Newspapers: no going back

By Frank Moher

We are beginning to see the outlines of the newspaper industry’s survival strategy, and it’s going to be this: since what we’ve been doing doesn’t work anymore, let’s go backwards and try something else that didn’t work. Namely, charging for online content.

The signs are everywhere. When John Stackhouse succeeded Edward Greenspon as Editor of The Globe and Mail last week, he advised readers that change is coming: “We think our journalism has a strong value for our users and we think that audience wants to pay for it directly or indirectly . . .” The idea of customers wanting to pay for anything strikes me as a bit rosy, but good luck to them. Rupert Murdoch, a more hard-bitten businessman, told his own Fox Business Network much the same thing, but allowed as how the online product will have to raise its game. “A [newspaper] website will be vastly improved, much more in them.”

The Globe, to its credit, has already begun to muscle-up its site. I don’t refer to the general redesign unveiled recently, which is par for the course, but to its new Toronto hub, with its tight integration of text, video, and cams (for traffic coverage), along with supplementary material from hyper-local online mag Torontoist. Presumably this is a template for what will happen with The Globe‘s other regional sections, which so far remain conspicuously old school.

Still, it will take a lot more than just some Web 2.0 bells-and-whistles to get people to pay — including, probably, live streaming and social media options that will make online newspapers better than TV, better than facebook, and a lot better than they are now.

Some say the move to charge for online content is an attempt to get people to start buying hardcopy newspapers again — you know, the ones you used to get from a box or have delivered to your home. (Remember them?) If so, this is precisely backwards. Nothing could be more reactionary, or downright dumb, than trying to drive readers back to a model that requires publishers to pay rocketing newsprint and distribution costs, relies on a collapsing and possibly discredited advertising model, and is lousy for the environment to boot. (The environment: remember that?) If anything, the big newspapers should adopt the model of many community papers and start giving a much slimmed-down version away for free (delivered to homes, please, to cut down on the litter problem), strictly as a loss-leader intended to drive readers to their (hopefully) much better websites.

Once again, Murdoch, damn him, sees where things are headed more clearly than most. “Instead of an analog paper printed on paper you may get it on a panel which would be mobile, which will receive the whole newspaper over the air, [and] be updated every hour or two,” he told FBN. He might also have mentioned reading it on your TV and in your car. And you thought people talking on their cellphone while driving is bad.

Murdoch also understands how long the shift will take. “I think it’s two or three years away before [these devices] get introduced in a big way and then it will probably take 10 years or 15 years for the public to swing over.” Meanwhile, there’s no point in retreating to the past. Newspapers need to move a lot more quickly than they’re used to moving, put off this charging for online content idea until their online content is a lot better, and dig in for the long haul.

Kenney: Leftists = Nazis

By Alison@Creekside

Haaretz, May 25, 2009 :

A “new anti-Semitism” that emanates from an alliance of Western leftists and Islamic extremists is more dangerous than the “old European” form of Jew-hatred, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism said as he wound up a four-day trip to Israel Sunday.

“The existential threat faced by Israel on a daily basis is ultimately a threat to the broader Western civilization,” said Jason Kenney, explaining the staunchly pro-Israel positions of his government, led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“It’s a threat that comes from profoundly undemocratic forces that don’t have the same conception of human dignity or freedom, and which abuse Israel as a kind of representative of the broader West and Western liberal-democratic values,” said Kenney. “I also very acutely understand the nature of the new anti-Semitism, and I think it’s even more dangerous than the old European anti-Semitism.”

What a load of toadying opportunistic crap.

What’s dangerous, Jason, is your government’s new rebranding of anti-Semitism — one that seeks to conflate criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, thus making a mockery of all genuine struggles against anti-Semitism.

Israel is not criticized for being a Jewish state; Israel is criticized for war crimes.

See also:

Jewish Canadians Concerned about Suppression of Criticism of Israel.

8 years, 18 moves

By Jodi A. Shaw

It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday evening and I can’t find my toothbrush. Our new bathroom is chockablock with Rubbermaid tubs filled with miscellaneous items that you have to maneuver your way through to get to the toilet. The fridge is empty (with the exception of ketchup and a bottle of 7-Up), and I’ve spent the last hour searching for a clean pair of pants.

