This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Opportunities for Public Observation & Private Glimpses
6792489 Thursday, December 18, 2008 Montreal, Quebec
-Advisor: Professor Patrick Harrop University of Manitoba – Faculty of Architecture Winnipeg, Manitoba
The site of interest for my design thesis proposal is that of Griffintown – a historical and industrial quarter in the southwest portion of Montreal, Quebec. The neighbourhood is located along the Lachine Canal and is considered to be the heart of the industrial revolution in Canada. Since the collapse of industry in the late 1960 s / early 1970 s, Griffintown has been largely vacant of any residents as well as city interest. A new development, however, has kindled some new attention for the dormant area and has created a dichotomy of ideas for what should be developed. On one side of the argument the major developer, Devimco, is proposing a complete re-appropriation of the district, which would transform it into a major commercial and residential corridor. Opposing this development are a number of community groups which have formed to defend Griffintown and have generated alternative plans which aim to preserve the historical and cultural aspects of the neighbourhood.
My intentions are to do neither, explicitly. Rather, I am proposing a smaller scale intervention under the notion of a public institution. I intend to develop a site in Griffintown – the abandoned CN Wellington control tower – into a public bath, which will offer potential instances of intimacy and publicity for both its users as well as the observers of the building. This will be accomplished through an investigation of historical discoveries and anecdotes as well as the phenomena of observation existing on and around the site.
I propose to use to carry out these intentions through a process, which I have developed for modeling light as a representation for sight lines into the building using a projector and scale model of the existing building. Finally, working between physical modeling and conventional architectural drawing will allow for a comprehensive building proposal.
-The opportunity to move to Montreal – to continue our work from last year with the Topological Media Lab (TML) at Concordia – arose in March of 2008. Sha Xin Wei, director of the TML, and Patrick Harrop invited myself along with Gregory Rubin and Candace Fempel after we participated in a week long architectural / interactive art installation entitled Remedios Terrarium. The invitation was extended with the intention that we would develop our work within the context of the TML – a collaborative new media research lab – while taking full advantage of the technical expertise and resources available to us through both the TML and Hexagram Institute for Research/Creation in Media Arts and Technologies.
Upon arrival to Montreal we were introduced to an area within the city known as “Griffintown”. It is an industrial area in the Southwest quarter of Montreal and was established in the early 19th Century along with the development of the Lachine Canal. Both Griffintown and the Lachine Canal are considered to be at the heart of the Canadian Industrial revolution. The neighbourhood was primarily an Irish community which provided a strong and steady work force - and along with its location adjacent the canal and railroads it was able to flourish as a major manufacturing sector in North America and the world. (Gelly,65) Griffintown remained active industrially until just after the middle of the 20th Century when the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway rendered the Lachine Canal obsolete and was forced to close. This drastically reduced the amount of shipping and manufacturing along the canal and as a result industry moved out – leaving Griffintown nearly vacant. It remains largely in this state today with roughly only 50 residents left in the area.(Bauer, 2008)
Griffintown is currently rife with political controversy. A developer – Devimco – has proposed a complete reappropriation of Griffintown in the form of major residential and commercial development. They intend to completely gentrify the area, which has been largely void of any city interest since the 1970 s. The commercial aspect of the project completely conflicts with the city s long established shopping district – rue Sainte-Catherine – which is only a few blocks away.(Gyulai,2008) Devimco s plan is also completely out of scale with both the area that is Griffintown as well as Montreal as a whole. The proposal includes plans to erect buildings between 12 and 14 storeys high along with a couple of towers while the building code limits local structures to heights of no more than 4 - 6 storeys. (Patterson, 2008)
The other side of the Griffintown controversy that I became familiar with was that of political activism. Despite the extremely low number of residents in the neighbourhood - there is a strong source of protest against the Devimco proposal. Several community activist groups have been formed and alternative proposals are continually being developed and presented to the city in the attempt to generate new ideas for what could potentially take place in Griffintown rather than entirely gentrifying the area.(Bauer, 2008)
Out of this context, the position for my thesis topic becomes one of neither major development nor a kind of historical preservation. Rather, this proposal is one of developing a smaller scale intervention that might be able to nudge, or poke, at the dormancy that exists in Griffintown. In doing so I aim to potentially agitate the neighbourhood in a way that a shopping mall, condominiums or a heritage building are not capable of. My ambition is to develop the context for a kind of public institution.
