Architecture Must Grow - May 10, 2022
Updated: May 15, 2022
When I look back through my notebook, I find numerous pages worth of questions and notes, and bullet points starred as a reminder for future me to do some more digging or use that note as a potential topic of reflection. Other days, I am captivated by the speaker or the architecture that I don’t even want to spare a minute to jot more than half a page of notes down. Today we had the privilege to hear a thought-provoking presentation from Donald Luxton and Paul Merrick, and spend time touring Paul Merrick’s personal home project, ‘Merrick House.’ It was one of those days I wanted to write everything down to be sure I never forget how some of these topics provoked my thinking. While there are countless things I’d like to reflect on, I will narrow it down to just one subject: growth.
In my landscape architecture studios, growth is a topic that we are never allowed to forget about. But we aren’t taught enough on designing for growth. Mainly, I refer to growth as change over time. This can include but is not limited to the growth of vegetation, sea-level rise, or the decay and weathering of materials from the elements. According to Sonja Duempelmann and UBC MLA professor Susan Herrington, designed landscapes are a medium or measure of time. The landscapes we create are changed by conditions that are beyond our control. Landscapes can influence our sense or understanding of time and alter how we experience the passage of time (Duempelmann and Herrington, 2014, p. 1). This concept may be confusing for some as it isn’t tactile and measurable. It is based on personal experience, moreover, an experience that may even change with each visit. Because landscape architecture is so focused on manipulating or activating natural or constructed spaces, we may forget about society changing over time and how that might affect the way an individual experiences our projects.
Paul Merrick made an excellent point of mentioning this idea of change over time during our talk on the Electra Building. He said our projects must be able to adapt and evolve with humankind. The Electra building is a literal example of adapting to new use-cases. Still, designers should think about change over time at all scales, especially as our population skyrockets and our society goes through an abundance of social changes. Donald Luxton told us that Vancouver didn’t have a significant growth boom like many other Canadian cities until after WWII. He later mentioned that still, to this day, the City of Vancouver has not been able to catch up to the rising population. This lack of speed catching up to population rise caused the housing crisis, but also caused a lack of culture and amenities in Vancouver, AKA, the things that make a city worth living in. Scot Hein, professor in Urban Design at SALA and Urban Designer with the City of Vancouver, has some interesting thoughts in his book Zoning Must Evolve: You Forgot About Me (2022). In a four-part article before his book came out, he writes: “Zoning regulation in Vancouver is like playing Monopoly. We can purchase the little green pieces (which represents a monopoly on socially unproductive single-family zoning) or larger red pieces (representing a monopoly on rezoning). We need to rethink the housing spectrum by adding orange and yellow pieces that represent missing middle potential” (Hein, 2021). I think this is an interesting analogy that helps us consider how to shift what already exists in our urban design toolkit by thinking about this missing middle and what potentials lie there.
The Merrick house is an exciting exploration of joinery, material honesty, and verticality. Merrick mentioned that when he built the house, his children were very young and didn’t require much space. He said that later when they became teenagers and needed adequate space of their own, he began some of his work expanding the house to fit the new needs. Even after that point, there have been numerous additions and changes made to the home's composition that reflect a need for change and adaptability. I wondered if this was something Merrick had intended all along. I think my original assumption is that these were accidents, that he simply didn’t calculate for the growth of his boys or the need for more space. But I think now that he knew he would need to make changes to the home as his family grew and the dynamism of his life changed. While I think it may be more beneficial for designers to think about adaptability in how we may retrofit spaces for current use, it is still a fascinating notion to believe that Merrick may have understood that this home wouldn’t function the way it started in the long run. I am delighted that today's visits and discussions urged me to think about more abstract ideas like change over time in concrete and tactile settings. It was helpful to visualize precisely how design can evolve in these excellent architectural examples of the Electra Building and the Merrick House.
Duempelmann, Sonja, and Susan Herrington. "Plotting Time in Landscape Architecture." Studies in
the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, vol. 34, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1-14.
Hein, Scot. “Zoning Must Evolve - Part 4.” Spacing Vancouver, 30 Sept. 2021,