Welcome to the yowLAB Film Festival discussion for our second film, Microtopia, directed by Jesper Wachtmeister. Our reviewer this month is yowLAB co-director Jeff Salmon. His review/synopsis is included below.


  • If you have not yet watched the film, it is available for online rental through vimeo.
  • To contribute to the discussion, please feel free to use the comment section following the review.
  • You are also welcome to post links to your own reviews if you prefer to publish on your blog or website. Please make sure to link to this page on your end.
  • We also welcome guest contributions. Please contact us at info.yowlab@gmail.com if you would like to submit a review to be posted to the yowLAB blog.
  • Or tweet your comments @yow_LAB #yowLABFilmFest

We hope you enjoy the film and the discussion. Without further ado. . .




Microtopia provides an interesting look at individuals, primarily artists and architects, who have decided to downsize their life. I say this because for the people in the film it is clear that micro-living is a lifestyle decision. As each person describes their personal reasons for exploring or living a micro-lifestyle some reoccurring ideas start to emerge, the strongest of which is an escape from imposed social and economic pressures.

In this quest for freedom, most of the people featured are exploring nomadic shelters. One of the characteristics of that seems inherent to these nomadic shelters is a sense of connected isolation. This seems to be a reflection of the people, as most admit to liking people but at a distance. John Wells, for example, lives in almost total isolation however enjoys his online connection to others through is webcam and blog. This sentiment is echoed throughout the film as many of the people describe a hope for technology and a reliance on it for connectivity. If we distill this down to its essence we need two things in life: shelter and an internet connection.

This freedom is certainly attractive to the people in the film however what is does really touch on is the reality of increasing populations in urban centres with limited housing. What the film presents is a more utopian and nomadic vision of micro-shelters which is hard to relate to. In cities like New York where the cost of housing is extremely high people have adapted to micro-living more so out of necessity. It would have also been interesting to see a couple or family who are living micro.

Whether you are looking at nomadic micro-shelters or urban micro-apartments the question at the core of the film is relevant: how much do you need? How much do you need to feel connected to others? How much comfort do you need? What will it take for you to be happy? This will be different for everyone.

This is probably best articulated by Jay Shafer in the film when he is discussing his kitchen (his very very small kitchen) when he describes the design process as prioritizing function. He does not cook a lot, therefore he does not need a big kitchen, however if he did, perhaps he would consider making his entire home the kitchen. To this end Jennifer Siegal, the first person shown in the film, provides an excellent idiom about the living micro – “it is less about bigger is better and more about smaller is smarter.”


Below I have summarized a few sections to show the variety of characters and ideas presented in the film.

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We hope you have been enjoying our film selection so far. Keep an eye out for the review and online discussion next Thursday for the second film in our lineup, MICROTOPIA.

For May, we’re going a bit less obscure with a great documentary that surveys contemporary urban development and issues around the world.

by Gary Hustwit

Urbanized is a feature-length documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers. Over half the world’s population now lives in an urban area, and 75% will call a city home by 2050. But while some cities are experiencing explosive growth, others are shrinking. The challenges of balancing housing, mobility, public space, civic engagement, economic development, and environmental policy are fast becoming universal concerns. Yet much of the dialogue on these issues is disconnected from the public domain.

Who is allowed to shape our cities, and how do they do it? Unlike many other fields of design, cities aren’t created by any one specialist or expert. There are many contributors to urban change, including ordinary citizens who can have a great impact improving the cities in which they live. By exploring a diverse range of urban design projects around the world, Urbanized frames a global discussion on the future of cities.

Part of the trilogy that includes Helvetica and Objectified (both also very interesting films).

For your convenience, note that the Ottawa Public Library has several copies of the DVD to borrow. And like the last two, this film can be (legally) watched online. It is available for online rental on cinemanow and distrify.

Online review and discussion will be hosted here on yowLAB blog starting May 15. You can also follow along on our Facebook event page and on twitter @yow_LAB #yowLABFilmFest


Thursday, April 10
Backdrop Food & Drink (160 Metcalfe, at Gloucester)

Please RSVP (and update any changes) so we know how many to expect. You can RSVP in the comment section below, on the Facebook event page, or by email.

Also make sure to check out the yowLAB Film Festival. This month, we’re watching Microtopia, a documentary about micro and portable dwellings. If you missed it last month, you should definitely also check out Mendelsohn’s Incessant Visions (read the yowLAB review). We’re going to take advantage of PubNight to extend the online discussion to in-person.

Welcome to the yowLAB Film Festival discussion for our first film, Mendelsohn’s Incessant Visions, by Duki Dror, Zygote Films. Our reviewer this month is yowLAB co-director Sarah Gelbard. Her review/synopsis is included below.


