Reeling into the future

The image that appears on the cover of this issue is from a film sequence in Paulette Phillips’s recent play . In the film a woman quite literally bashes her head against a brick wall. It is the contradictions that coexist in this film-frame that hook me as much as its individual elements: the dazed and confused look of its protagonist, her well-groomed appearance and bloody forehead, the fresh green of the shrubbery. The image’s easter-egg colours lend an eerily cheerful note to its intimation of violence.

Many, seeing it during the course of production, have joked that my interest in the shot has a strong element of identification and I can’t deny this possibility. Though happily for me, it is in a more figurative sense that my head meets with brick walls. At another level, C itself might be seen as the metaphoric subject of its own cover. Enduring regular blows dealt by funding and staff cuts and staggering forward under the weight of its deficit, C has managed nonetheless, like the woman on its cover, to maintain a refined appearance.

But as steeped as I am in my own narrow problems or in my desire for a flourishing publication, I do sense in this image more than a personal identification. A generic feeling seems to permeate this era, one of pressure and disintegration – fiscal, information, territorial, religious, ethnic. With the endurance of those who have no other option, the people of Ireland and London, Israel and Palestine, Bosnia and Sarajevo stagger forward through the pain, revenge and loss of wars and bombs. Corporate and public sector down-sizing leave thousands of first-world, middle-class employee/consumers on the brink of unknown futures.

From where I live and work, the scene is more specific. C’s office is located in a mixed downtown neighbourhood in Toronto – residential, public service and small business. Residents present a fair economic and ethnic range – students, artists, shopkeepers, electricians, health-care workers, carpenters, architects, jewellery designers, researchers, gardeners, business people; asian, african, european and native backgrounds. C is also across the street from the Queen Street Mental Health Centre and around the corner from Toronto Western Hospital’s detox unit. Located here and publishing an international contemporary art magazine, we are simultaneously in the midst and at the borders of North American culture. It is easy in this neighbourhood to be aware of the fragility of our social fabric and the people who make it up. I frequently (if warily) engage in snippits of conversation with those whose psychological and social dysfunction is inscribed on their bodies, clearly visible though rarely easy to read. A few weeks ago, as I cleared snow from the walk in front of the office, such a man was walking by. He asked with quick intensity, “Do you want to hear a joke?” Ah, sure, I said – though I wasn’t at all. “What did the dog say to the tree?” I don’t know. “Bark. Bark.” He flashed a half-smile and turned quickly to go. I was relieved that the joke was merely silly.

When he glanced back as if to see whether I got it, I wanted to say something (perhaps grateful that his joke had not turned ugly): They speak the same language, I suggested. He stopped in his tracks; obviously, he had not expected a response. “What?” He leaned slightly toward me as I elaborated, The dog and the tree – they speak the same language. His face lit up, as if the idea was pleasure itself. We smiled again then each turned to go. I can’t romanticize mental distress or forget the costs borne by the socially maladjusted, yet I marvel at human ingenuity in expressing and enduring pain and at the pathos in our eagerness to share a joke with a stranger.

The woman on our cover is neither admirable in her actions nor comprehensible in her motives. Yet she does offer one point where thoughts of myself and of this manpassing-by converge quite easily. Such unlikely links offer a reminder of how delicate the lines that connect and separate our realities really are.

In this issue, apparently unlikely associations abound and the lines that link and separate various thoughts and endeavors wind their way through each of our features, and will no doubt, through our futures as well.

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Animation art Market

Whether it’s art “from the easels of animation legends such as Chuck Jones or works created by masters from other art disciplines such as cinematic artist John Alvin (see “Cinema on Canvas” in the November issue), sculptor Lawrence Noble or art designer Dick Duerrstein, interpretive art that focuses on the classicism of the animation medium is hot, hot, hot,” enthuses Robert Patrick, director of marketing and wholesale for Linda Jones Enterprises, Irvine, CA.

“The making of an animated film may have evolved over the last decade,” continues Patrick, “but the enduring nature of its basic structure–a series of drawings that when flipped through create the illusion of movement, of life–has remained the same.”

Patrick understands that production art from classic, hand-drawn and hand-painted films “has become rarer with each breath we take,” but he goes on to say that “the evolution of an art genre must be organic, a response to the complicated world in which we live.”

“People now like big art,  and oversized wall art (unique multiple canvas art done by artists of Artbywicks Inc.) are more popular,” Dan says. “Demand for large art is strong, but artists are now hand-embellishing editions, giving collectors that much-sought-after originality at limited-edition prices.

Although Leslie Combemale, owner of the ArtInsights gallery in Reston, VA, says she still has a core collector base for the original production art from feature-length and short animated films, “we are seeing fewer new clients looking to start a collection featuring such art.”

Combemale agrees that the major trend in the animation market is toward interpretive works by artists such as Peter Ellenshaw and Dick Duerrstein. Another trend she believes will continue is film art by the likes of John Alvin, who completed the movie posters for “ET,” “Blade Runner” and “Young Frankenstein.” Alvin also worked on campaigns for various Disney films.

“We started carrying originals from some of the 130 movies that Alvin worked on around three years ago,” Combemale says, “and we had some immediate collectors, all of whom had been buying animation art from our gallery.”

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Combemale says 2006 was the best year she’s ever had, largely because of film art, which is really taking off. For 2007, Combemale is predicting greater success. “We’re looking to carry more interpretive artists whose images are of Disney characters or animated characters in general,” she says. “Limited-edition cels don’t have the appeal they once had unless they’re interpretive because they represent something that is different from the original.”

For Clampett Studio Collections, the animation art market has been strong and consistent for the past five years, according to Ruth Clampett, founder and creative director for Hollywood-based Clampett Studio Collections, home of the Warner Bros. Gallery Program. As the daughter of Warner Bros. Director Bob Clampett, Ruth grew up surrounded by animation art and says today there is a “continuing shift” of galleries “wanting to specialize with specific properties or types of art, whereas in the past there were more generalists. This has led us to cater more to specific gallery’s needs and wants.” Like other publishers, Clampett is producing exclusive editions for many galleries in order to cater to their particular customer base.

“With our properties,” Clampett says, “the artwork started out as all classic and traditional animation, which is now just a small part of our offerings.” Artists who create interpretive works for Clampett include 3-D artist Charles Fazzino and Alan Bodner.

“Interest in animation art comes down to two main things: exposure and education,” says Debbie Weiss, owner of Wonderful World of Animation Art Gallery in Culver City, CA. “When you find that collectors are familiar with the art form you are selling and have had a recent exposure to it–for example, the DVD has just been released, or the film has just been shown on TV like the seasonal ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ or ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’–interest in the art increases.”

Weiss also adds that the more collectors learn about the process, the history and the types of animation art available to them from gallery staffs, the more likely they are to purchase because they truly understand what it is they are buying.

