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Thread: Why Great Buildings Matter

  1. #1

    Default Why Great Buildings Matter

    Unique buildings and spaces are associated with communities, visually defining them for residents and visitors alike. They make cities great and reinforce individual and community identity and pride. They are the visual expression of what might be described as the soul of the city, which is the sum total of all of the works, aspirations and dreams of its citizens. A city grows through time, and buildings and neighbourhoods reflect cycles of boom and bust. They also represent architectural styles and periods.

    A culturally vital city has a dynamic mix of historic and contemporary buildings, and arts and heritage precincts. Creative cities are cultural hubs in which individuals and groups undertake not only traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, acting and performing but also a range of other activities that add value to community life, preserve architectural wonders and address environmental concerns.

    The new city is not only creative, it is also green and sustainable, equitable and enlightened. It values its historic buildings and protects the environment. It has design guidelines to ensure that historic buildings from past ages are preserved and that new buildings are not only functionally excellent but also a contribution to the life of citizens. In a sense, we are experiencing a kind of 21st century age of enlightenment where it is all of us who have the power to change our cities and lives rather than enlightened despots.

    Sadly, the average citizen gives very little thought to imagining the ideal city in which to live. The “busy-ness” of life, of getting and spending, clouds our eyes and minds to the larger realities. While human lives are a short span of 50-80 years, the city continues to grow through time reflecting past ages. Buildings and public spaces are one generation’s legacy to the next. The city is also the stage and the crucible in which all aspects of our lives - social, political, economic, religious and cultural - take place. Therefore, we must be very intentional about what we do with our city in our lifetime.

    How does this thinking apply to Edmonton? What citizens forgot in the daily round of living is that our City’s history can be read in its streets and public buildings and these range from historic to modern. The former W.W. Arcade Building (part of the building facades making up the Jasper East Village), McDougall United Church, Great West Saddlery Building, Revillon Building, the Rossdale Power Plant and, on the southside, the Pavillion Lacerte at the Campus Saint Jean and the Arts Building at the University of Alberta are historic treasures. The Federal Building, Enterprise Square (the former Hudson’s Bay building) and HUB mall are modern treasures. City Hall is a contemporary landmark building.

    In order to see our City as others see it, we must imagine that we are visitors to our community. If we do this, we see all of the good things but also everything that needs improvement. Our City is characterized by the river that runs through it. This was the transportation route of Aboriginal Peoples and the Fur Trade. It was also the basis of the first settlement in Rossdale with its small businesses, the ferry and the modest residences. When we became the provincial capital in 1905, there was a surge of growth and important public buildings were erected such as the Alberta Legislature, MacKay Avenue School, various buildings on the University of Alberta Campus, the historic MacDonald Hotel, etc. For the size of our population, the City was “over-built” in these years but the politicians, merchants and dreamers were envisioning a major city to aspire to. The beginning of World War I put an end to the economic boom until the coming in of Leduc No. 1, which heralded a second boom. The City thus has an excellent stock of early 20th century historic buildings and, then, buildings in the Modern style.

    We also have some wonderful public parks not only in the North Saskatchewan River Valley but also in virtually every city neighbourhood. The architects who helped to shape our City were all believers in the “garden city” movement that saw the civic and business heart at the centre and model neighbourhoods stretching out to the peripheries and accessible via automobiles and public transit.

    What visitors also see is that our City Centre is down-at-heels; that major roadways leading into the City are evidence of urban blight; that some essential maintenance and clean-up has not happened and is urgently required; that streetscapes are marred by decaying concrete structures and pavements; that we need to put the heart back in our City. We can only do this if we all take responsibility for the look and feel of our City and require politicians, developers and architects to help our City to evolve to its next generation of greatness.

    As Bob Marley said, in our great future, we cannot forget the past.

  2. #2

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    ^ Wonderful article with great points!

  3. #3

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    Excellent article.

    Tom

  4. #4
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    "The “busy-ness” of life, of getting and spending, clouds our eyes and minds to the larger realities. While human lives are a short span of 50-80 years, the city continues to grow through time reflecting past ages. Buildings and public spaces are one generation’s legacy to the next. The city is also the stage and the crucible in which all aspects of our lives - social, political, economic, religious and cultural - take place. Therefore, we must be very intentional about what we do with our city in our lifetime."

    Interesting way to think about how we should build today. I have not thought of it this way, but what a great statement. We should all take this to heart. Thanks for a great article!

  5. #5

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    Even more incentive to really spruce up Jasper Ave. I want a downtown to be proud of.

  6. #6

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    Very good article.

    The bottom line is not to build crap.

    It amazes me that when you look at what buildings that artists choose to paint, the ones from "east" paint majestic stone buildings, bridges, etc. The ones from the "west" paint old dilapidated caved in barns and run down shacks. It's as if we are "proud" to preserve the legacy of how truly bad we are at building things.

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