Originally posted in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Sarah Gelbard
24 July 2015

“Excuse me, miss. Can I take a picture with your camera? You can hold onto my skateboard to make sure I don’t run away with it.” Sounded like fair collateral and a fun exchange to me.

I’m not a skater. Not yet, anyways. I am becoming more and more motivated to learn. It is interesting and important to understand how different people see and use the city. When you watch skateboarding, and really pay attention, it is pretty remarkable how skaters relate to space.

They see things through a specific lens; through the movement and physics of a skateboard, creating and navigating obstacles, appropriating and sharing space. So when this random skater asked me to trust him with my camera, rather than worried he might run off with my camera, I was pretty excited for the opportunity to see the city even more directly through the eyes of a skater.

He asked me a few questions about how to use the camera. I assured him I could set it all to automatic. All he had to do was frame a shot and push the button. “Maybe I’ll just tell you what picture to take.” You can almost imagine he was giving me instructions on where to skate as much as how to compose the photo:

“Maybe if you get low down to the ground,” he started. “See that edge? Follow that line. Now wait a second and follow this guy as he’s walking away. . . and. . . go!” Not only was I seeing his city, I got to hear him describe the play by play of how he saw it and the moment he wanted to capture. We sat and chatted for a few minutes and then we both continued on our way.

I am maybe over-romanticizing and over-thinking this brief encounter. But there is a certain sensibility towards the city that is really captivating, here. There is a consciousness of the design of the space. The lines. The edges. The flow. But there is also a consciousness of the other people around and how they move through the space. Noting perhaps how most other people are using the space more or less as intended. Walk on the path. Sit on the bench.

Meanwhile, there are people who ask: What else could this space be? How else could I use it? What is its hidden potential? We all do to one degree or another at some point as we engage with the city. It seems pretty clear that this sensibility has had a positive impact for both the skateboard and overall Centretown community. Read More

Ottawa Public Library, Main Branch. 1973. George Bemi, architect.

I finally managed get into the library with my proper camera (sneaky cellphone shots don’t do it justice) and capture some of the beauty I see in the building. The main branch has been subject to some rather unsympathetic renovations over the years and it is sad that most people don’t experience it the way it was designed to be experienced. But if I can get in there and find it through a camera lens, I think it is possible to rediscover it through a thoughtful renovation.


yowLAB co-director Sarah Gelbard has partnered with Ottawa (de)Tours to create a “walking seminar” on brutalist architecture downtown.

It has been said that brutalist architecture is “unloved but not unlovely”. Beyond the monolithic, opaque, concrete façades are buildings filled with drama, mystery, and strong civic focus. In the post­war building boom and leading up to the Centennial, grand and heroic ideals of civic welfare and cultural identity were translated into a new vision for Ottawa. The abstract, technically efficient, and impersonal nature of modernism was too closely tied to war. The strong character of brutalist architecture embodied renewed hope, stability, and humanity. Ironically, today we tend to misread these buildings as imposing and inhuman “eyesores”. . .

– continue reading –

As a little teaser, listen to Sarah’s interview on CBC In Town and Out from earlier this year and check out Centretown Buzz article. Tina Barton joined Sarah earlier this month for a preview of the tour. You can read her thoughts on “Is there any beauty in brutalism?”

The first block of tour dates is now available for booking.

Additional dates will be added throughout the summer and fall.

Originally posted in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Sarah Gelbard
19 June 2015

Last summer, following the 40th anniversary of the Ottawa Public Library Main Branch on Metcalfe, the Main Library Facility Planning report was released including three recommendations; renewal, renovation, or redevelopment. Two years earlier, a Nanos Research survey reported that 83% of users of the main branch were satisfied with their user experience, the wide selection of resources, and central location. At that time, the OPL board supported modernization as its prefered option. This month, the OPL board will review yet another report, this time recommending the construction of a new central library.

