Posts tagged ‘architecture’

August 18, 2019

Plastic Nave

interior-tall

A few months back I submitted an entry to an architectural competition hosted by Young Architecture Competitions (YAC) called Plastic Monument. It is a proposal for a monument meant to embody the problems that plastic waste is having on our oceans and planet. The project brief as well as the selected winners can be found on the YAC website.

I thought I had a chance at winning, but my entry was not selected. I think once again I was probably too ambitious. The winners were either meshes filled with plastic waste to make a desired shape, or else a representation of how plastic is filling our oceans or how many plastic bottles are produced each minute. My project was a nave constructed using a plastic bottle space frame detail that I developed. The bottles are easy to assemble and disassemble making it easy to involve the community and recycle the bottles afterwards. The nave is a an open space of awe and light and side aisles host a photography exhibition about plastic and our planet. The space frame structure is paired with a scaffold that holds a clear modular container that is suspended above the nave and collects the plastic waste collected during the monument’s tour. The container is designed to be lowered and new wall extension pieces added so that it can hold more over time. It can even fill up so much that the whole nave is full and the visitors can only walk through the side aisles.

I think that my proposal is more impactful than others as it would involve the community in the collection of bottles and construction of the nave, impacting their perspectives and using local plastic that may otherwise end up in a landfill. Secondly, a monument that changes physically and takes away the light and beauty of the original construction has more meaning to visitors than a metaphorical sculpture. And finally, the space frame detail, if developed further, could become a construction detail used to make improvements to precarious housing, for temporary constructions like pavilions during festivals, or for refugee housing, a construction that has practical uses in many parts of the world where there is no infrastructure for plastic waste. Even though this competition has ended, I am super excited to develop this prototype further on my own. In a few months Othy and I will be moving to Kinshasa where I hope to collect more used bottles and build a larger prototype.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this competition proposal and the prototype. Feel free to leave comments below! Check out lifesectionstudio.com for more of my design work.

interior-short

exterior

IMG_8018

Prototype

A3_25803_PM 6

Process:

August 10, 2019

NOCMAT Conference

The International Conference for Non-Conventional Building Materials was held at the University of Nairobi which has a beautiful campus. On day 1 my favourite sessions were a keynote lecture on the development of standards for non-conventional materials, a presentation about the challenges and opportunities for the reuse of excavated material in the built environment, and a presentation on the development of a panelized building system for low-cost housing using waste cardboard and repurposed wood. Another interesting presentation was the one before mine on lessons learned by MASS Design Group and ARUP on earth construction they did for the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture. My own presentation was on the analysis of earthquake testing trends of alternative building materials. It went well and I received some valuable critical feedback afterwards from two structural engineers.

The following day my favourite sessions were on the application of alternative construction techniques in rehabilitation of urban slums, and the study of the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental impact of the use of unconventional building materials in conventional buildings. These were both presented by the partners of a design practice in India called Masons Ink. Overall I enjoyed the conference and made connections from a variety of backgrounds including engineers, materials researchers, architects, and community activists. The overlapping of various disciplines was a welcome sight as collaboration between these groups is what is needed to solve the complex problems in our world today.

August 4, 2019

Bamboo Design Workshop

From July 24th – 28th I attended the International Conference of Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies (IC-NOCMAT). The first day of the conference was a workshop held by an engineer and bamboo specialist from ARUP, a structural design firm that has an international development arm. I found the workshop to be very useful because it helped me understand the strengths and weaknesses of bamboo as a material and the importance of appropriate design for its use. Here are some of the biggest points I took away from it:

  • Bamboo can last forever if it can be kept free of beetles, termites and rot
  • The best and safest form of treatment is the use of Boron (and it’s also readily available as it is used as a fertilizer for agriculture), but it’s biggest weakness is that it can wash out if exposed to moisture
  • Therefore all exposed bamboo structures need to be protected entirely from rain and splashing and for rain a 45 degree angle must be considered when designing roof overhangs because rain can always come at an angle.
  • There are three ways the bamboo can be treated with Boron. The most traditional way is piercing the inner nodes with rebar and using a bath (7-14 days in cold water, 7 hours in hot water). There is also a “boucherie” method where the end is clamped and the liquid is forced through the longitudinal cells of the bamboo. The last way is called VSD  where the bamboo are stood up on end in a scaffold, all the nodes are pierced except the last one, and the bamboo is filled up for 7-14 days.
  • In some cases fire protection needs to be a consideration. Bamboo walls can be protected using mud plaster, cement/lime plaster or gypsum plasterboard. The plaster would need to be applied to a matrix that helps it adhere to the wall system. 25mm of mortar or 12mm of gypsum plaster board provides a 30 minute fire rating
  • Bamboo is strongest in compression. I always thought it was strong in tension too but because of the connections, bamboo is much weaker in tension. One design consideration is to consider using bamboo in compression where it is strong, and use steel rods in tension.
  • Another thing to consider is that bamboo is weak in the cross-sectional direction. Because of this a design should try to create direct load paths. For example, it is better for columns to move past beams so that there isn’t a heavily loaded column bearing on a beam
  • Connections are always the weakest point and a few things to keep in mind when designing them are to minimize holes, pre-drill all nails and screws, use dry bamboo (and keep it dry), reinforce against splitting, consider corrosion protection to steel, fill nodes with cement mortar (that will not shrink or expand), and design out areas where water can collect.
  • There are few codes and standards available but the most well developed one is the Colombian code NSR-10G developed specifically for the Guadua variety. ISO has developed codes 22156 and 22157 but they currently have errors. The good news is there is an updated version in development. In the meantime a good guideline is the IStructE Note series.

That is a summary of the most valuable lessons I took from the workshop. Of course this summary does not replace the need to consult an experienced structural engineer when working on a specific project. I hope that I will get an opportunity to work with bamboo in Congo! The reason why it has become established as a building material in Colombia is because the government supported it, standards were developed, and architects such as Simón Vélez have made some beautiful projects out of it that are showing the possibilities of what can be done with good design and craftsmanship. So perhaps the same is possible in Congo and we can start using a building material that is available, affordable, and highly renewable!

December 5, 2018

Kigali

Our final stop on our journey was Kigali where we decided to stay for two nights as we traveled back to Kampala from Bukavu. Because I had such a negative experience on the night bus on the way to Goma, we decided to take day buses and take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. Early on Monday morning we left Bukavu by moto, crossed the border, and then took another moto to the bus station in Rwanda. We took a smaller bus called Omega Express. There are two possible routes to get to Kigali: one that goes through the Nyungwe Forest, a mountainous rainforest, or along Lake Kivu. Our bus went through the forest and the views were stunning. There was one moment I found stunning where we were passing tea plantations but approaching the forest. Another moment we were on a road that was high up on the mountain and there was a view down into the rainforest below that looked so incredibly deep.

IMG_20181105_102328

We spent two nights in Kagali: one at Yambi Guesthouse and another at Auberge Beausejour that was recommended by Mark and Karen. On our free day we had plans to meet up with Othy’s old school friend. On our way to meeting her we walked to the Convention Centre which was a building I wanted to check out. Again I was caught off guard by the cleanliness and orderly construction of roads, sidewalks and retaining walls. The convention centre’s dome could be seen from a distance. The landscaping around the building was nicely done. There is also a hotel beside it that has a playful facade that reminded me of basket weaving. A covered walkway offers relief from the sun and rain for people walking from the parking lot. This building is definitely not very approachable on foot from the street as we had to walk all the way around to the back to enter. We went inside the lobby areas but couldn’t find anyone to ask to show us the main auditorium. Overall it is a nicely designed building.

IMG_20181106_130754

IMG_20181106_132121

IMG-20181115-WA0002

IMG_20181106_133337

Next we took motos and went to a restaurant called the Rotisserie where we were meeting up with the friend. We waited for half an hour and she did not arrive. Unfortunately we did not have data and the restaurant did not have wifi to communicate with her. We decided to walk to a cafe called Shokola that shares a building with the Kigali Public Library. It is also a nicely done building. The levels of the library are situated around a generous atrium. It looks like the roof used to be glass but then they boarded it up with wood because of the heat. The cafe is on the third floor and accessed by an exterior stair (I think it could have been nicer for it to have a closer physical or visual connection to the library). To our dismay the cafe did not have working wifi either and so we were unable to meet Othy’s friend. We stayed a while there and then decided to go back to the hotel. On our way back we stopped at an art gallery called Inema Arts Center. We saw some beautiful pieces by local artists, some that I have included below. We spent a lazy evening at the hotel watching a movie! The following morning we woke up early to catch a 6am bus to Kampala. It was so early the hotel couldn’t have breakfast for us and so they gave us some fruit, bread and eggs the night before. The driver we arranged for to take us to the station was late and so we took motos instead. It was a fun ride because the roads are so smooth and it was still dark. This marked the end of our honeymoon and it was time to try and get settled back into something of a routine in Kampala.