This is my 18th move in eight years, and my husband’s 16th in 12 years. One would think, with our combined experience, we’d have this down to an art, but this move was far from a masterpiece. We’d been in the last place for 18 months (the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was 19), so a move was clearly overdue. Our strategy, though, consisted mostly of throwing belongings into boxes and hauling them out the door.

Adding to the delight is the fact that the house we’re renting is for sale and slated for demolition, to be followed by the erection of a newer, shinier, more expensive model. We’ll receive three months warning before the wrecking ball arrives, giving us time to do the whole moving thing again. To compensate for the looming “hurry up and move” notice, we’re getting a steal on rent and allowed to have a puppy.

I didn’t think I would be 27 and still renting. I don’t like doing the math — I have paid tens of thousands of dollars on other people’s mortgages. But our needs and wants are constantly growing, morphing, and shifting, and we like not being tied down. We haven’t found a city we want to call home, and although we toyed with the idea of buying a house here in Calgary — the downturn in the economy has made houses incredibly cheap (for Calgary) and we could potentially make a profit in a year or two — we are going to hold off a bit longer and keep on renting.

It’s a decision I’m increasingly fine with. Sure, I look forward to home ownership someday — building equity, paying our own mortgage, painting and personalizing, calling it home. But what if life changes? We need to downsize or upgrade? Then we’re at the mercy of the market.

As renters, we have the ability to give 30 days notice of intent to vacate when our circumstances change or we want a change of scenery. We can relocate if something better comes along, if we get a new job in a different city, or if we’ve added to our household and need more space. True, we can’t make any changes without first asking permission and we can’t get too comfortable, but we’re never stuck with a house that doesn’t fit us or won’t sell.

A co-worker of mine recently took a transfer to Lethbridge in hopes of reducing his stress in the slower-paced city, only to return to Calgary six months later because his Calgary home wouldn’t sell. I know of a five-member family living in a two bedroom, 900-square foot condo, unable to find a house in their price range that will accommodate three children. On top of that, they owe more on the condo than it is currently worth.

Cases like these make home ownership seem less than glorious. True, I could settle for less moving. I could give up the initial discomfort I experience when I first move into a new house: reluctant to take a bath because I can’t shake the image of all the strangers who previously bathed in it, the need to treat the toilet like a public one and hover over it until I have time to get to Home Depot to buy a never-used toilet seat, the test batches of cookies I burn because every oven is different . . .

But liberty is addictive. Actually, neither my husband nor I wanted to move to Calgary in the first place. We moved because our roots were loose enough in Victoria that we could escape an expensive city where work was becoming scarce. Here we’ve found stable work and have not been affected by the recession. These days, you’ve got to stay light on your feet.

So we rent. We move. And after a while, we move again. It’s not fun and the more times we go through it, the sloppier we pack and the more things stay in their boxes, prepped for the next move.

But it’s become familiar, all this chaos. Comfy, even. I know my toothbrush is in a box somewhere.

You go, girls

Reality shows: whether you love them, hate them, or feel aggressively indifferent towards them, they are rapidly overtaking sitcoms and dramedies and other such pre-written nonsense. Are they incredibly shallow? Usually. Do they make for excellent theme parties? Almost always. Are you an incredible lame-wad if you watch them alone? I’ll let you be the judge (but the answer is “yes”).

With another cycle of “America’s Next Top Model” having come and gone, Britain’s “NTM” hot on its heels, and Canada’s “NTM” following hard behind (hey guys, wait up!), I had to take a hard look at my own favorite non-fake-fake show.

As a self-respecting, body-conscious woman, it’s hard for me to admit out loud that I lurve “Top Model” in all its iterations. Crazy, power-mad Tyra? Love her. Adorable, not-always-sense-making Miss J? Love her too. Dashing, dashing Nigel Barker? *blushes* The opportunity to assemble a flock of girls, a pile of snacks, and usually a few bottles of wine, in order to exercise my judgmental powers? Can’t pass it up.

Because that’s what reality TV is at its core, right? Being able to critique strangers, unashamedly and with impunity? Oftentimes, that’s all the interest the show provides — love this person, hate that person, and now watch them eat bugs. At least with shows like “Top Model” or “Project Runway” or the various Idols/Got Talent/etc.s, you have something external to be subjective about. It makes me feel a bit less like a skeeze when I’m all, Natalie takes idiotic pictures instead of just, Natalie’s an idiot. (For the record, Natalie? An idiot.) So score one for the TM.

