Archive

From around the World

IMG_0984For the addition to our cottage in one of Canada’s provincial parks, we decided to follow the Japanese tradition of cladding the exterior with charred cedar. The technique, known as Shou-Sugi-Ban or Yakisugi, is said to raise the natural resins in wood and naturally protect against rot and fire.  (Try igniting a charred log and you’ll see what I mean.) Besides the long-lasting benefits,  the moody-black aesthetic of the burned wood convinced us to try out Yakisugi.

IMG_0973Call us crazy (we were) to burn wood on purpose.  Luckily, our excellent contractor (Brinkman Construction) was game.  He supplied us with a massive propane torch typically used to melt ice on roads, and we char-tested Western Red Cedar and Eastern.  The Eastern, primarily because it’s local and readily available, won out. We laid out about 12 boards at a time and went to work. It’s very intense and best done in pairs: one person working the torch, the other ready with a wet brush and pail of water to control wandering licks of fire.

IMG_0965The depth of the charring in Japan varies wildly, from wood burned deeply over fire pits to light charring.  Swiss architect Peter Zumthor charred the interior of the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany to create a mystical experience.  We decided to go for the sateen finish of the lighter char to gain some rot resistance and heighten the wood’s natural grain.  It took nearly three days to produce about 400 boards.

IMG_1506We’re thrilled with the result.  In full sunshine, the wood takes on a silver patina.

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Our Yakisugi cedar with newly installed black frame windows.

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Now we’re counting down the days ’til construction inside and out is complete.  More on that – and the Birch tree installed inside the cottage – to come.  Happy creative summer!

IMG_4377friendships are the glue to cities, and this doesn’t just mean intensification and destiny.  city sidewalks are long, linear stages for conversation.
IMG_4382so are outdoor dining rooms
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and breakfast places that become bars at night
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or art exhibitions to navigate
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cities are where friendship finds alchemy in colour and light
Folk Art Facade 3, Image By Giles Ashfordwhere there also causes to defend.  Here, the sculpted white-bronze facade of the American Folk Museum, slated for demolition by its hungry neighbour, the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

IMG_7953The Millennial Generation (born between 1980 – 2000) believes in beauty in design and architecture. They skirt the windswept modern plazas to seek out cities with secret courtyards and rooms, such as this 12th century university centre in the walkable neighbourhood of Hauz Khas, New Delhi, India.

IMG_7934One of the cafes (actually it’s a tea salon) preferred by the Millennial Gen in Hauz Khas, New Delhi.

IMG_8644It’s possible to spot Milly-Gen neighbourhoods in cities around the world.  Watch for cultural fusion and art that’s part of streetlife, not sequestered to institutions.  In Istanbul, eclectic vintage stores are layered next to antique jewellers next to architecture studios in Tophane district across the river from the ancient Hagia Sophia. Even the heaps of garbage on the sidewalk are artful.

IMG_8677The Milly-Gen tends to be well-travelled and well-educated.  They’re foodies with a love of eclectic, locally-grown dishes that pull on old traditions.  This fresh Istanbul breakfast served in a neighbourhood transitioning from strict Muslim…

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In Toronto at the Stop Market anti-poverty fundraiser – a crowd of Milly-Gens contemplates life in the big city, naturally, in a parking lot.  Values of the Millennial Generation in Big City Canada: EQUALITY OF THE SEXES; PERSONAL CREATIVITY; NEED FOR ESCAPE; CULTURAL FUSION; FLEXIBILITY OF GENDER IDENTITY; CONTROL OF DESTINY; ECOLOGICAL LIFESTYLE; INTROSPECTION AND EMPATHY; EQUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUTH;  GLOBAL ECOLOGICAL AWARENESS; DISCRIMINATING CONSUMERISM; PURSUIT OF ORIGINALITY; SOCIAL LEARNING.
(Environics Analytics)

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Fresh roses, rue des Archives, Paris, after the March snowstorm

IMG_0585Ile Saint-Louis church poster on wooden poster board

IMG_0504Grand creme, late afternoon lunch, at the ever venerable Les Deux Magots (1884).

IMG_0593The passing of time, church foundation wall, Ile Saint-Louis.

IMG_0856Spice and pepper stall, open-air spring market, Aix-en-Provence

IMG_0843Lemons fresh from Spain at Aix market.

IMG_0681Palais Garnier, Paris, was designed in the late 1800s by the young, unknown, competition-winning architect, Charles Garnier.  Because of the Palais Garnier’s wicked – and entirely appropriate – design drama I’d take this opera house (1875) any day over the tech-hygienic Bastille Opera House (1989), designed by another unknown, Canadian Carlos Ott.  At Palais Garnier, the painted-canvas house curtain is a lush interpretation of a draped curtain, complete with gold braid and pompoms. The horseshoe-shaped auditorium has 1,900 red velvet seats on the orchestra floor, balcony and arranged in the private ‘loge’.

