Tag Archives: Ottawa

(Re)naissance

Bear with me, readers.  For the time being, I’m in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada – perhaps not the most exotic of locales but highly deserving of recognition nevertheless.  My forthcoming foreign travels and thus glamorous blog posts will have to wait because, at present, I’m making a (re)connaissance mission:  spending long-overdue, ‘quality’ time with my parents and childhood friends, and by (re)visiting the old haunts and new ones, I’m (re)discovering the city of my youth.

This is uniquely precious time that I haven’t had at ‘home’ in over a decade of living and working in the United States.  Being a ‘resident alien’ with only a work-permit visa, my identity was entirely wrapped up in my job.  As I’m not currently practicing architecture, I realize it’s no longer my career that defines me and I should step back and think about what’s important – life in general.  Some close friends of mine have come to similar conclusions but from another perspective:  newly stay-at-home mothers – being somewhat domestically-focused has provoked thoughts about what they’re doing with their life, transitory as it is, and how best they want to live it.

Whereas in the past my typical 3-day weekend trips to the motherland would be crammed with numerous rendezvous, I now find myself with rare, relaxed, unscheduled time to seize the opportunity to make those leisurely neighbourhood strolls with my father, get cooking lessons of Spanish and Latvian family dishes from my mother, and share long talks about the state of the world and ‘whatnot’.  My parents still reside in the same abode of 27 years, so yesterday I biked the familiar route that I took for ages, the same path that diverged and led to 3 distinct places:  to elementary, to junior high, and to high school.  Ottawa is a lovely city of human scale, safe, bountiful in clean air, green space, rivers and waterfalls, and unlimited outdoor activities.  Memories of my happy childhood easily swell to the surface:  recollections of high school plays and Wednesday night ski club outings, French grammar and literature classes, snowball fights and wet woolly mittens on the radiator (that particular smell forever lodged into my psyche).

If there’s one element that any visitor recalls of Ottawa, it’s the Rideau Canal, famous in postcards as a scenic waterway which in winter magically transforms into ….wait for it…. the ‘World’s largest skating rink.’ It was recently designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, but then any tourist guide can tell you that and rattle off the city’s historical buildings and cultural highlights.  What excites me to see are good strategies taken by architects and urban planning committees to develop my native city in an innovative and meaningful way.bridge expanse

Three years ago, a pedestrian bridge was built spanning the picturesque Rideau Canal, connecting a significantly residential and commercial ‘Centertown’ with the University of Ottawa and a public transit system, previously only crossable at this point during the winter months when it was frozen.  Its value initially fiercely questioned, it is now one of the city’s most applauded public projects, allowing a few thousand pedestrians and cyclists to cross day and night, linking neighbourhoods and providing new views. There’s a proposal out for another two and I cross my fingers that the City doesn’t spend ages mulling it over nor that the approvals processes drag needlessly.  Not that it’s an equitable comparison by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever but I am reminded of the numerous bridge crossings in great cities like Zurich, Amsterdam and Paris, and the possibilities they afford.  Providing any infrastructure that encourages physical and visual connections challenges the senses and results in a more dynamic urban life.  Oh, to have more urban densification, especially in a city that endures a glacial -30˚C in the winter!  (Author’s note:  It was during those frigid days that we, as angst-ridden teenagers just shy of getting our driver’s permits, were resigned to take the L.C. or ‘Loser Cruiser’ (a.k.a. the bus), a term coined by my best friends.)bridge crossing

Since it is a more ‘formal’ city, genteel and orderly (often a problem of created capitals), Ottawa is home to a wealth of national museums, monuments and heritage structures that tell historical events that have shaped the very character of Canada.  I walked the grounds around the new Canadian War Museum, observing its raw, fragmentary structure emerging out of the earth; it emphasizes regeneration implicit as the grass greening on the building’s roof.facade

In true form, the Remembrance Day national ceremony took place here in Ottawa on November 11th, to honour those who pay the ultimate sacrifice.  To mark the solemn occasion, people gathered, on this sunny, cloudless day, at the National War Memorial dedicated to the Canadian forces that fought in the WWI&II and Korean wars, against the backdrop of Parliament Hill.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, thousands paid tribute to the fallen, the inter-generational crowds growing yearly as international peacekeeping efforts continue.war memorial

Marching in unison, resplendent in uniform and medal, were different regiments, many of British heritage.  Speaking of Brits, Prince Charles and Camilla, on an 11-day whirlwind tour of Canada, attended this and other commemorations honouring Canada’s persons, places and events.  Fortunately, no unsightly gaff happened in their presence, nor on the part of the royals themselves.  It will be interesting to see who will play the role of the next official head of state and whether or not we’ll remain the last monarchy in the Americas, with Charles (!) as king or transition to a new institution altogether.