It also makes me feel like less of a skeeze to watch “Top Model” in company. I missed a “Top Model” night once and had to watch it on my own so that I could catch up, and I have never felt more like a jobless hack than I did that Thursday afternoon, youtubing bits of the missed episode. Karl Lagerfeld wasn’t joking when he said that “Top Model” is only funny if you’re with other people (and even then, he claims, only for five minutes. I respectfully differ). But most people I know watch these shows en masse, so score another for Tyra bringing people together.

And to give Ms. Banks some credit, she’s been trying to turn what is at its core the shallowest of premises (America’s Next Most Famous Tall, Thin, Attractive Person) into something more inclusive. Though my cynical side says she does it just for the controversy and human interest (which, given Cycle 12’s burn survivor Tahlia, who was more SoccerMom than SuperModel, seems more than likely), there’s no arguing that T has slightly widened the definition of “potential model.” Last cycle was graced by the smart, funny, transgendered Isis King, and the cycle previous was actually won by Whitney Thompson, who is what the industry calls “plus-sized” and the rest of us call “slender.”

My own shoulder-devil tells me that this most recent cycle may have been a huge step backwards, however. Fo Freckles was too short (a full inch taller than the undeniably tall, thin, attractive and famous Kate Moss), Celia was too “old” and “desperate” (at a whopping 25, but let’s be honest, the girl looked like the Crypt Keeper), and London was too fat to be the new face of Cover Girl. The weight issue is a particularly dicey one, both because the modeling industry = anorexic girls, and because have you seen Tyra? Talk about the full-figured pot calling the slightly-plusher-than-average kettle fat. T. Banks and company tried to side-step the issue by claiming that London’s gorgeous bone structure and perpetually smiling eyes (T’s words, not mine) didn’t translate onto film, but they probably should have picked an episode where Jay Manuel didn’t sit London down for a heart-to-lard in which to give her the boot.

So on the one hand, maybe the siren song of a girl’s night filled with wine and criticism of bodies that aren’t ours isn’t enough to justify returning to the “Top Model” well. On the other hand, eensy, cat-like strides are being made, and I for one am willing to wait around to see what sort of equal-opportunity fierceness Tyra comes up with next.

Arthur Erickson, 1924 – 2009

By Frank Moher

Arthur Erickson, the great architect who died in Vancouver yesterday at age 84, was an artist who became great by remaining where he was. This was in marked contrast to many other western Canadian artists and thinkers, who achieved fame and success by moving away — or at least thought they needed to. It probably never occurred to Marshall McLuhan, born Winnipeg, raised in Edmonton, not to try to leave. Atom Egoyan ditto. But Erickson made a choice early on to remain in his community, — though there was, as per McLuhan and Egoyan, an element of careerism to his decision. “I intend to stay,” he told an interviewer in 1964, “because the potential is fantastic and because there are so few places left in the world with this emergent aspect.”

His bet paid off. At the time of that interview, Erickson was finishing his work on Simon Fraser University, the design, executed on a mountaintop in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, that would make him famous. Other of his finest works, such as the Law Courts in Vancouver or the Glass Museum in Tacoma, Washington, rest in their surroundings and play with light and water in a way that more conspicuous commissions — Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, the (unfortunate) Canadian Embassy in Washington — simply cannot. Erickson’s genius lay not only in his understanding of the landscape but of the climate into which he was born. It was an aesthetic exquisitely rooted in absence. “An architect always imagines his buildings in sunlight and casting shadows,” he told that same interviewer, “but here there aren’t strong shadows, no highlights. In a sunny climate you are dealing with a white ground and a dark sky. It is the reverse here. You have a dark ground and a white sky. This means you see things in silhouette, without highlight, and psychologically it can be unpleasant. One is in a dark area and the light is above as at sunset — a melancholy feeling. This is the situation we live in most of the time.”

Read more in “Arthur Erickson: The Lost interview.” And below, we offer the best tribute we can to his work:

“Arthur Erickson: The Lost Interview”

Yet more disappointing technologies

Shaun Nichols and Iain Thomson of have compiled a list of top ten disappointing technologies. Drum roll please . . .