  • If you have not yet watched the film, it is available for online rental through vimeo.
  • To contribute to the discussion, please feel free to use the comment section following the review.
  • You are also welcome to post links to your own reviews if you prefer to publish on your blog or website. Please make sure to link to this page on your end.
  • We also welcome guest contributions. Please contact us at info.yowlab@gmail.com if you would like to submit a review to be posted to the yowLAB blog.
  • Or tweet your comments @yow_LAB #yowLABFilmFest

We hope you enjoy the film and the discussion. Without further ado. . .

Re-tracing Mendelsohn

This fascinating documentary starts in Germany. The film crew is standing in Potsdamer Platz with a photo, trying to locate the site of one of Mendelsohn’s buildings. The only remaining landmark seems to be the clocktower.

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin. Source: Mendelsohn’s Incessant Visions

Like many parts of Berlin, the square was decimated by air raids that wiped out Nazi control and presence. It lay in ruins through most of the Cold War and today bares few traces of its past.

Like many German Jewish artists and thinkers, Mendelsohn’s prolific work in Germany before WWII, was also nearly eradicated and erased. The film traces through the traces of Mendelsohn’s buildings in Germany and takes us through the journey of how, as is stated in the film:

The famous German architect who built Berlin,
later helped Americans to destroy Berlin.

With a couple detours through England and Palestine along the way.

Part 1: Forgotten home

bet_taharaThough almost always referred to as a “German Jewish architect”, Mendelsohn was originally from Olsztyn (present day Poland).

Similarly, he is almost always exclusively known for his monumental, modern, sculptural sketches and buildings. So the inconspicuous Bet Tahara in Olsztyn was an unexpected surprise.

Apparently as forgotten as Mendelsohn and the rest of the Jewish presence in this town, the building is undergoing restoration to reconnect with an almost lost history.

It was hard to get a proper appreciation of the space of this modest funerary building. It reminded me of another Jewish architect’s humble beginnings – Louis Kahn’s Trenton Bath House.

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Originally published in the Centretown Buzz
by Sarah Gelbard
March 15, 2014

Photo credit: Sarah Gelbard

Look in any city’s newspaper any given week and you are likely to come across the story of a development proposal and the predictable ensuing resident outrage. Sadly, these stories often seem to focus on civic engagement as a fight with the city and developers. The players, as well as the issues, have been continuously caricaturized and over- simplified. It seems to promote or at least propagate a de facto reactive and adversarial relationship between residents, developers, and the city.

Three such stories caught my eye recently. Our neighbourhood neighbours—the Market, Hintonburg, and Sandy Hill—currently have on their plate the demolition and infill of an old building, a new condo tower, and student/subsidized housing. In just over a week, I came across three of the most commonly debated topics in urban-centre development; heritage, intensification, and demographics.

Cities grow and change. While we needn’t let changes go unchallenged, we also can’t expect instant results, or change without disruption. There will be growing pains. There will be old buildings torn down. There will be new buildings put up. They may be shiny and new and lacking “character” at first. It may take time for new developments to grow into their neighbourhood and for their neighbourhood to continue to grow around them.

There will be more neighbours moving in. There will be more cars and more traffic. But there will also be increasing demand for alternative transportation and increasing infrastructure and the required density to support it.

The character of a neighbourhood is not defined exclusively by architectural style and era. It is much more defined by the residents and the businesses and how they all come together and inhabit the space in a variety of ways.

Perhaps a more nuanced review of the players and issues could help to redirect focus on civic engagement back towards more proactive and collaborative dialogue and action.

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We’re pleased to announce the first two architecture documentaries for our experiment in distributed film festival. The idea is to watch the film at home or with friends and then participate in an online review and discussion. We will also be timing each of the films to align with a yowLAB PubNight in case you prefer to discuss in person.

Both documentaries for March/April are available for online rental through vimeo.

March 20 – Mendelsohn’s Incessant Visions
Facebook Event Page

“This award-winning creative homage, illuminates the life of German Jewish Expressionist architect Erich Mendelsohn. The visionary Mendelsohn, a contemporary of Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, produced works that have influenced generations of architects. His story unfolds through the letter exchange with Louise, a beautiful young cellist , who became his wife. The film gently breathes life into the correspondence of two passionate artists who helped each other weather a turbulent time in history.”

April 17 – Microtopia
Facebook Event Page

“How would you feel about carrying your home in your pocket or having clothes to live in? For most of us, “house” means stability, structure, and permanence. In an age of increasing population and technological gains, today’s mobile society has resulted in a demand, or perhaps a dream, for portable dwellings and dwellings in new settings and situations.”


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