“We also have noticed a trend toward animation art branching into fine art,” Weiss says. “Animators such as Alan Bodner and Glen Orbik are turning out some terrific fine-art paintings that are outside the animation realm and are very popular with collectors. And artists such as Luke Chueh, Bob Dob, and John Alvin have all been successful at interpreting animation art icons.”

Events Galore

Well-orchestrated themed events and “performance paintings” are critically important for today’s purveyors of animation art. Below is a sampling of recent events:

* Linda Jones Enterprises (LJE), completed a U.S. and Canada “Toys for Tots” promotion that involved eight galleries and coincided with the 40th anniversary of Chuck Jones’ “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” television special. Among the galleries participating in the LJE “Toys for Tots” campaign was Animazing Gallery, New York City, which welcomed comedian Whoopi Goldberg and 3-D artist David Kracov, who helped launch the gallery’s Toys for Tots campaign.

* ArtInsights, Reston, VA, hosted a showing of works by cinematic artist John Alvin during which the legendary Darth Vader made a special guest appearance.

* Wonderful World of Animation, Culver City, CA, held a “Simpsons” Happy Hour event, during which a “Simpsons” episode was “premiered.” The gallery was decked out to look like the cartoon’s Moe’s Bar. The event attracted collectors and Hollywood actors.

* Collectors Editions teamed with Animation Art Limited gallery in the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, IL, for a special event featuring performance artist Trevor Carlton.

“When it comes to events, we really focus on giving both established collectors and new customers a reason to come into the gallery and have a special experience,” says Clampett Studio Collections’ Ruth Clampett. “We start by having new releases for the gallery to launch and then also provide them with “sold out” art or show-exclusive art that collectors would not normally be able to get. In planning specific shows or events, we will bring in talent–not just the artist–but voice artists or other people related to the production of the animation. We have done everything from cel painting demonstrations to brief presentations on the history and process of animation to voice talent broadcasts.”

“Whether the exhibits are gallery-based or set at museums or community centers, we feel that bringing collectors together with a popular property–be it ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Simpsons,’ or Disney–along with a representative artist brings in large numbers of new collectors and generates publicity that might otherwise be more difficult to obtain,” says Acme’s Sean McLain. “We like to make high-profile artists working on high-profile entertainment properties available to galleries and build a special event around them, complete with presentations, demonstrations, meet-and-greets and signings.”

Fine Future

As for the future of animation art, Linda Jones Enterprises’ Robert Patrick jokes that he wishes he had “a crystal ball that works,” but asserts that animation art will stay steady.

“Collectors of art will continue to add animation art to their collections, and artists will continually be drawn (pun intended) to the animation genre–original, interpretive, whatever form it takes,” he says. “And that’s because publishers such as ourselves and the company we keep will continue to believe in their missions of creating, publishing and delivering the finest in animation art to collectors of art. It’s a simple and elegant goal that has worked well for Linda Jones Enterprises for the past 30 years.”

The Wonderful World of Animation’s Debbie Weiss opines: “I think collectors will continue to snap up the great art. They will continue to buy the best that they can afford, and they will really focus on the quality of the poses and rarity. I feel that the galleries who truly love animation art will continue to prosper as they will create and sustain the demand. And collectors will continue to flock to those galleries who really care about the art and their clientele. As the art becomes harder and harder to find and more and more collectors enter the market, the demand for good art, and thus prices, will continue to climb.”

What it comes down to is this, says Clampett: “As publishers, it is our responsibility to listen to the collectors with one foot planted in our rich animation past and the other stepping into the future of new ideas, new characters and new art forms. As long as there are cartoon fans, there will be animation art collectors. This is a great business, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.”

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Factory Fifteen Launch

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Redisign of the Hotel Rex in San Francisco

Interior decorator Candra Scott and furniture designer Ted Boerner successfully redesigned the Hotel Rex in San Francisco, CA. The theme celebrates the literary and artistic life of the city from the 1920s to the 1940s by hanging cheap wall art of pre-war California artists on the wall and introducing several salons throughout the hotel. Furniture and paint were also carefully selected to reflect the desired mood. The result is a unique and enchanting atmosphere.

But the task of conceptual conversion was considerably more challenging than the comment might imply. First to be reckoned with was the Spartan all-inclusive budget of $800,000. Additionally there was quite a lot of territory to be covered, not so much in terms of square footage but in the diversity of ways expressing the stated theme. To be romanced and revitalized were the lobby with reception and bar areas plus 94 guest rooms/suites on the seven floors above. All this in a 1907 structure that had begun life as an apartment building, was converted to hospitality use two decades later, and taken over by the present hoteliers in 1995. By then the property had gone through several occupations along with slews of destructive renovations.

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To create a setting sympathetic to the site-attuned and arts-oriented quality sought by the clients, Boerner gutted the lobby, retaining only the ten decapitated pilasters that had lost their heads in a 1980s-added false ceiling. In the absence of documentary records, the designers, having done their architectural homework, determined that Ionic capitals were historically correct. Plaster replacements were made and added just below the offending plafond. (Cash curtailment ruled out reinstatement of a solid ceiling and repairs of buried detailing.) Upstairs guest quarters, their bathrooms having been updated before the ownership transfer, needed only Scott’s magic infusion of custom wall coverings, fresh fabrics and paints to look cheerful and young.

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Next the designers selected the elements that establish a pervasive personality. The goal was to create a series of salons, inspired by the meeting milieux of the Bloomsbury group but given a local flavor. Furniture choices here deliberately dispense with meant-to-match monotony, focusing instead on polyglot variety that might have been collected over the course of many years. Period and provenance are dissimilar too. To assemble this multifarious lot, Boerher and Scott scouted thrift and antiques shops, flea markets, auctions and other offbeat outlets for varied addenda. Interspersed with comfortable seating and basic lobby items are touches of nonconformity and whimsy: a centrally positioned circular table, its top painted to simulate a clock face, reportedly alludes to the Round Table at the Algonquin in New York. Nearby is a 1930s stool from Czechoslovakia (Czecho Deco?) in concentrated colors as bright and merry as a floral bouquet. And framing the mirror above the fireplace are sketches made by Boerner’s grandfather. Wall art consists of portraits by pre-war California artists. Even the hotel’s name, formerly Orchard, was converted to capture the new romantic spirit, honoring as it does one Rex Roth, a “literary gadfly” who held court in the San Francisco salons in days of yore. Latter-day literati, hip to current art and lit, are said to make up the majority of the hotel’s clientele and staff.