But not institution in an authoritative sense, rather, in a socially generative manner. One, which functions to facilitate the public, not to rule over it. The site on which I have chosen in order to implement this notion of the public institute is the abandoned CN Wellington Control Tower. The structure is located at the intersection of the Lachine Canal and the CN Via Rail passenger line – a location rich with a history of transportation and exchange. CN Wellington was once a control station for the CN Rail and remained active until roughly the middle of the 20th century.(CN Collection, 1945) The CN passenger line, today, services many surrounding communities which make up the greater Montreal area, as well as National routes. The line, which runs immediately adjacent the CN Wellington, is a direct route into the Place
Bonaventure train station and, accordingly, all departing and arriving trains traverse the line. This allows
for constant state of potential observation. (Train Plan, 2008) The area surrounding the building functions largely as a leisure path for biking, running, walking, etc. This aspect also allows for a relationship between the pedestrian and the building.
There are a number of different historical nuances, as well as specific phenomena, which have become the catalysts for my intentions. The first is the pre-existence of a public bath adjacent to the current location of the CN Wellington building.(Map, 1890 & 1907) As a very intensely industrial, and therefore dirty neighbourhood, the health of the public was of great importance in the late 19th to early 20th century. Public baths were necessary to stave off disease and to preserve a healthy work force in the absence of the infrastructure necessary for homes to have their own private bathing facilities. This necessity continued into the 1950 s, when finally most homes were outfitted with plumbing systems – after which point the need for the public bath fell off.(Mellin,2008) The notion of the public bath, while very appropriate to the proposal of a public institution, also sets a fitting program for which to study the implications of viewership, or observation, in architecture; very fundamental questions of privacy and publicity.
Another discovery, which further drives the notion of observing, is one that comes as a result of the collapse of industry, and thus interest, in Griffintown. Through the 1970 s until the mid 1990 s – at which point the Lachine Canal was redeveloped into a leisure park – the area around the CN Wellington became
notorious as a sexual “cruising” zone. With the area essentially vacant it provided the perfect setting for such illicit acts to take place. These actions would go largely unseen in the area. However, the passenger train line through Griffintown and into the downtown of Montreal remained active. Those acts that would be considered very private now became - if the passenger was looking at the right moment - very public glimpses. Again, this leads to definite implications of viewership in which there are certain acts or events that should, or can, be seen and others, which shouldn t and cannot be seen.
As Schwarzer describes, “the train itself reorients the passenger s understanding of space.”(46) Once in locomotion, the observer does not experience the city, or architecture, in a tactile nor personal manner – unlike the pedestrian. They are forced along by the will of the train – not of their own – at a distance from the built environment. The train observer only has control over the direction of their gaze or focus. As the observer is pulled past the CN Wellington, the structure is transformed into a surface with a series of potential frames within frames, which offer themselves as fleeting glimpses. This is a result of the CN Wellington s abandoned nature; its open windows (apertures) leave distinct pathways through the building – which in turn delineate a specific space within the direct confines of its walls, as well as outside of it. Maturana describes the act of observation as, “…the pointing to a unity by performing an operation which defines its boundaries and separates it from a background.”(Maturana,325) Within the relationship between the rail line and the CN Wellington I am proposing that the defined boundaries might be derived from these apertures, which continually shift with the passing of the train and exist only in certain instances of time. The conversation between the pedestrian and the building differs, however, in that it is – or rather has the potential to be – a much more tangible and physical relationship. The pedestrian is not under the dictation of the train, but instead under their own guidance. It is through these two different relationships where moments of observation and/or glimpses into the intimate events within the baths will begin to formulate.
It has become clear to me that the CN Wellington structure exists within a realm of potentials. The study of view paths into, and throughout, the building, which I am describing, are not guaranteed to ever present themselves for the passenger on the train nor the pedestrian. But the opportunity for those defined boundaries to materialize is present. I intend to exploit this relationship and develop the public bath based upon an entropic interaction, or conversation, between observers – the bather, passenger and pedestrian. The New Wellington Baths will begin to question the notion of transparency in building by providing a set of potentially explicit locations for intimate or public events to be observed or glimpsed.