Number 10: Virtual Reality
Number 09: Alternative Search Engines
Number 08: Voice Recognition
Number 07: Apple Lisa
Number 06: 10 GB Ethernet
Number 05: FireWire
Number 04: Bluetooth
Number 03: Itanium
Number 02: Zune
Number 01: Windows Vista

Yes, there you have it, Windows Vista is the greatest of the failed technologies. Now, for me, it would have to be alchemy, the promise of being able to turn lead into gold. Some say it has been done, but that is purely anecdotal and unsubstantiated. Some might object that alchemy is from too long ago, a product of the transition between the age of superstition and the age of science. To that I answer that the list above does include the Apple Lisa. Come on, if tech as old as the Lisa gets on the list, I don’t think sticking alchemy in there is too great a stretch, is it?

The other thing that sticks out is that the first three disappointments on the list are actually technologies, whereas the Lisa is a product. Then the next three items are technologies, followed by three products. With a little thought, they could have come up with four more technologies to replace the products. Right off the top of my head I can think of four I’ll give them for free: eBook readers, phone/pda combo, the $100 netbook, and sexbots.

What we need in an eBook reader is not even that terribly sophisticated. It should have a high rez screen, wireless internet, and native support for open source document formats. If you want to read eBooks in proprietary formats encumbered with digital restriction management (DRM), you should be able to do that with a downloadable plugin, but basic functionality shouldn’t require anything proprietary. As long as offerings push the proprietary, and are aimed at selling eBooks for little less than the price of the dead tree versions in DRM-encumbered formats that require expensive hardware, this is a tech which will remain disappointing.

I know people with iPhones who just love the things, but while they’re close, they’re not the badger’s nadgers when it comes to the potential of this class of device. I want a phone/pda that has a small actual keyboard, and an impossibly large screen for a small handheld device — let’s say 6×4 inches in a device that, closed, is only 2×4 inches. How is that magic accomplished? Simple, it has a roll up screen that spools up in the device when it’s closed. These flexible screens have been in development for seemingly forever. Any day now. Any day. I keep waiting.

The $100 laptop was the noble goal, unachieved, of the One Laptop Per Child program. They came close enough to give birth to a new category of device, the netbook. Netbooks are small laptops with not the hottest (literally and figuratively) processors, not as much RAM as most laptops, and often without a hard drive at all, using instead some form of nonvolatile RAM, like an SD Card. So far as I know, no one has achieved the magic price point of $100 yet, but as soon as they do, I’m getting one. Provided it runs Linux. At that price point, it’s not unlikely that it will, though by then it’s possible that Microsoft will have released its freely downloadable “Here-take-it-just-don’t-use-linux” edition of XP for netbooks. Or perhaps Windows 7 will live up to its promise to run on netbooks. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Finally, sexbots. For basic functionality, you would think this would be the low hanging fruit of robotics. The Lizzy Lie-Still and Larry Likes-You-On-Top models should be in stores now. The primary technical hurdles would be original utterances (ideally it should be able to combine elements from a large bank of vocabulary and sounds, not just repeat the same 20 phrases like a talking doll with a pull-string), stimulus/response/awareness of surroundings and what’s going on, and some appropriate movements (ideally unaccompanied by the conspicuous sound of servos) which can stop short of full bipedalism given that these models are expected to function primarily on their backs. They would not be expected to be able to make breakfast.

Again, like the eBook reader, sexbots are a technology where the bits and pieces exist here and there, but seem not to have been put together into one satisfying product. You’re telling me Toyota can make a robot that can play the violin, but it can’t make a robot that can fake orgasm?


Of course, Sony’s take seems to be that we are the robots, and only through using their technology can we become human.


Oh, Sony, you are so evil, so thoroughly evil in everything you do. RIAA Big Four member label, infector of people’s computers with root kits, purveyors of mind rot — both the content and the means of delivery. I think you may be more evil even than Microsoft. Is such a thing possible? Let Google be the judge.

Wow, turns out Microsoft is still significantly more evil than Sony. That’s pretty evil. Perhaps, when it comes to technology, what’s most disappointing isn’t the actual tech, but rather the corporations who produce it.