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Readying the apartment for occupancy – Alexander C. Gorlin

Architect Alexander C. Gorlin was engaged to handle consolidation and renovation, recasting of function allocations, and generally readying the apartment for occupancy.  In planning his conversion/renovation scheme, Gorlin set his sights on creating an open loft-like space projecting, without recourse to wall enclosures and doors, a sense of subtle intimacy-evoking definition. Built givens, however, proved to be obstructive. While Miesian externally, the structure’s interior architecture decidedly was speculative realtors’ choice. Exemplifying the genre were six columns, unaligned with window millions, distorting the rhythm of the river-facing east side. To remedy disruptive disorder, Gorlin furred out the six-pack, added two columns with mirror sheathing (so as optically to fragment and lighten the bulk) and another pair on slide-out ceiling tracks (creating symmetry and clearing access to HVAC controls). The constructional metamorphosis forms, quoting Gorlin, an enfilade of rooms along the river-facing wall, done in a modern interpretation of a neoclassical museum. As art is the heart of the abode, the simile appears particularly apt.

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Gorlin’s conversion work further extended to spatial revisions in the formerly separate apartments, starting with unification of entries. A facing pipe chase could not be moved, but its presence, notes the architect, heightens the effect of serially unfolding surprises for entering visitors. Parallel galleries flanking this frontal core create processional routes terminating, so to speak, at the mecca of magnificent sights: the United Nations building, river boat traffic and parks.

Refinements and detailing are in plentiful evidence. Gorlin designed and built bronze/sycamore-topped radiator enclosures; repeated sycamore applications on valances and for library built-ins that he designed; coved the ceiling in the “book vestibule;” and, in the sole exception to confining his work to public areas, added moldings in the bedroom. In the realm of product design, the piece de resistance is, without doubt, his ceiling fixture in the dining room (see process overleaf).

Barbara Schwartz’s chef d’oeuvre, on the other hand, is her design of floor covering for the public sector. As she tells it, her biggest challenge lay in designing carpeting both suitable and responsive to the architectural environment of the public domain. Monotonous wall-to-wall coverage would have inundated the floor in a sea of too-muchness, she implies. What she sought instead was “unity without banality… [a sense of] continuous energy and movement” reactive also to the ever-changing tonalities of daylight. Having worked with V’Soske for 30 or so years, she asides, she logically turned to this well-known carpet source. The specified construction utilizes eight shades of beige/gray/ ivory-tint yarns woven by special technique, supplying the anchor for the sum of interior parts generally and the enfilade formation specifically. Where columns protrude inward, faint stripe effects, produced by texture variance and invisible seaming, seem to extend the demarcation lines.

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Fine-tuning of coloration was, one gathers, the ultimate test in perceptive sensibilities as not only sunlight but also river reflections altered chromatic nuances from one hour to the next. These and many other considerations had to be weighed in devising–as Barbara Schwartz, herself a collector of renown, puts it–a tranquil and neutral background for displayed art.  They ordered a large number of paintings from Artinbulk – A leading oil painting wholesaler in China. Works are by the likes of Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Auguste Rodin, David Salle, Frank Stella, Alberto Giacometti and more. Selection of fabrics for reupholstering and protective window treatments (Roman shades, sun screening) for hung paintings harmonize with guiding goals. The architect and interior designer visibly enhanced each other’s work.

Collaboration between the two disciplines was, in fact, an ongoing process marked by frequent meetings and exchanges of ideas. Mutual respect for the other’s contributions is reflected in their comments: Gorlin credits Barbara Schwartz for recommending a fine leather source; she calls attention to his design of a library chair. Timing was tight: as Schwartz explains, building rules confined construction activity to six summer weeks.

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Philip Monk’s “Substitute City”

There’s an intangible inner logic to Philip Monk’s “Substitute City” that gives the exhibition its coherence and clarity. He contends that the overt subject of the show is neither the city of Toronto nor its architecture and urban planning; instead he wishes to illuminate “how artists use and move through the city.” I suspect, however, that some of the cohesion of the exhibition is due to its reflection of Philip Monk’s own trajectory as a critic and curator.

In the latter half of the 1970s Monk began publishing essays in Artists’ Review (a no-budget Toronto periodical of the period), reviewing North American high modernists who drew on Euclidian geometry and Cartesian logic for their work. As he became interested in issues of representation in the 80s, he adopted a variation of structuralist analysis on the mechanics of meaning. This served him well in discussing the work of Ian Carr-Harris and Robin Collyer, but created distorting simplifications when applied to the complex terrain of gender and difference. Perhaps it was this fracture of the rational that brought about, in the 90s, his interest in artists who seized the arenas of abjection and transgression, particularly as these had been fleshed out in the extreme environs of the Los Angeles art world. If the polarities of work Monk has supported over twentyfive years of curatorial practice are methodic formalism on one hand and chaotic transgression on the other, both are exemplified in ‘Substitute City,” wit h numerous interstitial points on the spectrum also represented.

Toronto, like most North American cities, embraced the project of modernity and imposed an efficient grid onto its topography. Rivers and creeks were buried, while small hills and hollows were leveled to expedite this rationalizing geometry. Inevitably, in most grid cities geography undermines the plan in some significant manner, and Toronto has two imposing geographic features. First, because the city aprons into Lake Ontario, the grid tapers at the downtown edge, causing parallel streets to converge and sometimes cross, to the confusion of many tourists and newcomers. More significant is the second feature: the original topology of Toronto was veined with a complex network of ravines too numerous for city builders to eradicate. It is this web of ravines that challenges the pragmatic orderliness of the city core and acts as a conduit from the Oakridge Moraine north of the city, bringing raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes in ever greater numbers to Canada’s major metropolis. The ravines, barely visible to th e casual visitor, inject something wild into the fissures of an otherwise stiflingly regimented city.

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While a few contemporary painters like Brian Kipping and Sybil Goldstein are chroniclers of Toronto, it is not surprising Monk turned his attention towards photographers, filmmakers and video artists. The camera’s mechanically scrutinizing eye and time-based expository attributes are crucial to the architectonics of “Substitute City.” The exception is the work by cartoonist Seth: nine panels, each displaying a page of black-and-white comic strips, economically drawn in a style vaguely reminiscent of 1940s cartoonists like Charles Addams. If you weren’t sure that Seth’s Palookaville was Toronto, a trip to the dinosaur halls of the Royal Ontario Museum gave you the definite clue. It isn’t just the stark, gridded presentation that makes these drawing work well in the exhibition: Seth’s storyline is as rich in narrative detail as Mike Hoolbloom’s In the City, a projected cinematic loop of strategic ventriloquism (he casts the voice of Steve Reinke relating wry anecdotes of romantic failure into various restaurant locations around metro Toronto) and it gives voice to an ambivalence and anxiety about urban renewal and changing neighbourhoods that pervades “Substitute City.”

