through the blog sidebar, a bit more of what VIA Architecture has to offer. We will still be providing the same urban design, planning, architecture, local interest, and design-related content (and more!)– but with a new face.

Thank you all for joining us here at, and stay tuned for more VIA Blog content!



the VIA Team


Monday News Round Up

Oct 22, 2012

Happy brisk fall Monday, everyone!

Here are just a few of the interesting articles we found last week:

Teen Finishes 130 Sq. Ft. Mortgage-Free Home (Treehugger)
Austin Hay has trimmed his wardrobe down to the bare minimum, he’s reclaimed materials from the salvage yard and his own bedroom, and he’s built the entirety of this 130 square foot home for $12,000 while creating only three trash cans full of waste.

Vancouver Covers Its Sidewalks With Giant Pillows (The Atlantic Cities)
Commissioned by the City of Vancouver, “Pop Rocks” is an architectural installation that aims to transform the city’s downtown area using repurposed industrial materials.

To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets (The New York Times)
In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion. But many European health experts have taken a very different view.

Car Parks as Icons (Price Tags)
While Vancouver is busily tearing down parkades (parking structures or garages, as others call them), other cities see them as architectural opportunities.

The Farmery is a Farm and Market Set in Four Recycled Shipping Containers in North Carolina (Inhabitat)
The Farmery is comprised of four shipping containers that are each outfitted with a gourmet mushroom growing system on the inside and growing panels on the outside walls where small crops are grown. The system saves space, energy, and time, and the crops are sold in a mini farmer’s market snuggled in the space between.

World’s Tallest Skyscraper To Be Built…In 210 Days (Arch Daily)
Sky City will shoot up to its 838-meter (2,750-ft/220-story) height thanks to its pre-fabricated assembly (up to 95% of the materials will be assembled in modular form before on-site construction even begins) in 210 days once construction begins.

How LEED-ND Can Improve Older Neighborhoods (The Atlantic Cities)
An inner-city neighborhood in Boston is providing a strong example of how the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system can be used to guide improvements to an older community.

The Zen of Affordable Housing

Housing affordability is a critical ingredient of sustainable development in cities, but also one of the most vexing challenges. Not surprisingly, it’s also an issue that often gets tangled up in contention and misunderstanding.

If we hope to accommodate growth in a sustainable fashion by creating dense, walkable, transit-rich urban centers that also have economic diversity, it seems we could all use a little Zen-like focus and clarity on what we’re dealing with. And so I invite the reader to meditate on the following wonky koans…

click here to keep reading at CityTank

Please join us…
Chandigarh 2.0:
A Discussion on Urbanization + Growth in the Global and Local Context

Prof. Vikram Prakash
University of Washington College of Built Environments

Thursday, October 25th
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

Zeitgeist Coffee
171 S. Jackson St.
Seattle, WA 98101

While massive urbanization is broadly accepted as one of the grand challenges of our times, few realize that most of that urban growth, according to the UN World Urbanization Prospects, will take place not in the megacities of the world like Mumbai or New York, but in the vast numbers of small and mid-sized towns of fast growing nations. Prof. Vikram Prakash of UW College of Built Environments, has been taking studios to Chandigarh, India for the last few years to study how this iconic modernist city is responding to the pressures of globalization. As one of India’s fastest growing mid-sized cities (population 1.8 million), Chandigarh today is facing development challenges – managing growth, transit, sustainable development – of the kinds that we are very familiar with in Seattle. Of comparable size, Seattle and Chandigarh, are kindred ‘sister’ cities of the future that potentially have much to offer, and learn from, each other.

Join VIA Architecture for VIAVOX: Chandigarh 2.0 where we will discuss the possibilities of an urban dialogue across Seattle and Chandigarh, with a presentation by Dr. Prakash followed by open discussion.

Please RSVP to Racheal Bellinger by 10/22 to

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.