Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On the Road

We spent a total of 36 hours driving from Montreal to Chicago and back. That doesn't include the extra 5 hours to western Illinois to visit relatives. That's an awful lot of time for your mind to wander. Here are some other tidbits from the voyage.

The car started making some very scary sounds after only 7 hours on the road. It made through the remaining 11 to get to our destination. During our 7 day stay in Chicago we made 4 trips to the mechanic. The upside is that the final cost was a third of their worst case estimate. The downside is that the original sound we heard before the trip has still not been fixed. At least we made it OK. Time to start car shopping.

Every good parent scoffs at the idea of having a DVD player in the car. Just like they say they'll limit TV in the household. But boy was it practical. It's alot to ask a kid to keep themselves occupied or asleep for a 10-hour drive. To our little one's credit, she was well behaved and played by herself for almost half the time.

Everyone talks about how bad the roads are in Quebec, but the roads seemed just as bad or worse in some places. Quebec may get that reputation because Ontario decided to repave the 30 km stretch just over the border. After that it returns to semi bumpy road. And why can't Quebec pave a brand new asphalt road flat. They just repaved a 20 km stretch just over the border and it was waveyer than any new road I have ever seen.

Speaking of bad roads. What is up with Michigan? The interstate there was as bad as the worst country roads in Quebec. Going through there with an already dicey car made for some nervous moments trying to determine if a noise was the car or the road. My guess why the roads are so bad there is because they experience extreme freeze-thaw being down wind from Lake Michigan. But also because they don't salt the interstate. We drove through there one winter and there were 1 cm patches of ice all over. A five hour drive over a constant rumble strip.

Ontario has a ridiculous practice of placing rumble strips 2 cm over the white line on the edge. Any minor lack of concentration and your car makes one heck of a racket. That's great when you have a car full of sleeping people. Plus your wife jumps up fearful that you have fallen asleep at the wheel. The reason they are so close is because the paved shoulder ends shortly after. Saving a little money for a meter of asphalt. If you did hit that paved edge at 120 km/h, you'd have a difficult time keeping control.

During the whole trip the average speed was about 120 km/h (72 mph). But for some reason that jumped 15 km/h (10mph) or more between Toronto and Kingston. After Kingston everyone slowed back down. I've noticed this before on other trips through that region.

We passed through Jonas Parker Land, but didn't stop to see any islands.

Lastly we stopped for a few hours in Toronto. As an architect, that city is really putting itself on the map. Recently finished buildings by Calatrava, Will Alsop, and Thom Mayne, and ones under construction by Libeskind and Gehry. They have adopted a common practice of bringing in world-renowned architects for big projects instead of keeping things home grown like here in Montreal. I'm all for fostering local talent, but I have to say I really want to go back to Toronto to see all these buildings when they are finished.


Blork said...

Interesting observations. Regarding architecture, I'm not an architect, but I agree that here in Montreal we need a real boot to the head. Most of the recent projects are absolutely terrible. What's with all that nasty green glass?

The Biblitheque Nationale is marvelous on the inside, but it's a huge hulking bunker of green glass on the outside. Doesn't fit into its surroundings, and is not interesting enough to exist as a focal point. Bleh!

Then there's that new UQAM building on the corner of Sherbrooke and St. Urbain (the one that runs down the hill). A few interesting modernist elements, but overall it's just a block of candy-colored glass that imposes itself in its environment (it goes right up to the sidewalk, creating zero public space or "breathing room" around it) and like the Bib, is totally incongruent with its surroundings.

Then there's that other UQAM building in the same area, the big oval that runs along Pres. Kennedy between St. Urbain and Jeanne-Mance. It looks like something from Khrushchev's Soviet Union (not the blocky Stalinist stuff -- the "modern" stuff from the 50s). At least it's not green glass.

The new Concordia building on Ste. Catherine West near Guy is huge, and like the UQAM one, it presses right up against the sidewalk. It's full of post-modern flourishes, but they all seem to be tacked on to score points. The buildign doesn't have any sense of scale or harmony. It's totally "Architecture 101" circa 1993.

OK, I'll stop now before I burst into tears.

Rye said...

Just as it is easy to tell a building built in the 70s, I think that in the future everyone will know a building from this era by the fact that they are all glass glass and more glass

Unknown said...

blork, I don't know if I would agree that the state of architecture is that grave. There are some still some noteworthy projects that are well done. The ones that come to mind are the Cite Electronic in the old port and a few on the McGill campus including the Music building on Sherbrooke. We even like the new DesJardins outposts we've seen on the south shore and in the Plateau. It's funny because each of these have dark grey elements and no green glass.

As far as the ones you mentioned. I like the Bibliotheque Nationale, but the exterior was modified from the original design. That building design was by a Canadian firm outside Quebec, but construction was followed by a local firm. I think the change was partly for cost reasons and partly for the local firm to put their stamp on it.

I'm not a fan of the new UQAM building either. The yellow glass doesn't do it for me and the way they fritted the glass on Sherbrooke gives a very poor end result. I think I can see what they were trying for, but they didn't execute it well.

I do like the UQAM Prez Kennedy building. It was built before the green glass fad and I actually had to build multiple "context" models of it because my wifes thesis project was across the street. It's the form and some of the surface composition that do it for me.

As for the Concordia building, that was also done by an outside Canadian firm. (Sorry I don't have names handy). I can't say I know the building very well from a pedestrian stand point. I kinda like the forms, but it's odd to see them on such a large scale. It does seem to be quite huge from what I have seen from the car.

Rye, I think public opinion comes in cycles. Green glass was in vogue for a while in the 80's. Blue glass and shiny steel was big in the late 90's (in Chicago anyway).

It seems the favorability of things gets popular, is rejected (think disco), then comes back favorably as nostalgic (like modernism). Generally when things come back, it is the favorable qualities that come back instead of the poor ones.

I think buildings are the same. Some buildings built today will always be seen as ugly. But there will be green glass buildings that will stand the test of time (think Eiffel Tower).

For us, we feel buildings built today should be built in today's style and not in a style of the past. It may means some less favorable results at times, but for the most part quality buildings can still be created.