PANO_20181106_144426

IMG_20181106_150132

December 4, 2018

Around Bukavu

While most of our friends left Bukavu the day after the wedding, Othy and I decided to take one more day to explore the city since neither of us had been there before. Mark and Karen surprised us with a delicious Sunday morning pancake breakfast, complete with locally grown strawberries and close to real tasting maple syrup that they make with maple extract (this is a Canadian saying this). While we enjoyed breakfast they gave us some tips on places to visit. Othy asked me what I wanted to visit first, and I chose ITFM (Institut Technique Fundi Maendeleo) because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to be like and the school offers one of the best views of Bukavu. We hired motos and began the winding journey up the hill. At a certain point the paved road ended and the dirt road was extremely muddy. My driver in particular was having trouble getting through it (Othy told me later it was because he was short) and I wondered if we would fall. Thankfully we did not, though the drivers wanted to charge us more because of it! The motos in Bukavu actually put tarps on the back of their bikes to prevent mud from flinging up and hitting their passengers. We walked through the ITFM campus and were shown around by the guy we met at the gate. Then we exited by the gate that faced the edge of the hill, and found the view that we had heard about. It was beautiful! Bukavu has such a unique landscape with the changes in elevation, the lake with islands in the distance, and several peninsulas, one of them taking the iconic shape of a boot. But with the change in elevation and rains are dangers of erosion and mudslides. Just across the road from the campus, the earth was a large eroded area that in only a few more years might actually reach the edge of the campus and the buildings there! Kids were playing there and standing on the edge of it and even climbing up it!

IMG_20181104_100401

The same moto drivers waited for us and we asked them to take us to the boot that I described above. On the way down the hill we passed houses that were built rather precariously on the hillside. We passed by the main roundabout Place de l’Independence. We also passed another roundabout with one of the traffic lights invented by Congolese female engineer Thérèse Izay and manufactured by Women’s Technology, although this one is not in the shape of a humanoid like the one I saw in Kinshasa and Goma. Once at the boot the drivers stopped at a parcel with a large tent. We asked the person at the gate if we could see the place, and upon entering we discovered it was an event space. They were in the middle of preparing for an event, and Othy ran into an old acquaintance! The tent faces the water and offers a beautiful view back to the city.

IMG_20181104_102602

IMG_20181104_103046

IMG_20181104_103301

IMG_20181104_104127

Our third destination of the morning was to visit a hotel called Orchids that is supposed to be another beautiful spot in Bukavu. We first went to the restaurant and took tea, and then went for a walk to explore the gardens. It was an absolutely stunning combination of gardens, architecture, and another amazing view of the lake and Bukavu. The path meandered its way down to the water and there was something beautiful to see around every corner. The gardens were well landscaped and included many different species of orchid. I loved the simplicity of the clean white-walled buildings with rich wood windows and doors. There were a few larger buildings and then some smaller private cottages. Finally we reached the water where there was a swimming area and sitting area. I noticed that this was the place that Jess and Matt had gone to take their wedding photos because of one photo that they had posted standing on a pier by the lake.

IMG_20181104_123142

IMG_20181104_123236

IMG_20181104_123355

IMG_20181104_123511

IMG_20181104_124312

IMG_20181104_124725

This time we decided to walk back to the apartment since it was only a few kilometers away. We rested for a short time and then went out again, this time to visit another school called ISP Bukavu (Institut Supérieur Pédagogique). The university has been around for a long time and is where some of the leadership at UCBC attended. Upon approaching the gate we discovered that we couldn’t go and see the campus for the sole reason that I was wearing pants! From the gate we could get a glimpse of the building blocks which have an interesting form. We walked for a bit from there, thinking that we might find a place to get some lunch, when Blaise called and we arranged to meet him at a restaurant called Le Gourmet. He didn’t make it in the end, but a friend of Othy’s called Beni joined us and we had a nice time hanging out. It was coming towards late afternoon and we had talked about the idea of going to Mark and Karen’s church called Le Phare (the Lighthouse) that starts at 4:30. Surprisingly Beni also attends this church and offered to take us there since it was only a short walk away. At this point it was only raining lightly and so we went for it. The service was on the top floor of a newly constructed building and so had a very raw atmosphere. I felt refreshed and challenged by the worship and the message.