The report released at the end of May incorporates feedback from “a very comprehensive public engagement process” including the public meeting at city hall on March 31st. 150 people attended the meeting and another 435 tuned into the live online broadcast. A breakout session invited those with a seat at city hall to “dream big” with a “sky’s the limit” vision for a new central library. Due to technical difficulties with the online feedback system, the discussion for those following online was unproductively relegated to Facebook resulting in only a handful of comments.

So, in the words of one of three questions for public input: “How would a Central Library transform our lives and our city?”

The report is a glossy and enthusiastic call for a library that is modern, innovative, connected, landmark, plus a handful more buzzwords. Beyond the traditional library spaces, it should contain a café, restaurants, collaborative workshop spaces, a teen zone, discover spaces, meeting rooms, outdoor and indoor gardens, and all wrapped in a bold—preferably glass—architectural statement that proudly shouts out: THIS IS OTTAWA’S LIBRARY!

It reads as a loud and extroverted vision for a library. Is that not a bit strange for a library? Are not libraries quiet and contemplative places? Yes, yes. I know. Libraries are changing. Digital technology. Virtual space. But are libraries really changing as a response to technology? Read More

We’re thrilled to announce that UrbSanity has received funding from
Canada Council for the Arts—Architecture: Grants to Individuals and Firms.


Thanks to our co-directors, Sarah and Jeff, for their dedication to writing the monthly column for over two years.
Thanks to Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa for your collaboration.
Thanks to our readers and community that inspire UrbSanity.

We look forward to another year of great articles on the architecture and urbanism of Centretown!

Originally published in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Jeff Salmon
May 22, 2015

It took a while to come but spring is officially here, which also means construction season is already well underway. This time of year is marked by the sounds of new construction starting, whether it is the banging of hammers from the framing crew working on a house down the street, or the shudder from a nearby blast as crews excavate for a new condo.

New development and redevelopment play a transformative role in the evolution of a city and its neighbourhoods. The density and type of housing constructed can complement the existing housing stock in the area or, in some cases, it can alter the demographics of the neighbourhood.

With all new construction, especially condos, it is important to consider the impact that these buildings will have on their surrounding neighbourhoods and communities. One of the often overlooked aspects of development is affordability and the role that it plays in shaping the community.

Affordable housing by the numbers
First and foremost, it is important to understand what it means to be affordable. Ottawa’s Official Plan defines affordable as “either ownership or rental, for which a low or moderate income household pays no more than 30% of its gross income.”

With this in mind, the City has set out targets as part of the Official Plan to encourage the production of affordable housing in new residential development and redevelopment. They have been targeting 25 percent of all new rental housing to be affordable to households up to the 30th income percentile.

Several Community Design Plans have noted that that means a monthly rent of $1,100 (or $13,200 annually). In other words, a household with an annual income of almost $44,000 would fit in this category.

The City also has a target of 25 percent of all new ownership housing to be affordable to households up to the 40th income percentile which equates to a price of $207,800.

It is also worth noting that approximately seven percent of the targeted 25 percent is to be designated as “social housing” and thus affordable to households at or below the 20th income percentile, that is, earning $31,500 or less.

These targets exceed the requirements of many other cities, including Toronto, and demonstrate a commitment to developing Ottawa into an inclusive and liveable city.

Read More

Sunday May 24
Pour Boy (495 Somerset St W)

While we always hope yowLAB PubNights will be productive brainstorm sessions, we’d like to take advantage of spring energy and excitement to plan out some summer projects for yowLAB.

Let’s start throwing around ideas on the event page. We’ve posted info on some of our past and ongoing projects and initiatives on the Facebook event page. You can also check out our project page. Please feel free to comment or post competitions, events, inspirational projects, etc. below.

For those who haven’t been, yowLAB meetings are informal; part social, part networking, part brainstorming. It’s an opportunity for people with an interest in architecture, urbanism, and design to meet over a few pints.

NEWCOMERS are welcome. We’re a mix of design/urban professionals and enthusiasts. If you like cities and architecture, you are qualified!

We aim to try a different venue each meeting, generally somewhere central. This month we’ll be at TBD

We also feature Canadian architecture projects in our event banners. This month, we have TBD


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