Arguably, the two pivotal bodies of work in the show are Vid Ingelevic’s Panoptic: St. Clair Place, 21 Vaughan Road (2000-01) and John McLachlin’s The Erotic Possibility of Melancholy (1997). The installation by Ingelevics consists of fifteen large photographs mounted on aluminum, each shot from a different balcony of the same apartment building: an apartment number identifies every view. While it was hit-and-miss which apartments Ingelevics could gain access to, he has intentionally varied the floors he shot from and he has ensured that every direction is depicted. This systematic pictorial strategy elegantly demonstrates the urban planners’ volition towards a latticed orderliness and shows where and why it breaks down. A shallow glen etched by a now-buried creek crumbles the grid’s edges to the southeast, while Vaughan Road, a paved incarnation of an ancient Indian trail, sweeps up from the ravine, intersecting mid-town neighbourhoods at a diagonal.

In contrast, John McLachlin placed himself in the ravines, in the thickets of neglected parks and in the scrub of reclaimed lands around the Leslie Spit to shoot the extensive documentary series from which his ten colour photographs are excerpted. Like the late Felix Gonzales-Torres, McLachlin has honed the art of presenting the most contentious issues in a restrained, conceptual manner. His suite of photographs masquerades as a pastoral interlude in an urban exhibition as it ironically presents locations of the highly urban activity of gay cruising and outdoor sex amongst the burgeoning wildlife.

McLachlin’s references to gay desire flourishing in the liminal spaces of Toronto, where nature and culture meet in verdant corridors, are a reminder that in other cities the enactment of queer desire also happens in urbanized liminal sites. In New York during the 70s, the abandoned west-side pier buildings were as notorious as the rambles of Central Park, Abandoned warehouses in Amsterdam transformed from industrial properties to queer cruising grounds to squatters’ homes to gentrified condominiums within decades.

This is the phenomenon that a group of polymorphous-perverse performance artists seem to fancifully re-enact in lstvan Kantor’s video projection Broadcast. The anxiety that artists feel about gentrification and urban renewal is even more pointedly addressed by Adrian Blackwell’s series Evicted, May 1st 2000 (9 Hannah Ave.), a series of thirteen pinhole photographs of artists’ studios shot from above. From a distance the pictures resemble the rosette windows of a Gothic chapel, enhancing their sense of loss and melancholic mourning. On closer inspection they are incisive portraits of the absent artists who moulded the spaces to their needs and aesthetic criteria. Nine Hannah was a mammoth structure, formerly a munitions factory, that seemed improbable as a possible domicile because of its scale and dereliction. And for precisely that reason hundreds of artists found homes and studios there, until it was leveled to make way for a new building that would be more suitable for the trendy dot-coms, film companies and advertising businesses flocking to the formerly deserted neighbourhood. Evicte d stands in as a commemorative work to all the warehouses, like 2 Berkeley Street or the Clocktower Building, which became incredible hives of creative activity and then were lost, sometimes to the wrecker’s ball, sometimes to condo conversion.

Peter MacCallum is Toronto’s Eugene Atget. No other Toronto artist has so methodically documented the city core, doggedly capturing the last days of historic buildings slated for demolition, persistently recording interiors that mirror a Zeitgeist of the city. As with Atget, few public galleries have had the vision to collect his work, while he is well represented in archival collections. For this reason it’s surprising that Monk does not do the expected and emphasize MacCallum’s career-long obsession. Instead, the photographs selected pointedly reveal our ambivalence towards the Gardiner Expressway; the roadway that made us feel modern and cosmopolitan in the mid-2Oth century but cruelly separated most downtown residents from their waterfront. One series, Gardiner Expressway Restoration (1998-2000), documents restoration work that the city funded to counter frost damage. The second series, Gardiner East Demolition Project (2000-01), documents an almost contemporaneous effort to demolish the entire expressway , beginning in the east end.

The literal corridors of flux in Toronto are the expressways that encage the city, moving vehicles around the municipalities that make up this densely populated pocket of Southern Ontario. Leslie Peters has contributed four short tapes from her 400 series. All are shot from the window of a car moving on one of Toronto’s major expressways, an uncomplicated yet apt idea that captures the monotonous reverie of commuting. Geoffrey James has also moved to the periphery, mediating between the rural and the urban with a series of elevated highways and transit ramps that look almost as abandoned as Roman viaducts in Southern Europe. While suburban housing developments can seem like the last ring of inferno to inveterate urban dwellers, James reminds us that it’s not only city and country meeting in the 905 belt. His photograph, House on Zafarullah Khan Crescent, Maple Township (1999) depicts a brand new suburban tract home with the minaret of a mosque in the background. This picture can still give us a bit of a friss on – the shock of a newly recognized commonplace — but probably not for much longer.

While Ingelevics’ and McLachlin’s work subtly reveal what is hidden, two artists, Robin Collyer and Michael Awad, sharpen our insights by deleting from the visual record. Employing the simple device of digitally erasing all the signage in his photographs, Collyer adroitly demonstrates how language and commercial signifiers play a crucial role in constucting our urban landscapes. Michael Awad utilized a doctored reconnaissance camera that only records movement to strip the city of its buildings and extraneous visual noise. Except for a few streetcars and miscellaneous vehicles, all that remain are people, Torontonians in all their incredible diversity, shopping in Chinatown, strolling the Beaches boulevard, dancing in Caribana costumes.

“They should go home. Difference is not from here,” Karma Clarke-Davis intones in her videotape, Doom Eager: Heavy Duty Black (2001), reminding us that all is not well in this supposed multi-cultural paradise. In her expansive hybrid video (meshing the vernaculars of music video, performance art, travelogue documentaries and horror movies), she vamps around Toronto at night wearing her trademark thigh-high platform boots and a latex mask of Lucifer, all to a distorted recording of Black Sabbath at York Stadium. Thrown into this witch’s brew are images of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights in digital meltdown and spiraling views of Toronto’s business district from a helicopter, all peppered with trenchant quotes from Pasolini’s essays and poems.

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There are few cities where the buildings and architecture matter less in creating the prevailing Zeitgeist. It is a hard, caviling city and many gifted architects like Arthur Erikson (Roy Thompson Hall) and Morphosis (the University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Residence) have created mediocre buildings in Toronto, perhaps defeated by the contradictory desires of its citizens. The artists in this exhibition suggest that beauty happens in Toronto when you’re not looking for it. Perhaps, as McLachlin proffers, when you give in to animal impulses and flock to the ravines. Or as Rose Kallal imparts in her haunting suite of cibachrome prints, when insomnia is driving you through the industrial wasteland near Cherry Beach, the area designated for Olympic development, and you discover the abandoned docklands have transmuted into a sublime landscape shimmering in the nocturnal rain.