IMG_20181104_132327

IMG_20181104_141713

IMG_20181104_143040

After the service I had made arrangements for us to visit Dachiku, a friend from UCBC and sister to another friend Butoto (we had seen him last in Kinshasa and now he is in Europe). Beni offered to come with us since it was dark and the road to Dachiku’s place is very muddy. Dachiku came and met us at the Eglise Ararati and from there walked to her house. We had to use the flashlights on our phones because the power was off across the city. What a strange feeling to be in such a big city and yet so dark. We went down some narrow steps that opened to what in the the daytime would be a view over the city. Their house was built into the side of the hill. It was so good to see Dachiku again as I was just getting to know her better during my time in Beni before the Ebola outbreak began. I think their family was also happy to meet members from the UCBC community where two of their siblings/children had gone to study. Dachiku and her siblings offered us some whole milk and bread (the milk was like yogurt). As we chatted, more of their family arrived until her parents and all of her siblings were there to greet us (they have a big family)! Othy sent Bututo a picture on Whatsapp and he was so pleasantly surprised! It was getting later and so we soon had to go. The family generously arranged for a driver to take us back since transit at night in Bukavu is difficult. What a full and interesting day it had been!

September 4, 2018

Journey to Kinshasa

Othy and my journey to Kinshasa was an adventure from the very start. Our flight was with Kenya Airways with a stopover in Nairobi. Upon arriving in Nairobi we learned that our connecting flight had been delayed 12 hours for no legitimate reason and instead of the flight departing at noon it would depart at midnight! I couldn’t help but chuckle at the large crowd of frustrated and animated Congolese people surrounding the Kenya airways help desk. They were frustrated for good reason because their flight was probably selected as the one to cancel because the airline would not be obliged to put the passengers on other flights because there were no other flights going to Kinshasa. Othy and I didn’t feel like hanging around the airport for that long and so we inquired about a hotel room. First we had to wait for a form to fill out, and then we had to go into the line for getting the Visa, but no wait… we had to go back and get that form signed, but no wait… the person who was supposed to sign it had disappeared somewhere. He finally showed up again and signed our forms, we waited in line again for the visa, we waited in the baggage claim as they sorted out the hotel details, and then waited again for a bus that would bring us there. What a process! They took us to a hotel called the Tamarind Tree. Our rooms were not ready and so they showed us to the restaurant where we partook of a buffet lunch. The hotel had good food and a nice atmosphere. Finally we were able to check into our rooms. It was a nicely designed suite and so I enjoyed taking a nap, taking a shower, drinking tea, and watching a TV episode to pass the time. We had dinner at the hotel and then at 8pm we caught the shuttle bus back to the airport. We arrived in Kinshasa at 3am only to discover that almost everyone’s bags did not arrive, even though they had twelve hours to make sure they got to the right place! Othy’s friend was there to pick us up and bring us to his place where we would be staying. Few! What a journey!

IMG-20180813-WA0001

First time flying together!

I could not see much of Kinshasa by night and so the next day I got to wake up and discover my surroundings. In the late morning we drove together into the city center. Othy’s friend lives in a neighbourhood called Kingabwa which is a nice spot because it is away from the city center and yet not too far. The first thing to take note of is the traffic. Most of the cars on the road are taxi cars and vans that are painted bright yellow. They stop for people everywhere and so are often the cause of traffic jams. I also learned that they are called “Esprit du Mort” or “Spirit of Death”, likely because of how old and broken down they are, how crazy they drive, and how full many people pack into them. There are also some newer larger buses that were introduced later and were given the name “Esprit de Vie”, “Spirit of Life”. The second thing to take note of is that there is garbage everywhere. It is clear that there is no city infrastructure in place to handle all of the plastic bags, bottles, and steel cans that have been introduced by mostly imported products. The downtown has many interesting buildings that look well designed, though many of them look ruddy from lack of maintenance. Some of the design elements that are common are horizontal and vertical shading, using balconies as a way to offer play and variance in the facade, curves that follow street curves or corners, and interesting uses of concrete which seems to be the most common building material.