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My favourite ticket: 1ere loge, Palais Garnier.  Red velvet chairs that the Marquis de Sade would have thoroughly enjoyed.

IMG_06681ere loge, anti-chamber. Framed behind red drapery, this private, intimate room comes with a mirror, a fold away table and a red velvet couch.  If I could, I’d make my pied-a-terre apartment here as writer-in-residence.

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Wall upholstery – dedication to the textures of red that the Metropolitan Opera in NYC only begins to explore.

IMG_0662Past the pleated drapery, looking out.

IMG_0678Views up to the fantastic crystal chandelier and, for the reinvented dome, Chagall’s riot of colours, completed in 1966, nearly a century after Garnier made his epic design move.

E'Terra Samara Tree House Villa_image 2I’m flying across Canada this week to speak at the Wood Design Awards at the new green-roofed Convention Centre in Vancouver. My theme? It’s time to embrace wood as the building material of the 21st century. Too many of the world’s carbon emissions come from the manufacture of concrete and steel. (The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that for every 10 kilos of cement created, six to nine kilos of CO2 are produced.)  Wood speaks to our minds and our hearts, like this tree house  delicately suspended by cables without any tree-damaging nails.  Lyrically designed by Farrow Partnership Architects for the 5-star E’Terra eco-resort located in the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, near Tobermory, Ontario.
E'Terra Samara Tree House Villa_image 1Wood satisfies our deep, ancestral connection to nature’s beauty, which has been traced back to the magnificent acacia tree with its complex fractal geometry in the African Savannah.
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Wood is the most ancient building material.  But construction methods have stayed relatively primitive.  This is the log home built by my great grandparents, Barney and Sarah Griffith when they left Minnesotta and travelled on the C.P.R. to homestead in Saskatchewan.  That was back in the late 1800s.   That idea of basic wood construction (2 X 4 wood frame construction) still dominates the housing sector.
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Standing underneath the vaulted ceiling in our upstairs living room feels a lot like being suspended below a canoe.  Actually, oak flooring was applied piece by piece (by a patient and talented architect turned craftsman) to the ceiling – one member at a time – much like the construction method used by my great grandparents.
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It’s time to modernize the  wood building industry.   Cross-laminated timber can give plenty of structural muscle to civic and commercial architecture.  Designed by Montreal’s Saucier + Perrotte architectes this soccer field celebrates the power of wood architecture – and points to the future of spirit-warming, eco-friendly wood.
Stories_aaltoileva_sisakatto_11847Expect wood architecture – even all-wood towers – to start splashing out around the world.  This free-wheeling atrium is part of Wood City, an all-wood development sited on a former cargo harbour in Helsinki, Finland.  The client is the forest company Stora Enso;  Anttinen Oiva Architects are the competition-winning designers.  Looks like being inside the belly of a whale.  Or a canoe.

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The herringbone oak floors in the Musée Rodin, Paris, are just part of the magnificence of the 18th-century Hotel Biron where Rodin once lived.  As The Kiss was unavailable, I took the flooring idea back home with me.

IMG_9646Wise craftsmen from Poland, newly arrived in Canada, laid our floor with white oak sourced from Pennsylvania.  Then we layered in textures, collaging industrial objects against modern-era design. The metal stools originally belonged to a garment factory.  Black leather for the seats and cow hides came from the classic Toronto-based Perfect Leather, one of the last hold outs on King St. West, despite constant offers from condo developers.  The length of the marble counter was dictated by a 10-foot slab of Italian Bianco we found from a local supplier. Photographed on a TGIF late afternoon.

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When it’s -15 degrees Celsius outside it’s essential to have warming zones inside.  The table on  castors is part of the 1960s aluminum series by Charles and Ray Eames.  Chess set hand-crafted by my talented father-in-law, Bill Terry.  And this pair of chairs – found in derelict condition – was collected for their distinct personalities.  The old radiator, found on Craig’s List, weighs about 500 pounds.  Now we can never move.


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Across the Atlantic, the white minimal aesthetic mixes it up with industrial-stained wooden floors in a herringbone pattern.  Nice juxtaposition.  This kitchen/dining space is part of a seven-unit housing complex designed by Metaforme of Luxembourg. Credit image: Steve Troes fotodesign.
1018-02_01_sc_v2comHere’s the context: A white box accommodating seven housing units with cut-aways for entrances and views…a smart and original densification of a suburban neighbourhood.
1018-02_08_sc_v2comInside, there’s a smart idea about planting air-revitalizing plants directly into the floor and directing sun captured from above into the interior garden.
1018-02_06_sc_v2comBad design idea:  putting a toilet within full viewing next to the bed. Why? But let’s not end on this.
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The herringbone is so named for the skeletal pattern of the herring fish.  I don’t eat herring, but am sure thankful for its luminous, complex wonder.