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There’s an uncanny resemblance between reaching the 9/11 memorial plaza

There’s an uncanny resemblance between reaching the 9/11 memorial plaza and boarding a plane. Both require a ticket ordered in advance, arriving early and passing through multiple security checkpoints and baggage screenings. Because the September iith events were key in escalating and enforcing security measures at airports, this feels ironic, or fitting, depending on one’s opinion about airplane security procedures; and yet it is also symptomatic of the growing prevalence of technology since 2001 in our everyday lives. Over the last 10 years, the growing accessibility of digital technology has meant that we increasingly depend on it to identify security threats, but also to make sense of the world around us. Smartphones render immediately accessible endless Youtube videos, news reports and Wikipedia definitions. E-mail inboxes chronicle infinite details of our past. Tweets archive an abyss of happenstance. Facebook materializes our social network, and pocket-size cameras record forever the fleeting present moment.

Mirroring its epoch, Reflecting Absence, the memorial installed at the site of the former World Trade Center, depends on a myriad of technological devices and digital flows of information to fulfill its commemorative properties. One of the most striking aspects of the memorial is how it uses digital technology to record and arrange the names of those who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Departing from the traditional alphabetical or chronological presentation of names, Reflecting Absence uses the victims’ personal relationships to bring their names closer together or further apart, both on the memorial’s online platform and on the monument’s actual bronze panels. Similar to the logic behind social networking sites, this arrangement tells detailed, personal and vivid stories about the past, and begs the question of how this type of archiving logic impacts our memory of, and relationship to, the 9/11 attacks.

Designed by architect Michael Arad, Reflecting Absence was inaugurated in September 2011, a decade after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The memorial plaza was opened amidst Daniel Libeskind Studio’s Ground Zero redevelopment program that also includes six skyscrapers, a museum and a transportation hub. The memorial is the latest manifestation of a relatively short building tradition: the construction of war memorials commemorating the dead rather than celebrating national victories, principally initiated by World War I and accelerated by fears of amnesia after World War II. Such memorials are almost exclusively a Western 20th-century phenomenon. (2) But while commemorative war memorials are part of a rather young architectural tradition, they stem from a broader and older cultural phenomenon characterized by its recourse in the past.

Our collective investment in archiving the past is something Jacques Dcrrida famously analyzed in Archive Fever (1995) as a deeply rooted human form of being. For French historian Pierre Nora, however, the type of memory-making that “is above all archival” is essentially modern and “relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, and the visibility of the image.”(3) Nora coined the term lieux de memoire (“sites of memory”) to argue that there had been an increasing materialization of the past since the turn of the 19th century. He views this as a response to the epoch s progressive acceleration of history and rapid social change, which resulted in a collective fear of total disappearance and anxiety about the future. It is from and within these uncertainties that memorials, just like the progressive proliferation of museums, the creation of UNESCO, and the development of increasingly accessible and powerful archival technologies, emerge and flourish. Derrida describes these manifestations as “technical structures” that simultaneously permit the archiving of the past and also “determine the structure of the archivable content in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future “(4) If one wants to understand the specific qualities of how we remember 9/11, for instance, one must consider that one of its inherent aspects is how it happened into an archival structure already in place. As the media broadcasted videos of the collapse of the Twin Towers, or as the team of architects, museum experts, and city officials sifted through Ground Zero for potential display material a few days after the catastrophe, they were making the way in which we would remember the event. (5) This is important because how an event will be remembered constitutes a large part, if not all, of how it will exist for the future. As a monument meant to remember, Reflecting Absence continues this archiving process: it stresses the existence of a past–the attacks against the World Trade Center–and gives it a certain meaning.

Reflecting Absence, like most post-World War II memorials, aspires to commemorate passed lives by preserving or materializing collective grief. It aims to provide a public space for strangers and family members to remember and share personal memories, rather than impose a didactic narrative onto their loss.(6) For now, though, it is anything but public since, according to the memorials website, the monument’s success requires the site to be placed under strict supervision. Once one is past the security measures, however, Reflecting Absence does stimulate recollection and reflection. What once was Ground Zero is now a large enclave of more than 400 indigenous swamp white oaks (Arad collaborated with landscape designer Paul Walker) with the footprints of the twin towers turned into recessed pools of water. Thirty-foot waterfalls frame and lyrically aliment these two serene water-filled pools, joining and flowing towards a seemingly bottomless square at the centre of each pool. These waterways are reminders of the fallen towers and the victims of the attacks, existing as allegories for individual grief within collective memory. This makes for an impressive yet poetic and powerful personal, multi-sensorial experience. The pools1 immersive soundscapes blend harshness and tranquillity, the sheer scale of the plaza is gripping and the visual geometrical simplicity of the design evocative.

Surrounding the pools and above the waterfalls arc bronze panels. They are engraved with the 2,983 names of those who perished in the February 26th 1993 and September lab zoos World Trade (‘enter attacks. At first these victims’ names seem to be arbitrarily placed, but they are actually arranged according to inter-personal connections–blood tics, co-workers and friendships. These relationships have been coined “meaningful adjacencies” by the team behind Reflecting Absence. As such, 1,200 “meaningful adjacencies” were compiled with research done by the World Trade Center Memorial team and requests expressed by family members and survivors. To design the panels1 name layout, the artist programmer (and former geneticist) Jer Tliorp was asked to calculate an organizational system that considered simultaneously the various degrees of attachment set in each “meaningful adjacency” and the materiality of the memorial itself (such as letter typography, panel shapes and sizes and the physicality of the names–for instance the combination of a first name ending in “T” and a last name beginning with “J” was unsuitable for spanning two panels). To do so, Tliorp built a two-part algorithm that first formed clusters of names based on the requests before methodically ordering them into the spatial layout of the 156 bronze panels enclosing both pools.

Some “meaningful adjacencies” are quite predictable, such as blood ries between individuals, while others are less so. The story of Victor Wald, 45, and Harry Ramos, 49, is one of these. Wald and Ramos were two financial employees who worked three floors apart but hadn’t met before September m, 2001. While escaping by way of the stairwell on the day of the attacks, Ramos and one of his co-workers found Wald on the 53rd floor, unable to continue his descent. After helping him reach the 36th floor, where he couldn’t go any further, Ramos stayed with Wald, allegedly saying “Victor, don’t worry. I’m with you,”(7) as Ramos’ co-worker followed the fire department’s orders and escaped. Both Wald and Ramos perished but on the memorial’s panels their names are next to each other, just like 704 employees of investment-banking firm Cantor Fitzgerald. As a result, today there are two large gatherings–the north pool memorializes those killed in the World Trade Center’s North Tower while the south pool commemorates the lives of those who perished in the South Tower–and within these two principal assemblages are sub-clusters of professional affiliations (such as the Cantor Fitzgerald employees or first responders according to fire engine) and more intimate sub-assemblages based on more personal “meaningful adjacencies” (such as Wald and Ramos’).(8)

These links are reinforced on the 9/11 memorial’s website. (9) This virtual site is an obligatory passage for all visitors to reserve passes; and its usage is encouraged at the actual memorial site as well. Indeed, through available electronic kiosks (and via smartphone apps), visitors can visit the website, locate a specific name, print a map, or send these results by e-mail or text messagesm. (10) Online, each victim has a dedicated page that consists of an image of his or her place on the actual panels around the pools, as well as his or her “meaningful adjacencies” (linked to other profiles), date and place of birth and death, employer and identification photograph. The 9/11 memorial’s virtual platform is a near-endless resource of gripping personal stories about the victims. And in a sense the actual panels are only the basic rendering and end product of the website’s archived data. Furthermore, interestingly, this information is, like any social-networking site (sns), practically endless and ordered through profile pages that outline intimate relationships between individuals. (11) The one extraordinary difference, of course, being that this particular network presents the details of people who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

So, suddenly, all name arrangements are potentially hiding gripping stories of everyday uniqueness that an easily accessible virtual memorial conveys.