Arthur Erickson: The Lost Interview


In 1964, the Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, who died on May 19th at age 84, spoke with an unknown interviewer about the ideas that would eventually make him internationally-renowned. At the time, he was completing work on Simon Fraser University, the campus in Burnaby, B.C., designed with partner Geoffrey Massey, that brought him world attention for the first time. In subsequent decades his designs included the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Law Courts, Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C., and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. (Read Frank Moher’s appreciation of Erickson’s work, life, and buildings, here.)

The interview that follows was found in a pile of typescripts at the University of British Columbia, and first published in the anthology Genius of Place: Writing About British Columbia (Polestar, Stouck and Wilkinson, eds.)

Arthur Erickson: I have a favourite theory. In B.C., as pioneers, we didn’t make a significant contribution until a few years ago. As a matter of fact we are the first in Canada to demonstrate contemporary housing. This was about 15 years ago — just after the war. The rest of Canada was a way behind and there was an article in Canadian Art by Bob Hubbard which was written after he had visited the West Coast — just about 1952-53 or 53-54. It was called “Climate for the Arts.” Suddenly B.C. did have this fresh spirit — both in painting, architecture, poetry — all these things — and it was very much on top of the heap at that time — as far as Canada was concerned. There was a time lag in which the rest of Canada, in a sense, caught up, then really took over, because I think one thing that characterizes what we do — arthur-erickson-72whether it is architecture, painting, or anything else — is a hangover of being pioneers, and that is innovation. We had no traditions, nothing tying us down, no ancient architecture, no tradition of building materials that stopped us from making a fresh and interesting experiment at that time. I think this spirit still exists here to a certain extent.

As with the pioneer, you do tackle your new environment with fresh eyes, you are able to innovate, but I think also that when you are asked to make your first spurt, you become a tired old homesteader. I think this happened in B.C. The place settled too quickly. A type of house was built like the post and beam which has been repeated and repeated. This was actually a good solution for the small house. But it was never — and this is the interesting thing — it was never really developed into a fine building type. And I would say that is somewhat characteristic of B.C. — that you don’t have the maturity, at least a maturity isn’t reached. Post and beam was experimented with but it was never refined. Never perfected.

Everyone who came here had to deal with unusual conditions. There were siting problems. You tried to put up a traditional house, but then you found you had to do something else with underpinnings and therefore the whole contractor’s field involved more innovation. And, I think, one of a higher standard than perhaps anywhere else in Canada. I was amazed going up into Capilano Highlands, no matter how awful you think the houses are or out at Bay View, the standard is quite extraordinary. When compared to contractors’ houses elsewhere. Elsewhere in Canada. Elsewhere in the States on the West Coast.

There is a kind of vernacular here that comes from the challenge of using local materials and settings.

We confuse innovation and experiment with the design. We don’t take it as far as we can — but go on to something else.

I think at that time there was a lot of courage in British Columbia in all the arts — architecture included — which does not exist now. Right at the moment, one of my greatest contentions is the lack of courage in B.C. Looking at the history of the city, I am surprised how few people of vision or people of courage have made their mark here. We seemed to be cursed with timidity. And it makes me mad. For instance, the man who built Lions Gate Bridge, A.J.T. Taylor, was not a Canadian. The people who put the C.P.R. into this area were from elsewhere. The people who created Stanley Park . . . had nothing to do with the resident population.

Interviewer: What you are saying is that outside of some superficial things, we are still living on the foresight of other people?

AE: Yes . . . What can develop is a spirit that pervades everything. I think it existed when B.C. was first beginning. I think now it exists in Quebec, maybe brutally, and in Ontario. And I think it is coming back here. Now . . . the degrading of the profession of architecture has had a lot to do with the lack of spirit here lately. It is a disrespect of professionalism. It has been said lately that an architect is no better than a contractor — there is no difference between an engineer and an architect. They will try to get the cheapest thing possible without respecting, basically, that you have a knowledge at their disposal; that you are a professional. We should have the same respect as a doctor has.