-To do so I have already begun to study the rail passenger s relationship with the CN Wellington building. I began by investigating a series of situations and attempting to draw, in plan, the example of a single observer on the train s sight line through the structure as windows aligned depending on their position on the track. I then produced a series of drawings, which extracted the building and observer from the site to help illustrate the manner in which the relationship between the two shifts and changes as the train moves down the track.
Realizing that the idea of these pathways through the building was not a 2-dimensional problem, I moved away from drawing and into 3-dimensional modeling where I began to construct an array of these framed cones of vision. What I began to model were the different combinations of sight lines through the building according to the CAD drawings. Moving into 3 dimensional space allowed me to realize that there are nearly infinite permutations through a set of two given windows / apertures. The advantage to modeling was that I could begin to actually see the spatial implications of the cones of vision moving through the building. They delineate a very specific space, which exists at the moment the observer makes the visual connection between the two apertures and lasts (shifts) until the gaze is turned elsewhere or until the path between both apertures is physically impossible.
From 3-dimensional digital modeling, I have moved into the physical realm and constructed a model of the existing CN Wellington building. The physical model is used in conjunction with projected light and a particulate (haze) to make visible the many cones of vision afforded by the (aforementioned) apertures through the building. Essentially, I have developed a method for modeling framed cones of vision in actual space. This is accomplished by projecting light, in real time, out of a vector based drawing program through which I am able to manipulate its shape to match the edges of any aperture existing on the model.
I intend to continue to work within this method of using light as a, kind of, proof of concept for vision. By modeling the cones of vision physically I have allowed myself the opportunity to examine, in a very tactile manner, the effects of both the train s observer on the building and conversely, the building – and user of the building – back out onto the train. I will be able to perceive, in real time, the effects that my structural interventions, both into and onto, the building will have on this relationship. Along with modeling I will begin to investigate the potential that different materialities and physical orientations have on the conversation between the train and the structure, as well as the pedestrian / structure relationship. This will be accompanied by drawing exercises, which will help to bring the project into a comprehensive building proposal through conventional plan, elevation, section and detail drawings.
For my Term 1 Portfolio follow this link: http://griffintownstudio.blogspot.com/
Resources -Concordia University: As a Concordia student I have access to a number of different resources including a fully equipped wood shop, a metal shop, CNC milling machines, a full array or printing equipment (screen printing, etc.) Topological Media Lab: The Topological Media Lab provides a locus for studying subjectivation, agency and materiality from phenomenological, social and computational perspectives. Investigating such questions, the atelierstudio-laboratory creates material poetry, and speculative, live events in responsive environments. The TML invents novel forms of gestural media, expressive instruments and compositional systems that support these speculative performances and installations.
The products of the laboratory include scholarly presentations, media artifacts and performances as cultural experiment, opportunities for students and affiliates to refine critical faculties in collective projects. Current application domains include: real-time video and sound synthesis, embedded sensors, gesture tracking, physical computing, media choreography, active fabric, and wearable or soft architecture. The TML draws insights from and informs the studies of embodiment, performance and music, as well as the poietic uses of dynamical systems, differential geometry and topology in philosophies of process. Its projects also serve as case studies in the construction of fresh modes of cultural knowledge and the critical studies of media arts and techno-science. Topological media are physical and computational matter, image or sound fashioned as substances evolving under continuous action. (http://www.topologicalmedialab.net) The technical knowledge available throughout the TML is immense and will help to make possible some of the intentions that I have for my project. Additionally, the TML can also provide me with many different types of equipment for projection, photography, and digital purposes.
Hexagram Institute for Research/Creation in Media Arts and Technologies: The facilities offered by Hexagram feature an HD editing room, powerful web servers, an automated weaving loom, HD audio editing room, extremely powerful computers, video control room, rapid prototyping equipment, as well as camera and video equipment and projection / production rooms. (http://www.hexagram.org) Bibliotheque et Archives nationals Quebec – Archives: Offers archives of documents regarding the history of Montreal including a series of Fire Insurance Maps which help to give an understanding of the evolution of the city dating back to the late 1800 s. (http://www.banq.qc.ca Path: Pistard-Archives) Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA): The Library of the CCA is an international research collection devoted to the history of architecture and the built environment. It comprises nearly 215,000 volumes with emphasis on rare books and special collections relating to the history of architectural theory, practice, and publishing from the fifteenth century to the present. It holds, in addition, over 5,000 serial titles (ca. 760 current subscriptions) and a variety of special materials. (http://www.cca.qc.ca/ Path: Library) McGill University's Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art: The Library's holdings comprise 110,000 volumes, including 2,500 rare books and close to 320 current periodical subscriptions. (http://www.mcgill.ca/blackader) McCord Museum: The McCord is a public research and teaching museum that preserves the collective past - over 1,375,000 objects, images and manuscripts, irreplaceable reflections of the social history and material culture of Montreal, Quebec and Canada.