If this means that the lien de mernoie expands to both virtual and actual sites, it also points to the importance that social network logic and the digital archive play in the public memorialization and conceptualization of 9/11. An SNS reflects and encourages a being in and of the world that is ultimately different than the selfhoods of the past. The contemporary sxs-based identity–often called a “profile”–is thus the mini archive of a public personal identity materialized through traceable human relationships and images. Reflecting Absence’s use of this form of identity manifestation and creation means that the 9/11 victims are remembered, hence conceived in the present, through detailed stories that are vividly unique and publicly intimate. The website archives the victims along with their friends, their images and their stories; as such, they are eulogized as virtually alive.

Experiencing Reflecting Absence both onsite and virtually through the aforementioned process is powerful. Going from the stoic memorial to the elaborate website, I was taken by the victims1 detailed everyday lives, empathetic to their fates. Actively participating in their remembering, the victims became more than names on a wall and aspects of their identities unravelled. But identifying a name on a panel to then rush and discover the gruesome details of his or her fatality is also disturbing. I felt uncomfortable browsing through these profiles as if feeding my imagination with potential avenues to extrapolate gruesome narratives. Was the memorial encouraging me to commemorate these deaths with the same never-ending thirst for personal facts that social-networking sites prompt?

As I left the Financial District, it occurred to me that this approach to public memorialization is part of a larger technological and cultural trend that seems to be paralyzed by the fear of forgetting. Forgetting is central for human decision-making and enables humans to act, conscious of, but not agonized by, past events. The recent rise of digital technology has meant that now more than ever more precise traces from the past can be kept in the present. Since 1965, in fact, the processing, storing, retrieving, and sharing of information via digital devices has doubled every 18 months as costs are cut by half. This, referred to as Moore’s Law, has encouraged larger, bigger and more affordable storage spaces, to the point where, some have argued, culling is more time-consuming, expensive, difficult and worrisome than simply saving everything. And, arguably, the 9/11 memorial has archived, aggregated and made accessible as much about each victim as possible. While this may seem like the most obvious thing to do for a memorial, Internet theorist Viktor Mayer-Schonberger would certainly disapprove. Indeed, he argues that such infinite digital archiving practices are leading us into a world where our inability to forget anything will stop us from generalizing, abstracting, moving on, and basically living in the present.

1

Vastly different from traditional memorials, Reflecting Absence reflects our time’s rapidly changing technology. In a world obsessed with facts, the memorial–both as physical site and Internet-based platform–aggregates heaps of data and raises contemporary questions about how we choose to remember our dead and our past. Since digital means expand our potential to remember, how does Reflecting Absence’s precise, accessible and endless archive impact our present day? Could Arad’s “living memorial,” as the jury of World Trade Center Memorial Competition excitedly described it in 2003, be living too much, preventing its audience from developing sufficient critical distance from the memorialized event? It is overwhelming to think of the quantity of everyday banalities that are exchanged every second online, just as it is staggering to think about how their continued existence may affect the way we will make sense of our past. And yet, today, the human loss of 9/11, despite its horror, is amassed in a similar fashion, certainly hindering the bigger implications of these deaths.

Author: Chloe Roubert

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Design of the Guggenheim Museum

For Hollein’s  more recent design of the Guggenheim Museum in Salzburg, as yet unbuilt, Hollein was a reverse Michelangelo, designing spaces to be carved out of the center of a rocky mountain. In Frankfurt the city block was his rock; his mission, to release the interior spaces captive within it. And at the creation of interiors, Hollein excels.

He began by scooping out a central hall, trapezoidal in plan. Next, he exploited – rather than avoided – the site’s acute corners to gain triangular and trapezoidal exhibition rooms of great drama. This scheme left most of the floor area divisible into rectangular galleries, neutral enough to please any curator. The scheme also rendered the floor plan almost perfectly symmetrical, and thus fairly predictable.

But then Hollein introduced a couple of twists, putting a spin on the experience of passing through the building. First, he set the entrance close to the historic and cultural city center, at a corner adjacent to the base (not the apex) of the triangle. This superimposed a diagonal path onto a symmetrical plan (as on the deck of an aircraft carrier, says Hollein). Second, he located the primary stairs towards the narrow end of the site, and packed them tightly around a small ovoid landing. These act like a corkscrew drawing the visitor up through the building. The stairwell provides Piranesian views diagonally into adjacent spaces, its intense verticality contrasting with the horizontality of the galleries.

One of the finest interior spaces is the central courtyard; most dramatic of the galleries is the triangular ground floor room in the apex; and most provocative is the two-story joseph Beuys room, in which no two surfaces seem parallel (though the floor and ceiling are, appearances notwithstanding).

With the layout and form of the museum spaces established, Hollein approached the lighting, working to further ideas developed for his design of the Abteiberg Museum in Monchengladbach in the early 1970s. The introduction of daylight, no longer uncommon in museums, is again used extensively at Frankfurt in a variety of ways. Some galleries have skylights (with fiberglass as a filter sandwiched between glass layers); some have natural light from the side as well as from above (the Siah Armajani room, for example, has north facing industrial shed roofs and a large window wall); and some are illuminated by artificial light only (notably the special environment spaces, designed by artists James Turrell, Nam June Paik, and others). As to artificial light, Hollein’s attitude differs from the American approach, which relies heavily on incandescent spots. To achieve his ideal – a cool light, close to the daylight spectrum, with even distribution over the entire wall and little distraction from the light source itself – Hollein developed for Frankfurt a fluorescent tube wall-washer recessed in the ceiling.

The building’s envelope was determined by zoning, but Hollein did, alas, determine physical form. While he explains that the schemes for both the interior and the exterior came quickly to him, the interior is brilliant and the exterior is not. For the latter, windows in a variety of shapes and sizes are located at various points on the walls, placed according to interior needs but with no unifying vision apparent on the exterior. Some elevations are fine – where large concave and convex windows contrast, for example – but all are dragged down by the inexpensive and unpleasant greenish gray plaster wall finish. Most lovingly designed is the building’s apex with sculptures adorning little terraces, and the roof, a landscape of skylights and mechanical equipment only partially visible from the street. Most unappealing is the sandstone entrance arcade, its non-traditional form resembling the flaccid, grinning lips of a crocodile, poised to engulf passersby. Overall, the museum’s appearance has earned it epithets such as “bunker” and “piece of cake”; but it may become the building that Frankfurters most love to hate, because of the excitement inside.

