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Thursday, June 20, 2024
Arch-i-text: On development, integration and saving trees
Brian Marshall (Supplied)

When speaking to designing and the landscape, the eminent Canadian architect Ron Thom said, “There are three choices: destroy, alter or integrate. The first option is the one invariably chosen by subdivision developers because it’s all about maximizing their return. The third option is the ideal, where the architect is able to design enfolding existing slope(s), features and plants. Unfortunately, it’s very rare that complete integration is achievable. So, the objective becomes to design in a fashion that alters as little as possible and, when you’re done, replace in a manner that in a few years leaves no trace of what you changed.”

I recall quite clearly a house Thom designed in King Township here in Ontario that demonstrated his approach. This house cascaded down a ravine slope in five levels. The top two levels were specifically designed to create an interior courtyard, in the centre of which stood a mature white pine.

Realistically, there are occasions when one has no alternative but to alter the landscape. However, if you can save that rocky outcropping, that natural meadow or a mature tree, is it not the best thing to do?

Unfortunately, it is far too easy to cut down a tree. In a letter to the editor last week, Victor Tarnoy pointed out that Chautauqua has lost roughly 33 per cent of its tall trees in the last 12 years. The loss of these trees has multiple negative impacts, all of which reduce our quality of life. 

Sometimes trees must be taken down, but remember, if you plant an oak tree today, you’ll likely not live long enough to witness its full glory.

And, speaking of human-wrought changes that might have irreversible effects, we have the question of the proposed Parliament Oaks development.

As regular readers of my column might recall, some time ago I wrote about the first design iteration of the proposed apartment building. In short, I thought it too tall, too massive and from a stylistic perspective completely out of context with the surrounding dwellings.

The second version, as recently introduced, has done nothing to change my opinion. Aside from my other concerns, the issue of context remains of paramount issue.

By way of illustration, let’s step out of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Not too far from here as the crow flies, there is an enclave of houses all of which are designed in the modernist International style.

It is a neighbourhood in which white stucco and glass dominate the streetscape. Some of the designs might be considered mediocre while others are brilliantly executed. However, taken as a gestalt, the enclave is cohesive and flows from one home to the next.

What would happen, do you think, if someone decided to build an exquisitely designed red brick Georgian in the middle of that neighbourhood? 

Not only would it stick out like a sore thumb, but it would actually diminish the design itself while negatively and irrevocably altering the cohesiveness of the entire enclave.

This, in my opinion, would be the result of approving the Parliament Oak proposal in this current form.         

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