Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

dreams for an empty earth

September 27, 2010

I have been inhabiting Bain St Michel, a wonderful disused bath house that many in the cultural community here in Montréal are familiar with.  Though a small building, the main room with the empty pool gives a somewhat overwhelming sensation of space.  And quiet, even though one can hear the occasional car go by or pigeon on the roof.  In fact, the odd noise outside heightens this sense of quiet, of stillness or stasis, inside.  There is a solemnity to old and unused buildings, a quiet that lets in memory or echoes of what passed between their walls.

My aim was to bring plants into this space, to make it living.  To look at the space as a plant might, or a small community of hunter-gatherers much like Charles Simond’s Little People.

To that end I ended up selecting a space that was much more scaled-down than I originally planned, but worked much better with the architecture.  It became a priority to maintain that palpable sense of space.

In this rather monolithic space, the only real architectural anomaly was the overflow ledge at the deep end of the pool, where the water would have been filtered.  It was here I established (or planted) a landscape, a miniature ruined city.

Little rows of walk-ups and apartment buildings were cast in cement, forming a broken street mirroring those of the surrounding neighbourhood.

As ever I am wondering about our future streets and urban landscapes.  What will they look like?  Will we have to step over chasms of broken sidewalk, climb over mossy hillocks or cut our way through vines to cross our streets?

(Kudzu vines have already taken root in Canada.  With a little more greenhouse gases, could they not happily take hold in Montréal’s humidity and clayey soil?)

Would we develop more nomadic lifestyles, or  develop ad hoc shelters to live more lightly, responding to a shifting, changing environment?

Perhaps the more creative among us would start to look upon the vegetation itself, mutations and all, as shelter, as our new infrastructures.  We would cease to be builders and buyers, and instead become shapers and tunnelers. Climbers and burrowers.

What our cities will look like in the near or far future is anyone’s guess at this point.  What is exciting to me is the field of enlivened possibility that opens up with rapid, looming change.  (Whether I survive, or we make it through or not.)

At a basic level, there is an aesthetic enjoyment to new shoots of verdant complexity rising out of the rubble of the modernist empire that surrounds us.  The architectural spaces and empty volumes resounding with echoes of its swan song.  Post-modern indeed.


Tree bubbles

July 11, 2010

More treehouses:  A French company making bubble tents for tree yuppies.  Awesome!


The cost for the entire package is apparently over $20,000, Which is a bit steep for a tent, even if beautiful, sturdy, and secured to its tree.


These are not unlike Tom Chuleigh’s Treespheres, which would be the cabin to bubbletree’s tent. These are finely-crafted cabins, made on Vancouver Island that are wired, insulated, and securely installed, going for approximately $150,000.

More can be found at coolhunter, cause treehouses are cool.  (And a growing upscale industry.)  A variety of exciting designs are being experimented with, I think in response to a collective desire to live more lightly, to get away from the unstable and stratified space of the surface, and to feel more connected to nature. To feel closer to the wood elves that many of us wish we were.   What a heavy way, however, to live lightly!

Such is architecture.  Art, while being a whole lot cheaper to make (for me at this stage of the game), does not such a machine for living make.  Are these machines for living?  Or are these temporary escapes from the family, the cares and concerns of the house, haunted by unresolved arguments, debts, and emotional games?  Are they a way to experience being in nature without it actually touching you?  To feel the rocking of a tree in the wind, the shift in perspective to that of a squirrel?  Does it help us to be more sensitive to the needs of the tree, of nature, of eachother?  How many of us leave a hammock or laundry line tied around a tree because we can’t be bothered to untie the knot when we leave a campsite?

There may be  an opportunity here for a fundamentally different way of thinking, of living, than finding a new site for a camper, or a backyard refuge or even a novelty hotel.  (Though the collective efforts to do so are extensive, and make up a very interesting branch of vernacular architecture. )

What kind of aliveness would it take to live like the Korowai in Indonesia? Check out these amazing shots of living above the jungle.

Would we even need to live so high up? So precariously? So in touch with the winds and rains and movements of a tree?   ( I hope not – after a long history of climbing trees, I have developed a fear of heights in adulthood!  )

Certainly the year that Julia Butterfly Hill spent in a tree in protest was an expression of a kind of sensitivity to nature that goes far beyond the personal, into realms of caring and deep ecology that I can only dream of.  It is indeed fortunate that there are such activists and believers at work in the world, and even better that they may live 180 feet up a tree through an entire cycle of seasons and numerous confrontations to do such good work in the world.

Perhaps there is some pathology on my part, in being more attuned to the damage of the world than the hope and possibility for change, but I am not convinced that buying or building expensive escape pods, or frequenting luxury arboreal hotels necessarily help us.  If it is a transformative experience, then yes.  If it is yet another zone to stratify, control and separate the the priveledged from the common ground, then treehouses are another, albeit wonderful, way to avoid honestly being in the world as it is now.

A couple of years ago, Dave Csaky, known as Squirrelman, a homeless man living in Seattle, was evicted from his treehouse, which he had built over a vacant lot under the interstate.  He had built a pretty amazing home from scraps, found materials and the generosity of his neighbours, who seemed to like having him there.

His resourcefulness, outlined in the local media, was born out of necessity.  His creativity and struggle, however, presents a lifestyle that was much more in line with a lightly-lived, caring for the plot-of-land-where-you-stand tenacity, than one would expect from stereotypes about the homeless. Like similar tales of utopian squatting communities, Csaky’s was  unfortunately defeated by local zoning and ownership laws. The happy ending to the story was that he moved out of the city into a donated RV with a much better view.  (I can’t help but think, however, that he would miss the sense of empowerment from not only building his own home with no money, but from caring for and bettering the area around it.)

We know from narratives of grim futures that after the environmental/climatic/sociopolitical collapse or zombie apocalypse, zoning and boundaries of ownership are the first to go, and resourceful individuals like this become the true survivors and examples of how to be on this beleaguered planet.

At the same time, if I could return to the Gulf Islands tomorrow and start building a treehouse, with all the other alternatypes trying to live out a dream, I would be out there without a second thought.  But I’m not there. I am here, in this bright metropolis, making art that is an exploration of what the future may hold, and how we can nurture life from within a  decaying civilization.