During construction, the present museum director, Jean-Christophe Ammann (who replaced the founding director, Peter Iden, a staunch Hollein supporter) reportedly feared that the architecture was too dominant, the galleries unsympathetic to the art. Today, Chief Curator Rolf Lauter still holds that a few rooms are problematic (a trapezoidal gallery puts the squeeze on works by Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, and Rosenquist) but he feels that most are appropriately neutral and that others provide stimulating confrontation with cheap canvas art. Hollein points out that it is a matter of learning to use the instrument he has provided, suitable not only for the museum’s collection of Pop Art and more recent acquisitions, but “even for works by Velasquez or Titian.” Indeed, this museum – Hollein’s best work to date – reflects timeless lessons in the manipulation of light, movement, and space. If it is provocative, that, too, was part of its mission.

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Berlin

Berlin’s museums, in disarray for decades, also have seen a rebirth. Prussian ruler Frederick William III envisioned the city as an artistic center and championed the creation of five museums on the river Spree, known as Museum Island. Situated in the eastern end of the city, along the Unter den Linden, the museum buildings were hollow monuments in post-world War II years. Many of the masterpieces that hung in the galleries before the war landed in Allied hands and have only recently returned to the public eye. Pergamon Museum, with its celebrated 2,000-year-old altar of the same name, and the Egyptian collection at the Bode Museum beckon the visitor inside their somewhat rough exteriors, which are slowly returning to the splendor of the last century.

But West Berlin also paid homage to ancient civilizations with its Egyptian and Antiquities museums on the edge of the city in Charlottenburg. The bust of Nefertiti and a weighty collection of Roman silver draw some half-million visitors yearly.

The sprawling Schloss Charlottenburg, just opposite the two museums, reflects the artistry of a more recent era. Works of German Romantic painters, such as Johann Friedrich Overbeck and Caspar David Friedrich, hang within the Baroque palace.

Even with the help of the S-Bahn and U-Babn, Berlin’s train systems, art aficionados might tire before seeing all 50 or so of the city’s museums.

Present-day Berlin also offers a wide variety of unusual architecture such as the Baroque and Neoclassical creations of renowned architects Andrea Schluter and Karl Friedrich. Nearby Communist structures reflect pragmatism poured in concrete.

City planners who wrestle with the integration of the East and West, classical and modem, have honed in on the renovation of Potsdammer Platz, the former commercial center in the heart of Berlin that has become an urban wasteland. Hotly debated plans for the area include glass-enclosed shopping arcades and modem high-rises.

But the serious challenge lies in adapting the city to the needs of a growing commercial and cultural center. The eventual return of the seat of government from Bonn has forced the construction of massive office buildings. A push to host the 2000 Olympic Games also demands that cafes, shops, and hotels primp and polish to entice tourists worldwide.

But for the moment, Berlin is neither pristine nor dilapidated. It is a city of quirkish charm that engages travelers, both willing and skeptical.

MUSIC

Chopin Music Festival. The 30th anniversary of this summer-long festival outside Berlin will feature the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonisches Rochester Frankfurt/Oderz, the Berlin Sinfoniker, and the European Community Youth Orchestra among others. Until August 28. Call 49 30 3737 1654 16.

Brandenburg Summer Concerts Classics. Ludwig Gutter, trumpet soloist from Dresden, will be one of the featured performers at this concert series outside Berlin. Until September 2. Call 49 30 817 33 64.

Potsdam at 1,000. The city of Potsdam, the former seat of Prussian royalty, celebrates its millenium with an array of summer concerts and exhibitions. The city is 15 miles southwest of Berlin and is accessible by car or bus. Call 49 30 331 2 11 00.

Classic Open Air Music Festival. The 2nd annual festival, July 15-18, will highlight centuries of classical music. At the Gendermenmarkt. Call 49 30 449 97 08.

Berlin Festival Weeks. This year’s festival will present music, theater, film, and literature on Europe’s relations with Japan in various theaters in the city. The September festival will include the New Symphony Orchestra Tokyo and the Tokyo String Quartet. Call 49 30 2 54 89-0.

Jazz-Fest Berlin. Internationally acclaimed jazz musicians will perform blues, swing, be-bop, and any other variation of jazz. Concerts are held October and November at the Philharmonie. Call 49 30 30 254 8922.

ART

20th Century America. American art in the 20th century as seen from a European perspective will be on exhibit in the Martin-Gropious-Bau until July 25. Call 49 30 324 50 78.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff–The Painter. The once-illicit works of Expressionist and “Brucke” painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff will be featured at the Brucke Museum until July 18. Many never-before-seen paintings from the artist’s estate are included in the collection. Call 49 30 831 20 29.

SPORTS

German Trotter Derby. One of Germany’s main horse racing events will take place August 1 at Mariendorf. Call 49 30 740 12 28.

Olympic Best. The country’s Olympic track and field contenders will compete against international rivals in this festival August 27 in the Olympic Stadium. Call 49 30 25 48 06 21.

Prig Davidoff. The thoroughbred racing event at the Hoppegarten Racetrack outside Berlin will feature the largest purse in German racing. October 3. Call 49 30 559 61 02.

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U.S. homebuilders: ignoring solar

Whether many forms of solar energy are practical for wide-spread use is still debatable. Solar collectors for industrial heat are restricted to favorable geographic locations. Photovoltaic cells that turn sunlight directly into electricity are competitive only for specialized applications, such as the microwave repeater stations in Australia that bring telephone service to the “outback.” But passive-solar architecture, which merely configures houses to take maximum advantage of the sun, is clearly parctical anywhere in the contiguous United States.

Buildings can be designed to block the rays of the high summer sun. They can absorb the warmth of the low winter sun, store it in wall masses, and release it as needed at night and on cloudy days. Shortly after the energy embargo of 1973, the American Institute of Architects estimated that passive-solar design would add little to the cost of buildings yet save half of their energy costs. In the decade since, one might have expected homebuyers to demand passive solar and builders to employ it.

That hasn’t happened. At the Passive Solar Update Conference, held by the Department of Energy (DOE) last October, speakers repeatedly chided the building industry for its failure to incorporate passive-solar features in homes. The 300 largest builders in the country, responsible for 40 percent of new homes, do not use passive solar, according to Summer Rider Associates, a New York public-relations firm with numerous builders as clients.

