on site review 21: weather

2009 questions about weather

Vernacular architecture is all about weather and climate: appropriate technology devised when any culture has to survive in its environment.  Can we move this discussion to contemporary urban architecture?

With the current economic meltdown and the massive stimulus packages announced throughout the western world aimed at infrastructure, plus the sober second thought towards the environment and climate change after the hubris of the 2000s, can any of you see a significant shift in the way we approach architecture?

Will infrastructure start to determine form?

Will fashion and conspicuous consumption in architecture start to look too wasteful and ultimately extremely shameful?

Will weather, as the irreduceable component of the environment that everything has to deal with, from cars to hats, become inspirational rather than frightening?

We are on the edge of a huge paradigm shift from extravagance to frugality: will landscape architecture shift from the picturesque to the absolutely pragmatic?

What of urbanism?  For the last twenty years urban design has treated the homeless as a transient issue rather than a chronic condition.  Will urbanists start to treat weather and those out in it really seriously?

In 2008 the world shortage of food was sandbagged by the subprime mortgage crisis. It didn't go away, the world is still short of food, and now even the first world will have trouble buying its breakfast.  Can architecture and its related disciplines do something here?

This is weather in both its widest  and its narrowest sense.  
On Site issue 21: weathe

original call for articles for on site 21: on weather

an old theme, but a good one. can we have some new takes on weather, for example:

stormy weather, halcyon days, climate response, war weather, breezes, gales, hurricanes, weathering economic storms.

weathering – mould, verdigris, patina, collapse, construction for climate.

rainy urbanism, northern urbanism, southern urbanity, cultural space, hot streets, portage & main.

shade, desertification

take weather in its widest sense, or its most narrow. take it in all directions.

the cover


Carol Kleinfeldt took the front cover photograph on one of her office’s building sites. She wrote about it for this issue:

‘Site photographs are typically confined to the role of record shots, indications of conditions soon to disappear, one layer after another until the finished product is complete. They are obligatory and uninspiring but necessary, like a sheet out of the Specifications Documents. When the project is completed, a professional photographer is commissioned to take the photographs that will be used to promote, publish and submit the work to awards programs. These are the beautiful images taken by Steven Evans, Richard Fitoussi, Michael Brunelle, Michael Awad and a host of talented Canadian photographers that give us those iconic images of architecture. There are so many more states to the production of architecture, from liquid to solid, that could be illustrated and allow the frantic and uncontrolled aspects of a site to enhance the understanding of that process.

The photographs shown here, taken just after the worst of a winter storm, record the awesome elegance and calm that followed. The construction safety officer had cleared the eighty-six acre site of all crews leaving me and my associate the unique experience of looking around at a strange new world, rather than the familiar, frenetic construction site we had come to take for granted. We were free to just look without the burden of inspecting or instructing or criticizing. This was the point in time when the architecture is a folly within a landscape, not a new construction or a ruin. The storm had created a dramatic stage set, more suggestive of Waiting for Godot than The Importance of Being Earnest.

The ephemeral and sometimes surreal conditions that occur when the elements intrude on the interior of a space, not quite yet enclosed, challenges our architectural conceit to spare these spaces the wear of sun, rain, wind, snow and the endless variations of each. Our incomplete efforts to mitigate their effects on the people that would enter them and protect their prospective polished finishes are humiliated by the unexpected apparitions and patterning of apparent happenstance. Chaos Theory and the dynamic systems of weather are playing (with) the architect, interior designer, constructor and painter.

Excavations for the future foundations of a wall become an instant temporary canal containing rebar weirs. A plastic fence becomes an undulating red ribbon, tied to hold a stand of trees. The earnest attempts to “weather-proof” an area under construction are easily whipped into the Flying Dutchman’s sail, reflecting that perfect light – The Light – that is only momentarily available to the photographer and stops you in midstride. The experience of the aftermath is exhilarating, rewarding, devastating, frightening, frustrating and ultimately connecting. Anything is possible and the air is cleared.’

The back cover is a 2007 installation project by little wonder (Gyungju Chyon and John Stanislav Sadar) who writes about it in this issue:

‘little wonder’s recent installation projects have been motivated by the recognition of small moments of our everyday environment that may hitherto for have been taken for granted, and amplifying them. The baking cup and optical fibre installations, “a light pour” and “some kind of wonderful,” for the 2007 Melbourne Design Festival and Design, Philadelphia 2007, were inspired by drought and the ancient relationship between light and water. The works marry sophisticated technology, whether optical fibre or water-jet cutting, with mundane, inconspicuous, everyday items, whether baking cups or roller-blinds, in amplifying and elevating everyday phenomena, whether rain or the relationship between water and air as made manifest in changing qualities of light. The works are also distinctly urban in nature, bringing these phenomena into the realm of the designed world.’