Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back in TO...Mongiat's Lansdowne mural updated

to distract us from Toronto's stinking strike...Richard Mongiat has completed the north side of his Underpass Project, the beautiful monochromatic mural on Bloor, at Lansdowne.

i love this project because it's a refreshing new take on what a street mural is supposed to be--Mongiat isn't trying to hide the wall or cover up the sometimes sketchy aspects of his neighbourhood. "I like working with what's here," he says.

the broken-up & stained surface of the concrete wall, the industrial feel of the railway bridge overhead, even the graffitti that has turned up on the south side of the mural (completed last year)--it's all part of his inspiration. for more about the mural, see my BlogTO article here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Theatre, brothels, vaudeville...welcome to London

i'm stage-managing Bremner Duthie's show "The Barker's Spiel" at the London Ontario Fringe Festival this week. the show is happening at the Grand Theatre in downtown London, which turns out to be the oldest continually-running playhouse in all of Canada.

above, the interior of the main Grand stage; Bremner is performing in the downstairs black box theatre, which used to be a rabbit's warren of rooms for the vaudeville performers. very appropriate for the cabaret-inspired "Barker's Spiel"!

unfortunately, the exterior has been renovated, so you would never suspect the interior is so fabulous. the theatre is apparently haunted by the Grand's original impresario, Ambrose Small, who disappeared mysteriously in 1919. we haven't seen his ghost, as yet (and we had a late show on Saturday, so if he was going to appear, surely he'd have turned up then...maybe he can't figure out what happened to the outside of his theatre.) the various stories about him are quite fascinating. the theatre technician happily showed us the original basement wall of the Grand--where Small kept a secret office, to settle gambling debts & meet the ladies.

this kind of nefarious history seems to turn up all over London, even behind the most elegant 19th century facades that we walk past every day. we're staying in Woodfield, beside downtown; starting in the 1840, tobacco barons, a medical genius or two, and all kinds of business tycoons built homes here. (photos are two of my favourite "white brick" houses--the brick was quarried nearby & gives the streets a much brighter, lighter feeling than Toronto's red brick bay & gables.)

we're staying in a 19th-century Ontario cottage a block from here...and our first evening, while we relaxed in the garden, our host admitted that back in 1920s, the house was a well-known brothel. the immense claw-footed tub (since refinished) still stands proudly in the main bathroom.

for a theatre performance that's inspired by Berlin 1930s cabaret, by 1950s Vegas lounge, and by the vaudeville world of the carny, turns out London couldn't be more appropriate...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Swooning for the Simcoe WaveDeck

Sexy...fun...unique...welcome to the WaveDeck! the latest addition to Toronto's waterfront gets my whole-hearted thumbs-up at its ribbon-cutting. More photos with my BlogTO piece, here.

of course, nothing is flawless: the curving steps of the city's new urban dock seems a little too inviting for skateboarders...and some grouches are worried that urbanites will slip on ice in winter (or the city will completely cover the bridge in salt, turning the fish beneath into gravlax).

but i'm excited about this new deck because it shows creativity and vision--rare qualities indeed. and i like the determined playful work of Adriaan Geuze, the Dutch landscape architect whose design won the Waterfront competition. at this Friday's opening, Chris Glaisek (vice-president of planning and design for Waterfront Toronto) said he hoped the WaveDeck's success would calm critics who are raging about the project's slow progress and cost. the deck was completed two weeks early, and under budget.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

designing Toronto

the PUG awards, Jan Gehl in town...last Wednesday was a busy day in Toronto for everyone interested in urban design.

i was lucky to attend a lecture by Danish urban planner extraordinaire, Jan Gehl, at the gorgeous Design Exchange on Bay Street. The former Toronto Stock Exchange room was packed, to hear Gehl talk about his projects, including his recent work with New York City's radical Commissioner of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan for the PlaNYC Initiative. Times Square for pedestrians, bike routes down Broadway...as Gehl said, "If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere!"

i'm sure i wasn't the only one in the room wondering why Toronto isn't making similar moves. For more on this, with some high-octane reader comments, my BlogTO report, here.

and the very same evening, the PUGs were handed out. Awarded by popular on-line voting, this year's winners weren't surprising--the gorgeous AGO came out on top in the commercial building category, and classy but safe One St. Thomas won in residential. the losers weren't publicly mocked at the ceremony, but things did get interesting during the panel discussion. my article focusing on the PUGs' impassioned panel, here (along with some more photos).

Thursday, June 04, 2009

20 years later, Tiananmen Square Massacre

June 4, 1989, tanks rolled through this square. Twenty years on, China is proving once again that memory and history depend on who controls access to information. Don't let memory be so mutable...remember.