“The housing industry has not been innovative,” agreed Mike Bell, manager of energy programs at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “Builders react to market trends instead of setting them.” But Bell said that a couple of the big companies have experimented with passive solar. “If homebuilders wanted to market passive solar, they could,” said Harrsion Franker, an architect in Princeton, N.J. He suggested that this would allow consumers to lower their monthly costs: slightly higher mortgage payments would be offset by lower utility bills. And Mark Conkling, project director of the New Mexico Showcase of Homes, a consortium of 16 builders who are putting up affordable passive-solar housing was more optimistic. “We’re past the early adopter stage,” he said, “but not yet into the mass-market stage.”

Even when U.S. builders incorporate passive solar, they generally “tack on” features–a less effective and more costly method than integrating energy efficiency into the overall design, according to Paul Kando of the NAHB Research Foundation.

The foundation’s annual survey of NAHB members provided some insights. Of thousands queried, only 772 builders–most with small operations–responded to questions on solar, and just 108 of these had built any passive-solar homes in 1981. Furthermore, one-third of these builders of passive solar had failed to include all the components that comprise a passive-solar system. As defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, these include collection, storage, distribution, and control features requiring little or no external power.

The problems from these poorly integrated systems have been predictable, said Kando. Buyers’ complaints, as expressed by builders in the survey, include too much or too little heat and fading carpets and furniture.

The majority of builders who avoided passive solar found its cost intimidating. Kando blamed this on the lack of an integrated approach to solar architecture: “putting solar glazing on a sieve is like trying to justify a gate without a fence.”

Some builders were skittish about experimenting with passive solar in a slumping market. Most complained that information on passive solar was hard to find. Charles Hauer, a consultant to the DOE Passive Solar Program, suggested that passive solar, might simply be too complicated for most builders. He referred to Don Aitken, a successful passive-solar builder in California who holds degress in physics, architecture, and mechanical engineering. If this is the kind of education it takes to build passive solar, Hauer seemed to be saying, we might as well forget it. Consumerism

Another common complaint about passive solar is that consumers are not interested. At the conference Conkling explained that 99 percent of home buyers seek good financing, 63 percent look for microwave ovens, 30 percent are swayed by “romantic and spacious bathrooms,” but only 1.5 percent base their decisions on solar.

Conkling urged builders to give consumers what they want and include solar in the deal. His consortium of builders in New Mexico provides 9.5 percent financing on houses costing $75,000 to ,105,000. Builders who lack Aitken’s education can calculate energy savings from a worksheet the consortium uses, which is complex but no worse than income-tax form 1040. Because Los Alamos National Laboratory developed it, the worksheet carries weight with local bankers, some of whom allow people to quality for higher mortgages based on projected energy savings.

The NAHB Research Foundation concluded that good passive-solar designs are cost-effective, and that builders’ and consumers’ ignorance of this fact is the biggest obstacle to widespread use of passive-solar design. The foundation urged the DOE to continue monitoring test houses through the Passive Solar Program to provide the information builders need. But Kando warned that recent cutbacks could kill the monitoring program just as results are due.

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HOW TO CHOOSE A BUILDER

People either ardently love or completely despise their builders. So how can you find one that will get through the arduous process of building or renovating without inspiring homicidal thoughts?

Decide what type of builder you need. There are three broad categories of building professionals: large firms with a net-work of subcontractors who can manage the entire process for you; custom builders who have set plans that you can choose from and then customize; one or two-person operators that offer increased flexibility and allow you to be more involved in the building process.

If possible, use a credible builder. There are two industry associations, the Registered Master Builders Federation (RMFB) and Certified Builders Association of New Zealand (CBANZ). RMFB members are accredited after builders have proved that they run a successful business and met quality standards. Members of the RMFB also adhered to a code of conduct and offer a conditional seven-year guarantee for residential clients building new homes or doing renovations. The guarantee provides protection (up to $100,000 maximum) against loss of deposit, non-completion, defective workmanship and materials, and structural defects. CBANZ members offer a five-year guarantee which is underwritten by a third party. The cost of both of these guarantees is either built into the fee structure or purchased by the client as a separate component.

Get on internet or the phone to do your initial research. Get your self informed before you start lining up builders. Call 0800 269 1119 to search for RMFB members, and www.certified.co.nz or 0800 CERTIFIED (0800 237 843) to look for CBANZ members. At present there is no nation- all licensing system, so there’s no formal endorsement of builders. However, the Building Act 2004 is implementing a licensing system that will be voluntary until November 2009, after which time all building professional must be licensed. There will be three types of building projects which require licensed building practitioners:

  1. 1.       Construction of new buildings for occupation as work places or place of residence
  2. 2.       Project to change the use of a building (e.g. form an office to an apartment)
  3. 3.       Major alterations or extensions to an existing occupied building (for example, adding a bedroom or extra floors)

Word of mouth is a good guide. As your architect and speak to any friends who have recently completed building projects. Architect may have recommendations of builders they’ve worked with over the years who will be appropriate for the job-and you will also know some to steer clear of it. Likewise, if you have friends who have worked with an excellent builder in the past and you trust their opinion, call their builder and ask when he or she might be free to quote for your project.

Don’t be afraid to check references. You’ll need to choose someone familiar with building the style of home you’ve chosen. It’s no good hiring a builder who builds spectacular fences of you need a full interior renovation. The only way you can find out whether builders have a good track record is by asking to see recommendations, and asking to speak to previous clients. It may seem impolite not to take a builder at face value, but it’s far more important to be confident in your chosen professional. Speaking to a few previous clients is one of the best ways to evaluate a builder’s work.

Ask your builder whether they are trade qualified. This means they will have done an apprenticeship to become a builder. It may seem obvious, but some builders are self taught. If you have an extremely good recommendation of a self-taught builder from a trusted friend, this is probably not an issue. However, if the builder comes un-recommended, it is outside a trade association and is not trade quality, be wary.

Look for more than just a builder. When you hire a builder you’re hiring more than a person. They need to have links with plumbers, painters, electricians and other professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask whether the builder has all of those connections in place. Building a house is extremely complicated, and it’s worth hiring a team that works together well rather than alone operator who will tender out those services. If possible look examples of the work of that team, and not just the lone builder.

Think about your own time commitments. Project management can take a great deal of time and effort, so it may be worthwhile to hire a builder who can do it for you.

Danger signs of bad builder:

  • ·         They are reluctant to give you recommendations or contact details of previous clients.
  • ·         If you ask to see their standard contract, they don’t have one or evade the question.
  • ·         They are unwilling to put anything in writing.
  • ·         They are unprofessional in their communications and dealings with you (if they’re highly recommended by a friend you trust, you may be willing to overlook this)
  • ·         They demand all the money for the job up front. You should never pay a builder 100 percent of his or her fee to begin with. The RMFB recommends that the amount you have paid conforms as closely as possible to the value of the work completed on site. If you have 25 percent of the work on site completed, you should have paid you builder about 25 percent of his or her total fee.
  • ·         They offer no warranty or guarantee.

What is required when you sign a contract for a building work?

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