Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

Since I live beside a green belt, one of my markers of the year is when this year’s crop of newly-fledged crows become independent. The Vancouver area is in the middle of the season now, and it never fails to entertain me.

The first sign that the baby crows have left the nest is the echo of their plaintive cries as they try to convince their parents to regurgitate for them. The more aggressive of the babies go so far as to push themselves underneath their parents’ beaks. At first, many of the adults oblige, but, after a week or two, they keep their beaks resolutely shut, no matter how the babies position themselves. Once, I even saw an adult thrown off balance by a baby’s insistence. And there’s always a few parents who do their best to lose junior at this stage.

Eventually, though, the young ones grudgingly accept their independence. They come together in groups of four to twelve birds, all identifiable as young ones by the narrowness of their bodies and their slightly shrill cries. Like human teenagers, they tend to do everything together, the flock chasing after one who has sighted something that’s possibly edible and squabbling as they brush against each other in midflight or land too close together. They seem to congregate where the food is plentiful, such a shopping mall, and, for a few months at any rate, their elders seem to cede such places to them.

At this stage, the young crows are clumsy – which isn’t surprising, considering how fast most birds grow in their first few months. They simply haven’t had time to learn coordination in the middle of their constant growth. Frequently, they’ll try to land on a branch too small for their weight, and lose their footing as the branch whips up and down. They haven’t learned, either, to coordinate hopping along the ground and keeping an eye out around them, so they sometimes trip themselves.

Unfortunately, too, they don’t understand cars, and some of them always die each year before they can learn. However, crows are adaptable enough that many of them learn quickly enough to survive. In another month or so, they’ll have left their small flocks for the great host of crows that roosts about six or seven miles from where I live, and become at least tentative adults.

Many people despite crows as vermin, and no doubt I would feel the same if I were a farmer. But as an urbanite, I find myself impressed by how adaptable crows can be to human changes to the environment. Whatever else you can say, crows are survivors, and I always enjoy their first self-taught lessons in how to get on in the world.

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I spent today at the Public Knowledge Project’s conference at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre, interviewing people and lining up contacts for future articles. Student and instructor, I’ve spent considerable time at Harbour Centre, so going there always stirs memories. But, like most people at the conference, what preoccupied me was the fact that the air-conditioning failed in a humid heat wave in which temperatures were as high as 37 degrees Celsius. Whether the failure was a brownout downtown or confined to the campus, I’m not sure, but it started me wondering: Why doesn’t North American industrial culture ever build for the climate?

The question is worth asking. Place a few hundred people in an overheated, airless lecture theater is a recipe for extreme discomfort at the least. If anyone is old or has a heart condition, it could mean illness or death.

Fortunately, nothing serious happened so far as I could see, but, even so, the inconvenience was there. Many people were skipping discussions they had traveled to hear, so they could stand in the lobby and chugalug the free juice and pop provided by the conference sponsors. Campus security had to rush around more because the open doors brought many of the homeless in (something that doesn’t bother me, but bothers security staff immensely). Students were skipping classes, and campus staff were sweating and short-tempered – all because the summer heat wasn’t taken into account when the building was renovated to house the university. Apparently, the assumption was that the air-conditioning would always be available, and that the ability to open windows would be a security risk.

To be fair, the renovators had the disadvantage of having to work with an older building that was probably designed for the climate of southern England, rather than the Pacific coast of Canada. But Harbour Centre is far from the only example of local construction unsuitable to the climate.

Few roads in the greater Vancouver area are higher in the middle so that the rain for which the climate is notorious will run along the sides instead of creating giant puddles for cars to hydroplane through. And thanks to all the imitators of native son Arthur Erikson, local architects continue to use concrete in buildings that the rain can eventually erode – that is, when they’re not imitating styles suitable for the desert conditions of California and using flat roofs. For years now, leaky condos have plagued the area, and four-story buildings shrouded in plastic and scaffolding are still sprouting up everywhere like multi-colored mushroom.

It shouldn’t be difficult, while architectural students are learning about the tensile strengths of different materials, to teach them some basics about designing for specific climates. Much of the matter is common sense. Yet, so far as I can tell, this basic consideration is far from their minds when they sit down to design. Nor does anyone hold them to account. Instead, the public suffers and shells out for repairs.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to drink another three or four liters of Gatorade to restore some moisture to my dessicated tissues.

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