I think we are cursed with the do-it-yourself magazines, which is the curse of Western America. I think the home should express the way a person lives, but I think erickson-filberg-house_wcapthat the creativity which goes into making furniture and things like that, is the wrong way. You should walk into a home and say: this home has character. It represents an attitude toward life that these people have made in it. But not that this is a piece of furniture that the owner made himself — and he is not really a carpenter. This, unfortunately to me, is common to the West Coast. It is all through California right up to here. Not on the East Coast. And I think that this again might be partially due to the wave of settlement across the continent. The people who came to the West Coast were not professionals. They stayed in Quebec, in Montreal, in Toronto, if you will. You didn’t find architects immigrating out here in the very beginning. The people who were here had to solve their problems. The do-it-yourself person is the pioneer. He had to do it himself. Therefore I think we have the values of the pioneer because the arts were late in coming across the continent — painting and music are still a little suspect. The painter isn’t considered as important as the plumber. In Mexico, the painter is an extremely important person and often a Mexican would forego
plumbing to have a painting.

Interviewer: Jessup says we are still in our adolescence.

AE: Don’t forget that sometimes when there are signs of youth there is also disintegration of old age. I am afraid — and this is common to North America and more specifically in the West — that the important things are given the most unimportant places. The fact that the houses are heated and that the plumbing works and the roof doesn’t leak is the most important thing in our lives. But to some people there are other things much more important than these things.

Interviewer: But can you marry aesthetics with the necessaries — like a roof which will keep out three inches of rain such as we had last night?

AE: It is a confusion of fundamentals. The Sicilian would consider certainly that the roof being watertight was essential — but just as important is the place of his native image. It is not something he brings in afterwards to decorate the house. Unfortunately, what happens is that most of the arts including architecture are thought of as decoration. It is not thought of as absolutely fundamental.

Interviewer: In some ways, architecture is thought of as luxury?

AE: Yes, and this is a completely ass-backwards situation.

Interviewer: Now . . . does all this apply to office buildings and plants?

AE: Certainly, because . . . Mind you architects suffer here from lack of training and experience and challenge that creates good architecture. There is a more competitive situation in the East. Certainly they have a much greater sense of becoming better architects. There just isn’t the challenge here in this respect. But whatever it is, factory or office building, you are providing an environment of some kind. I feel this is the most important thing in our lives. We are so influenced by our environment, so conditioned by it, and we are always creating it.

Look at San Francisco which is a much older city than ours. The strongest thing is a pattern of thought, a pattern of acting, a way of thinking, what you have is very difficult to spell out. For instance, I am very conscious when I go east of how different my thinking is from theirs.

Interviewer: What is the reaction of the people listening?

AE: Very responsive, but I find also that they, with their experience, consider things more carefully — that I would perhaps be impatient of a problem, but I am sure that I see the problem freshly and that my ideas are valid. Therefore the response to them is good. I also find that there too is a lack of courage, but it comes from not being able to see a problem freshly — almost being burdened.

Interviewer: You mean they are seeing things in a more limestone-fronted manner?

AE: In modern terms.

Next page: “Are you angry?”

Arthur Erickson: The Lost Interview (Part 2)


Continued from page 1

Interviewer: Are you angry?

AE: Consistently.

Interviewer: Is there a pride in the city?

AE: No . . . I don’t think people take pride in this city. I think this is one of the reasons people don’t give money to the city or to the university beyond a token few, who do more than their share.

Interviewer: Do you think that people live here purely because of the easier climate, being more or less opportunists — not putting anything back into the city?

AE: Yes. I think this still persists.

Interviewer: Is this then a reason for a sense of moral laxity in politics, a sense of letting things slide by just because we haven’t much interest and are only using the place to live nicely?

AE: Yes. And I think this is the reason why we can’t have a well-run Grey Cup parade without hoodlums and that sort of thing — because if you have a shoddy place it is treated shabbily and if you have a good-looking place it is treated well. This has been proven time and time again.

Interviewer: There was a news story on that. There were one-hundred thousand people who attended the Rose Bowl Parade, New Year’s Day, in Pasadena. They milled all over the downtown for two nights. The police reported not one case of hoodlumism.

AE: People expect something that is beautiful. For instance, you don’t have a defacement of Stanley Park.

Interviewer: What are some of the problems of building in B.C.?