Books -Barbieri, Olivo, et al. The 6os: montréal thinks big. Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2004.
Brouwer, Joke, and Mulder, Arjen, et al. Interact or die. V2_Publishing/NAI Publishers, 2007. Dourish, Paul. “A History of Interaction,” Where the Action Is: The Foundation of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001, 1-24. Dourish. Paul. “Being in the World,” Dourish. 2001, 99-126. Guattari, Felix. “The Object of Ecosophy,” Eco-Tech: Architectures of the In Between. Ed. Amerigo Marras. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999, 11-20. Illich, Ivan. H20 and the Waters of Forgetfulness: Reflections on the Historicity of Stuff. Dallas: The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1985. Laurel, Brenda. “The Sixth Elements and the Casual Relations Among Them,” Computers as Theater. Reading, Pa: Addison-Wesley, 1993, 49-65. Schwarzer, Mitchell. Zoomscape: Architecture in Motion and Media. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004. Sennett, Richard. The Fall of Public Man. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 1976. Suchman, Lucy. “Introduction and Interactive Artifacts,” Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human Machine Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 1-26. Varela, Francisco. “The Re-enchantment of the Concrete,” Incorporations-Zone #6.ED. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter. New York: Zone Book, 1992, 320-338.
Periodicals -Desloges, Yvon. “Behind the Scene of the Lachine Canal Landscape.” Industrial Archeology. 29.1 (2003): 7-21
Gelly, Alain. “A Preciptous Decline, Steam as Motive Power in Montreal: A Case Study of the Lachine Canal Industries.” Industrial Archeology. 29.1 (2003): 65-85 Humberto R. Maturana, “The organization of the living: A theory of the living organization,” Intl. J. Man-Machine Studies, 7(1975):313-332. Lewis. Robert D. “A city transformed: manufacturing districts and suburban growth in Montreal, 1850-1929.” Journal of Historical Geography. 27.1 (2001): 20-35. Marvin, David. Griffintown: a Brief Chronicle.
Newspaper -Aubin, Henry. “Let s Tread Carefully on Griffintown.” The Gazette. 17, January 2008.
Aubin, Henry. “Private hospital would change the face of downtown.” The Gazette. March 20, 2008. Aubin, Henry. “The Griffintown project: Better, but still no cigar.” The Gazette. April 26, 2008. Gyulai, Linda. "City building discontent." The Gazette. 19, May 2008.
Web -Mellin, Robert. An Historical Context. A Unique Bath Culture. October 2008 <http://www.arch.mcgill.ca/prof/mellin/arch671/winter2000/llau/thesisweb/proposal/context/p_context.htm>. Sound Recordings -Gasior, Lisa. Sounding Griffintown A Listening Guide of a Montreal Neighbourhood. 2007. Recorded Movies -Leduc, Jacques and Renee Roy. Albedo. Office national du film du Canada (NFB), Montreal 1982.
Personal Interviews -Bauer, Judith. Personal interview. 8 Nov. 2008.
Lev, Jesse. Personal interview.8 Nov. 2008; Dec. 2008. Patterson, Juliette. Personal interview. Sept. 2008
Maps -Fire Insurance Map. Montreal, QC: Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales Quebec, 1879. Fire Insurance Map. Montreal, QC: Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales Quebec, 1890. Fire Insurance Map. Montreal, QC: Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales Quebec, 1907. Fire Insurance Map. Montreal, QC: Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales Quebec, 1909. Fire Insurance Map. Montreal, QC: Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales Quebec, 1914. Train Plan du reseau. Montreal, QC: Agence metropolitaine de transport, 2008. Images -CN Collection. Levermen at CTC Board Wellington Tower. 1945. Canada Science and Technology Museum – CN Collection. October 2008 <http://imagescn.technomuses.ca>. Path: Communication & Computers; Radio Train Operations; Wellington Tower Levermen.