Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still blog here once in a while.

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    Great shame upon our family.

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Mar 29, '11 8:18 AM EST

    Hello Archinect,

    I love my hometown of Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada (a.k.a. Texas of the North), but sometimes I just have to throw my hands up.

    Edmonton is apparently the largest city in North America to not have an architecture school. There are good architects there and a decent art scene, but there just isn't a strong enough design community or general literacy about the built environment to prevent abominations like this:


    But it looks like they're pretty pleased with themselves.

    This building sits on Churchill Square, which is also bordered by Edmonton's City Hall, the main branch of the public library, a theatre (which, with its atrium/greenhouse and flowing terraces, is a wonderful indoor public space) and a major downtown shopping center. The square hosts many of the downtown festivals that take place in the summer. It is by far the most important public space in the city's small downtown.

    The project replaces a late 1960s brutalist building that, admittedly, didn't let enough natural light in and didn't have the most inviting presence on the square. But in no way does that excuse this kind of ignorant and self-indulgent bullshit. The worst thing here is that I'm afraid that, for ordinary people in Edmonton, this project will stand in for what architecture is, and will turn people off from wanting to invest in design or to trust architects at for anything at all for years to come. And who could blame them?

    I am inconsolable.


    P.S. Thanks, mom, for sending the news article.


    • l3wis

      maybe they like it?

      Mar 29, 11 9:33 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      You have a point. There certainly are people in Edmonton who are happy about this building.

      But I'm not ready to say that anything goes. Can we make a comparison with food? I grew up eating McDonald's. And I still enjoy their fries or chicken nuggets once in a while; it's tasty and like many people, I like it. I think it is OK to enjoy it and I certainly wouldn't say that we should forbid this kind of business to operate.

      But if I were a chef or a restaurant owner, this is not the kind of food that I would choose to serve, and I would be embarrassed to claim to be a professional or to be providing some kind of constructive service to society if I did. Food can be delicious, nourishing, inexpensive, and not cause grievous harm to the environment or farm workers, if we so choose. If I were a professional that people trusted to give advice about or sell food, and I convinced people to spend public money on McDonald's food for everyone--say, for a school lunch program--I think that would be near criminal.

      And I think architecture matters just as much as food.

      Mar 29, 11 10:25 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      (Can I add that the built environment, like food, can connect us with our traditions, with each other, and with the physical pleasures of life, in ways that we're not even always aware of--especially when we think of these things as primarily responding to convenience or taste?)

      Mar 29, 11 10:45 am  · 

      well put - i'll borrow that analogy now and then, if you don't mind :3

      Mar 29, 11 11:25 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      By all means! And I'll try to remember that we can't be dictators of taste...

      Mar 29, 11 11:40 am  · 

      This conversation reminds me of a nice little essay by Marco Frascari, "Architectural Maccheroni." You might enjoy it.

      Mar 29, 11 11:54 am  · 

      Sorry, the actual title is "Architects, never eat your maccheroni
      without a proper sauce!" Subtitled: "A macaronic meditation on the anti-Cartesian nature of architectural imagination"

      Mar 29, 11 11:58 am  · 

      not so much mcdonalds, but more like one of those icecream place where you order the 10lbs of all 31 flavors and it comes in a bucket with sparklers.

      Mar 29, 11 2:04 pm  · 

      If his old boss were dead he'd be rolling over in his grave :(

      Mar 29, 11 5:11 pm  · 
      led signal light

      Why don't you be as diligently embarrassed with some of your teachers?

      Mar 29, 11 7:38 pm  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang

      @afrdzak: I heart Marco!

      @led signal light: No comparison! But then again, I heard just now that taste is relative, and we no longer have any grounds for determining what is beautiful.

      Mar 29, 11 8:35 pm  · 

      maybe that is why the lecture series on beauty you covered is interesting but feels a bit like a freak show. it felt like the 1990's all over again with lots of pointless points and meaningless meanings. i was kinda waiting for everyone to break out with signs that place a bracketed re

      ( Re- ) !

      in front of everything.

      or spontaneously break into rap on the synaptic cleft.

      it takes a lot of patience to be serious about beauty today after all the fruitless posturing of the not so long ago. but you are right. that edmonton building is very poorly designed and it is much worse than the project by cohen.


      Mar 30, 11 12:58 am  · 

      Am I having reading comprehension problems, or does that entire article from the Edmonton Journal talk about a building design award without once mentioning the name of the building designer? The photographer is credited, of course, as ALWAYS, but who designed this building? Seriously, am I missing it?

      Can someone back me up here, because if I'm wrong I'm not going to hit "send" on the new-asshole-ripping email I've composed to the paper's editor.

      Mar 30, 11 9:40 am  · 
      Lian Chikako Chang


      A quick re-read on my part suggests that, indeed, the name of this so-called building designer is not given...

      Send away! :)


      Mar 30, 11 9:51 am  · 

      The architect is LA-based Randall Stout. We reported about this selection back in 2005:

      The finalists selected for this commission were Randall Stout, Will Alsop, Zaha Hadid and Arthur Erickson.


      Mar 30, 11 9:59 am  · 

      hah, hilarious

      poor edmonton.

      stout's own website seems to show a more interesting interior than exterior for the project.

      the rest of his work is similarly populated with poor copies of gehry.

      i guess goes to show that great architects bring out more from their staff than they (the staff i mean) are able to do on their own.

      Mar 30, 11 8:13 pm  · 

      barf is right. awful.

      Mar 31, 11 2:36 am  · 

      You have no idea how many of my family members and former employers have emailed me links about this building, thinking I would be proud or something.

      for shame Edmonton... for shame...

      Apr 4, 11 5:27 pm  · 

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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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