Francine Houben: culture and nature in landscape design

Designers love to build prototypes. So do architects. Let’s imagine the farmer to be one of such prototypes. “He prospers only insofar as he understands the land and by its management maintains the bounty. So too with the man who builds. If an architect is perceptive to the processes of nature, to materials, and to forms, his creations will be appropriate to the place; they will satisfy the needs of social process and shelter, be expressive and endure.”

Vincenzo and I went to a lovely lecture by Francine Houben, an architect who loves and builds for people. The lecture series, organized by Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism and held at spacious National Gallery of Canada Auditorium, feature such prominent architects as Edouard Francois – the author of Flower Tower; Gregory Burgess – the proponent of architecture as a social, healing, and ecological art; and other inspiring urban innovators.

The Forum Lecture Series kicked off with an inspirational quote by Wim Wenders “If Buildings Could Talk … ”

… some of them would sound like Shakespeare.
Others would speak like the Financial Times,
yet others would praise God, or Allah.
Some would just whisper,
some would loudly sing their own praises,
while others would modestly mumble a few words
and really have nothing to say.
Some are plain dead and don’t speak anymore…

Buildings are like people, in fact.
Old and young, male and female,
ugly and beautiful, fat and skinny,
ambitious and lazy, rich and poor,
clinging to the past
or reaching out to the future.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a metaphor.
Buildings DO speak to us!
They have messages. Of course.
Some really WANT a constant dialogue with us.
Some rather listen carefully first.
And you have probably noticed:
Some of them like us a lot, some less
and some not at all.

What a perfect introduction to Miss Houben’s lecture about buildings “that are eager to welcome, to help, to be of service”.  The famous Library of Delft University of Technology has brought Francine an international recognition in 1998.  Her reasons for undertaking the project seemed to revolve around the issue of public spaces and natural settings that would welcome people to walk, feed on sunlight, and enjoy the company of each other.

TU Delft Library

Source: mecanoo.nl

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Designers appreciate Nature innately: A potential cure to God’s complex

My friend and colleague Anthony Dewar has an addiction. He gets to the TED talks website, then wakes up hours later and finds he has looked at over 50 videos. I have a similar problem, when it comes to MIT online lectures. Yesterday Anthony sent me a link to a talk by Tim Harford titled Trial, error, and the God complex. A couple of days earlier, we had a brief conversation about a well-known debate between algorithm vs. heuristic approach followers. Before I proceed, here’s a talk.

When I was working on a civil engineering project in a far-away land called Nova Scotia, my professor made sure we all knew what engineering was about. He once said:

Engineering is an algorithm. The design process can be fast or slow, but the important thing is the guarantee of the perfect solution.

After thinking about this for a week, I quit engineering.

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Children are great innovators, or how to start re-making our world one mini-project at a time

How many 8th grade students does it take to change a lightbulb? None, they will use LEDs instead.

No? Nothing? Alright, I tried. The point is, children are extremely creative, intelligent, innovative, and most of all – knowledgeable about current technologies. We have become a nation of superb retail shoppers. But who is raising the planet’s future product developers?

Children of today have great skills of using products – their bedrooms are full of the latest toys from iPod to Razor Skateboard, but I don’t think much of it could be dismantled and then reassembled into anything functional. Children of today, just like children of any generation, crave active involvement in the meat of their toy. They want to use their eyes, hands, brains in the service of innovation, even if it is confined to their bedroom laboratory with a bent paperclip as the only tool available.

I witnessed this craving firsthand, when I taught a course at Carleton University SID department this May to 8th and 9th grade students with the help of my friend and colleague Corey McMahon. In this hands-on course titled Re-Making Your World: From Garbage to Goods! students got a taste of what it was like to design a new product from materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Or, as nature likes to call it, upcycle.

Relaxing on a sculpture near Mckenzie Building after final presentations. Photo: A kind anonymous passer-by.

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Lota Verde: Biomimicry approach to cultural findings

Where there is a challenge, there is always an opportunity.

Since the downturn of Lota’s economy that began in 1997 with the closure of its coal mines, Lota has become one of the poorest cities in Chile. To top off the already shaky situation, Lota has been hit by a massive earthquake – magnitude 8.8 – in February, 2010. Disaster came as a wake-up call to the municipal government that has begun to devise a plan for the refocusing of Lota’s economy from a mining town with an unclear future to a culture and heritage rich community with great vision.

Lota is a city with an abundance of natural resources and closely knit communities. What a great soil for economic growth! It is only a matter of bringing out these treasures of Lota and presenting the local stakeholders with the tools that can help facilitate the economic development in the area.

Lota is a city with abundance of closely knit communities

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