AE: Unskilled labour. You just can’t get skilled labour to do anything. I don’t think there is a climatic problem whatsoever. But I think there is in aesthetic terms. The main problem is light. Natural light. With the overcast skies. It has not been answered in architectural terms. It needs a rich profile and this has not been answered. And also, we need to get light into our buildings, both light and shadow. It is a drab, depressing light. The main problem is to use the rain, and take advantage of it as is done in Japan. Japanese architecture makes the rain beautiful. But no one else’s solution is adequate for this. An architect always imagines his building in sunlight and casting shadows, but here there aren’t strong shadows, no highlights. In a sunny climate you are dealing with a white ground and a dark sky. erickson-law-courts_wcapIt is the reverse here. You have a dark ground and a white sky. This means you see things in silhouette, without highlight, and psychologically it can be unpleasant. One is in a dark area and the light is above as at sunset — a melancholy feeling. This is the situation we live in most of the time. Somehow we have to overcome this. Somehow we have to replace it not with lamps and artificial sunlight. The problem is to try to live with it. The Filberg House was the one where I did try to experiment with the problem of light.

The most important thing is the creation of harmony. The role of the architect is to bring the human into harmony with the environment. You have to work with the idea of harmony right from the beginning. If you have a depressing outlook, sky, etc. how do you make this pleasant. This is a very real thing we have to do. How to let one enjoy this landscape. I think B.C. is one of the blackest places on earth. Black trees. Black mountains. The minute you go to California, they are not black. The redwoods are bright green. Other countries are a different green entirely. Black-grey and black-green — how to make one see the softness and subtlety of the colour. I remember when I flew back from Japan — Japan makes you very conscious of colour, because it never uses colour — they use it only for festivals and things like that — and somehow you become conscious of all the subtle gradations in colours. In a garden, there will be no flowers and you see all the differences of green and how they have been used. Very often in their gardens they cut them off because it is jarring. The flowers they treat as a kind of festival event. For instance, they will have in a garden, which is all green, one pool of iris which come out only once a year. Or perhaps an area of cherry trees which are out once a year. Everything is kept in harmony. And I noticed when I returned here and I was flying over the country, it was a beautiful day of sunlight — and then for a week afterwards when I was driving up-Island, how brilliant the greens are in Japan and what a rich and splendid variety they have of greens in their foliage and how very different our greens are. But how beautiful they were in a different way, in a soft way. They are all greyed here. Everything is greyed.

Now, if we could build so that people began to see these lights and colours and the softness of them, and understand their own response to them, they would realize the marvels of the environment we live in. This question of environment . . . people hate to walk out of doors and be spat on by rain. It is a kind of affront. I think there is an antagonism to the environment. I know a psychiatrist who felt in B.C. that there was a real, deep-seated hate of nature and therefore we treat it violently in the way we clear and the way we build. We go out of our way not to create this harmony.

The Indian village is a wonderful example of adaptation to an environment. Their livelihood came from the sea and the forest. They had plenty to eat and therefore didn’t have to organize into any greater cultural unit than the village. The village was placed on the dividing line between the forest and the sea. Nothing was done to the forest. They built along the beach. The village was strung in perfect juxtaposition between these two environments which gave them their livelihood. This is harmonious positioning in the strongest sense. The beach gave a shape to the village. On it they built their magnificent houses . . . I must say the Haida House at UBC is the one great piece of architecture in B.C. A copy built by Bill Reid. It erickson-museum-of-anthropology_interior1has everything that great architecture has — that is, it takes common material at hand and fuses it with spirit and uses it with skill and inspires you. How simple the idea of the house is . . . the size of the great timbers and how beautifully they are put together. Then, for the special things, because they were involved with the animals and fish, the other animate creatures become deified. They decorated the poles with these, and the pole was nothing but a cedar tree raised on the beach. It stood just as a cedar tree against the backdrop of cedars, but painted in the colours that they saw on the backs of the sea ducks or the whales — the dark browns, the brilliant whites. The cedar tree decorated this way was a harmonizing of the forest and the sea. Everything that was in the forest, everything that was in the sea, became part of the village. This was a primitive village and a simple society — but our job of much greater complexity is eventually to do this.

We have to come to terms with our environment. In the meantime we are destroying it. We have no respect for it. And this is the tragic thing. The fact that we are creating parking lots in Stanley Park when really what we should be doing is taking the cars out altogether and using some kind of public transport or horse and buggy and not allowing people to drive through — letting it become more primitive.

