The Vanier Siedlung
[an Urban Biennale on the future of Ottawa]
Does anyone remember the Siedlung Experiments in Berlin in the 1920s? One of them was called the Hufeisensiedlung – the “Horseshoe Estate” (1925-33). These were experiments in modern urban housing and municipal planning in Berlin; this one designed by the architect Bruno Taut. Since 2008 it has had UNESCO World Heritage status as one out of six Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. This is the sort of innovative actions we are suggesting for Vanier – it is not politically impossible. Our own Urbanism Studio next semester at the Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism (Carleton University) will set out the shape of such a development. We invite any participation. We are optimistic that Ottawa with its change of government is at the precise stage in the reshaping of the city to take on something of extreme contemporary existence. Sorry to say, most of the models being build today are competent no doubt, but to many students and up and coming young architects they tend to smell of the mimicry of housing developments somewhere else; possible Toronto or Vancouver. Is this good enough for Ottawa, is this good enough for Vanier? I would suggest not. We might think the new prime Minister would suspect not.
The Vanier Siedlung has to be about cultural and political agency. If we are all to become agents of change, we must know more about planning, design and implementation, about integration and sustainability, about inclusion and adaptability. Above all it has to be the most humane innovative site of city housing and development since Gréber ripped through this city. That is our plan. Pigs will fly. Ottawa 2018 could be an Urban Biennale – the legacy of that celebratory year. I implore all Ottawa agencies; don’t let your bright and innovative students leave for Toronto and Vancouver without at first offering them the chance to define this City in he City.
THE CITY IN THE CITY
LEARNING FROM LAS VANIER
A Round Table discussion on the future of Vanier
December 17th St Charles Church, Beachwood Ave, Vanier [6.00 – 7.30 pm]
M Bulthuis, J Cook, B Gianni, H Pienkowska
M Basi, A Reeves, D Squires, L Snyder, L Dicaire
Deep inside the town there open up, so to speak double streets, doppelganger streets,
mendacious and delusive streets (The Cinnamon Shops Bruno Schulz)
The Beszel ghetto was only architecture now, not formal political boundary,
tumbledown old houses with newly gentrified chic, clustered between very different
foreign alter spaces. Still, that was just the city; it wasn’t an allegory…. (The City and
The City China Miéville)
Vanier, a somewhat edgy quarter to the east of downtown Ottawa is both unique and has a unique role to play in the shaping of Ottawa as a contemporary city. Vanier has both an unusual history and specificity; it is not Hintonburg, it is not Mechanicsville, it is not Rockville nor New Edinburgh. The clues to Vanier are perhaps in the vibrant tensions, useful underworld and urban excitement found in those two Scottish echo-cities: Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is beyond planning rumour that Vanier is about to be upgraded, developed and densified. How could it not be, considering how close it is to the centre of Ottawa?
There is no need to be provocative. If Vanier is to expand and be revitalized as a community and as an urban quarter, it may just need more than the models currently offered by developer investment and political expediency. When we say that, we are often told to get serious. The economic conditions are set, the political processes are often changing but inflexible, and some of the planning codes are put in place.
Setbacks, zoning and tall building guidelines offer that unfortunate phrase, wedding cake constructions; set back after set back, with upper interventions in light. This may all have obvious economic sense if we accept current market conditions but such planning processes then tend to offer more of the same. Will Vanier expand into a rather predictable but unexciting uniformity represented by other developments in Ottawa? How does this affect the existing community?
Lost in the streets, where the dogs run, roaming suburban boys…this is from the Pet Shop Boys track ‘Suburbia’ Surely it is not offensive to want to halt the predictable market vision and aesthetics where they run with the dogs, the police sirens and the deregulators. When we discuss urbanism, the community and history, we are talking about identity. We are not collapsing Vanier under any unity. Northrop Frye would be good on this.
We are talking of an area, a proximity to the centre of Ottawa that itself struggles to be a centre; so would we not wish for something re-defined for Vanier? Without an intense study of integration development we might collapse on could gentrified areas which could serve to push the real identity and grit, the liveliness of this quarter elsewhere. Does Vanier want that? Does its legacy deserve that? Are the existing conditions – political, economic and cultural – about to re-brand Vanier as South Beachwood?
Does Vanier really deserve to develop this way; what about the city in the city, what about the elements – historical and contemporary, gritty and robust – that characterize Vanier? What about those essential parts of Vanier that are not present within Ottawa? What are they? And why should these not be celebrated?
To open this discussion we have some very different people hopefully to share their ideas with the audience of what the future of Vanier might be? How we can all become agents of change in such a city in the city?
1 We have many urban design models. The imagination is not in doubt – but action and agency is – how does Vanier do this – at a more local level, at the municipal level?Is it agreed that Vanier will soon be developed in a serious way – and if so what are the issues, predictions, hopes?
2 If the market conditions are demonstrated by the rise of developer condos etc. in Ottawa (Hintonburg, Downtown, ByWard Market), does this predetermine the shape and morphology of housing and urban development for the city? Are the models already presented on Bank Street, in Hintonburg, or the slow gentrification of Mechanicsville? Are the current codes and guidelines steered by Ottawa City Planning able to produce a new morphology for this part of the city? What is this morphology? What is the shape of Vanier that is not just the shape of Ottawa?
3 Can Ottawa take a stand; could Vanier become the experiment in urban settlement, housing and community? Could urban revitalization integrate the positive tensions required from its unique Francophone background?
4 How could Vanier be treated separately, engagingly and remain part of Ottawa? Could this be the city that the city of Ottawa lacks, not a mimicry of other settlements within Ottawa? What is the City in the City?
-Written by: Roger Connah [28.9.2015]
For Part 1 Exhibition: https://archiblog22.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/baklava-beach-exhibition-part-1/
For Baklava Beach’s Manifesto: https://archiblog22.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/vanier-the-future-manifesto/
For Baklava Beach’s Dirty Realism: https://archiblog22.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/4th-year-studio-housing-script/