In contrast to the neat alignment of military formation upheld during the service, throughout the remainder of the day, a sea of people randomly came from each and every direction to lay their poppies, in true Canadian tradition, on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Lest we forget.sea of red

grassy knoll

ramp up

war museum overall

Fun fact:  Ottawa’s shapely coordinates:  45˚25’15”N  75˚41’24”W

Ottawa Reunions Part II

While on her summer vacation here in Ottawa from Hong Kong, Janice and I went to visit our alma mater, Carleton University School of Architecture (now named the Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism).  She was eager to revisit this place that she hasn’t set foot in since we graduated years ago.  I had darkened the doors of the old establishment once or twice, however it was more meaningful to visit together with my dear friend.the pit

flying structure

As the school term hadn’t yet started, the building was quiet, with only maintenance personnel or the occasional student walking by.  Upon first glance, the school appeared not to have changed one bit.  How could eleven years have passed? We wandered into the empty first floor classrooms, past ‘The Pit’ where we had attended student forums & listened to visiting lecturers, peeked into offices, and popped into the Technical Data Library, brimming with architectural periodicals, books, and reference manuals.  Upon closer look, we saw changes that we hadn’t initially observed:  the building’s new entry ramp, the expansions to the fabrication facilities where we used to build the components of our models, and the space formerly known as the ‘Meat Locker’, once a select few senior boys’ studio space in Thesis Year which has since been transformed into general building storage.  ‘The Hub’, previously a quirky student-run coffee & muffin shop and lounge, is now a casual living room with a self-service coffee machine.circulation

We wandered upstairs to the 1st through 5th year design studios, surprised to see that the pods are still equipped with drafting desks and wooden locker storage for each student.  Who draws anymore?? In professional practice, so far removed from our school days, our drawings are almost exclusively done on computer instead of with mechanical pencils or Kohler ink pens.  studio liteThough the desks remain, it’s clear that they are now secondary to the ever-advancing electronic technologies provided by the school, supported by phenomenal and extensive computer labs, photographic, video, digital facilities and a Solids & Tectonics research laboratory, as well as fully-equipped architectural woodworking and metal workshops.

Meandering through the spaces, memories came flooding back.  Ooohing and aaahing, we found our old desk spaces for each of the years that we were there, reminiscing on our colleagues, our profs, jokes and expressions that had been coined among our peers.  lockerWe took photographs of the spaces and of ourselves in them for posterity.  It was refreshing to see how the mechanical, electrical and plumbing is exposed, almost celebrated, in this building.  The ‘build’ tradition was always emphasized at Carleton, ubiquitous within the design culture of the school, helping us to understand that ideas cannot be evaluated apart from human experience.pipes

stools

young architect

Architecture students worldwide have a reputation of frequently working late into the night, and pulling the occasional all-nighter at school.  And for us, it was no different.  As students, we were encouraged to explore ideas through making, and to think creatively with our hands and minds.  But ideas don’t stop at 6pm!  Visible to anyone walking through the university campus would be sleeping bags lined up in the Architecture School’s glass connector, especially during the winter months, propped up on the radiator.  Seeing the bridge brought back memories.        Good times. 🙂bridge

installations

Ottawa Reunions Part I

After my European holidays, I went to Ottawa, my hometown, to attend the nuptials of Jen and Rob and to spend time with my parents and close friends.  The little group of us – Jen, Sarah, Ali, Bill and I – has known each other for over 25 years.  Cocktails were served the evening before the big day, on the penthouse (24th floor) of the Westin Hotel downtown.  We were all struck by Ottawa’s ‘picturesqueness’  – I, personally had never seen such a view of my own city.  After an unfortunate month of deluges, the day of the wedding party couldn’t have been more blessed. Undeniably, it was me who brought the clear skies and sun from the Mediterranean. *wink*bird eye

Friends from all corners of the world had flown in for the happy couple’s big event.  In addition to their respective families in Canada, Germany and the United States, friends and co-workers from Sweden, Jordan, India and The Hague, where they’ve both been living and working for years, made the trip to attend.altar The evening wedding and reception took place across the river in the Great Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Québec.  Glass and totem poles dramatically rise up to the top of the building, like a modern cathedral, and frame a stunning view of the city of Ottawa.  Elegant beyond belief, it was the wedding of the millennium.:)

The other reunion in Ottawa on this visit was that of me and Janice, a dear friend and colleague from Architecture School.  Janice and I shared a truly unique experience – we were roommates in Prague, Czech Republic during a Directed Studies Abroad trip while in our 4th year of university.  Shortly after graduating, she moved to Hong Kong where she’s been working ever since with theatre and casino developers on the island of Macau.  It’s a high responsibility, high-stress job on a relentlessly intense and fast-track construction timeline.

Catching up on the years since we last saw each other, she expressed fond memories of us night swimming many moons ago in the Gatineau River at my family’s cottage in Chelsea so we made a point to stay up there overnight.  The moon was a light bulb in the sky.  Surrounded by arresting tranquillity and stars, the moments we spent there couldn’t possibly have been more different than the life she now leads in the ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ of Hong Kong.cottage on a hill

tenaga view

buddies