I think the climate has a tremendous influence on our minds. You can almost pinpoint the different characteristics of the peoples of the world by the kind of climate they live in and I find I respond very quickly to a climate change. My whole attitude changes. I remember when I was in Syria in the desert, finding that this whole country was so completely different and I changed. I became conscious of attitudes within me I never knew before. I became suddenly more sensitive to my senses there — odours, colours, stimulated my senses. Here there is the smell of wetness and it is hard to differentiate between odours. And this is the same in Japan. The main odour in Japan is sour — almost like sewage, but not quite the same. In the desert you begin to see forms very clearly and your mind becomes sharper to form. The sunlight plays on shapes and you become more conscious of form. There is a more heightened sense of life. It is more stimulating and it is celebrated. Here the greyness penetrates right through our lives. The people are rather lethargic, spiritless. But where there is a lack of spirit, there is a great sense of poetry. In painting, architecture and literature the poetic sense is stronger. The forms and structures are not as important as the moods and the poetic inference of the forms.

Next page: “What do you think of the women in Vancouver?”

Arthur Erickson: The Lost Interview (Part 3)


Continued from page 2

Interviewer: What do you think of the women in Vancouver?

AE: They are rather fashionless. I don’t think they take advantage of their beauty. I think in general they are handsome, but they look dowdy and ill-kempt as though they just got out of bed. The men appear to lack adventure in their minds. I think people here are indifferent to morality. It is a very amoral place and it is a kind of climate that sponsors amorality and [in reaction to this, on the other side,] you have a lot of prudishness. People here are easygoing. Very casual. Very lax in maintaining social responsibilities. Their arthur-erickson-colorfriendships are not deep but they are very friendly. The Swedish people are the same. In the winter they hibernate. I think the same thing happens here.

Interviewer: That is a summation of your students?

AE: I find the same thing.


AE: (speaking of civic pride) I think there is an artificial pride here. People are proud of their mountains, proud of the site and certainly this is the most beautiful site of any city besides Rio. You can’t really be proud of something that nature has done, you have to be proud of what you have done and we have not done justice yet. I intend to stay because the potential is fantastic and because there are so few places left in the world with this emergent aspect.

Interviewer: What do you see in Simon Fraser [University]?

AE: We haven’t had time to develop the initial ideas. We were thrown almost from a cartoon into working drawings without going into a lot of soul-searching as to how this should evolve. Therefore I think we lost a lot. We haven’t had time for the refinement, the development. It is a monumental scheme. It is going to be the one monumental thing that people in Vancouver will see. They have never seen anything like it and probably never will again. It will have great spaces which I felt were important — in scale to the landscape and the site. It will unfortunately be rough, brutal, and I feel that it is better to be rough and brutal in the materials and in the way it is built, rather than to pretend refinements, when there hasn’t been time to apply these. It will be as I think architecture should be in this city — down to earth, rank, open, no nonsense, applying itself with as much harmony as possible to its setting and to the climate and within itself and also something that takes the human out of his ordinary, human fire-side existence. Ennobles him, lifts him.

The Muldoon and The Oliphant

By Alison@Creekside

“The time has come,” the Oliphant said,
“To talk of many things:
Of envelopes stuffed with wads of cash
And if they came with strings –
Perhaps you only beat the rap
Because the pigs were schwings*.”

“But wait a bit,” the Muldoon cried,
“Before we have our chat;
I have complaints to make,” he said,
“Regarding Steve the Fat.”
“No Hurry,” said the Oliphant,
“There’s always time for that…

“But was that ‘pasta’ money used
To give Joe Clark the axe?
Is turning noodles into LAVs
A job for party hacks?
Did you stash that $300,000
To avoid a fulsome tax?”

“O weep for me,” the Muldoon said:
“For all of it is lies.”
With sobs and tears he socked away
His two million dollar prize,
And held his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

* “After years of investigating Mulroney, the RCMP never found out about his job with Schreiber or the now infamous cash payments. However, the Mounties did chauffeur Mulroney to the hotel at Mirabel Airport where he picked up the first batch of thousand dollar bills.”
Additionally the Canadian public had to fork over $2.1-mil to stem the flood of tears.