IMG-20180813-WA0000

On Monday we went to the office of Othy’s colleague where we did work for most of the day. We also walked to the Kenya Airways office to submit letters of complaint and ask about how to locate our bags (we didn’t want to have to go to the airport until we had confirmation that they were there). The following day we went to the South African visa application center and then to the airport to get our bags. The journey there revealed just how crazy the traffic is in this city! The road to the airport is four lanes wide on each side. Traffic jams are mostly caused by the taxis who stop anywhere, often in clusters, or attempt to do U-turns to go back the other way. Pedestrians criss cross the eight lanes of traffic; large pedestrian bridges were constructed about a year ago, but remain unused. Young men often step up on the back bumpers of the taxis for a ride or sit/surf on top of them. The stretch of road between the downtown and the N’djili airport is the main artery for the part of the city where more than three quarters of the population lives, primarily urban poor who inhabit a vast area of precarious dwellings. It took about an hour to get to the airport. Apparently before the road was widened it could take up to six hours! The airport was also chaotic but somehow our bags were there after arriving on the previous day’s flight! I was so thankful and happy to be able to finally change my clothes! On Wednesday Othy’s mentor offered to take us around to see a few things in the city. He took us to a housing development that seemed to be struggling. The houses were okay but I didn’t think they were worth the money that they were asking. It seemed like it would have been better if they had found a way to target a lower income bracket with denser, more affordable units. After that we visited several buildings in the downtown including a mall. I was feeling light-headed because it was 3pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch, and so we sat down on a terrace in a large atrium and had pieces of cake and Maltinas. From there we went to the main market. It was a maze of stalls and tables selling anything and everything. The place was bustling and I had to concentrate on not losing Othy’s mentor who was leading us. A large part of the market was beneath umbrella-type concrete canopies but also extended beyond them under colourful tarps and umbrellas. At one point there was a vehicle playing Congolese music and everyone around us knew the song and were singing along!


IMG_20180815_134346

IMG-20180816-WA0021

The following days fell into a rhythm of work some days at the office and other days at the house. I was glad to be able to take time to focus on E4C and IRI work after being distracted during the last week in Beni and then being on the road. For lunch when at the office we had takeout a few times, and walked to two nearby fast-food restaurants. At the house I reheated leftovers a few times. In Kinshasa food is almost the same price as in Toronto. Most things are imported and so the food is not fresh like in North Kivu. Othy’s friend’s girlfriend generously cooked for us many times, and often we would come home at 6 or 7pm and there would be a meal waiting on the table. Near the end of our second week there, Othy’s mentor took us on another small trip, this time to visit a garbage dump that had failed, and a logging port. The “Centre d’Enfouissement Techniques des Dechets” or “Technical Centre of Landfill Waste” is a project that the EU had invested in, but after a time operations stopped and the equipment was pillaged and is now just sitting there and rusting. It was sad to see. This is one example of many large projects in Congo with foreign investment that have failed. The logging port was another site to see. The logs were gigantic and sitting in large piles. The port is on the Congo river and so we walked down to see the water. The trees are brought here on long metal boats and transferred to shore with pulleys. It made me sad to think that these trees are likely coming from unregulated or illegal forestry. I couldn’t help but think of an article I had read recently from Global Witness called Total Systems Failure about how the government is looking the other way while companies, many of them international, are logging illegally and committing social and environmental abuses.

IMG-20180903-WA0024

IMG-20180903-WA0013

IMG-20180903-WA0031

IMG-20180903-WA0033

I discovered during this time in Kinshasa that this city is where all of the challenges that the country faces can be seen in high definition. It also seems that many people are either powerless to make change or have given up in trying. One Congolese person said to me that the hearts of the Kinois (Congolese in Kinshasa) have been replaced with a mechanical survival mechanism that is pumping blood but has no feeling. I was definitely overwhelmed by everything that I saw. We got on the topic when Othy and I were eating lunch with a friend of ours from Beni who was also in Kinshasa for a short time. How can you not be paralyzed by the overwhelming weight of problems and need? The answer is to start small, do the small things that you can, and over time it will grow and maybe even inspire others. I am not sure yet what my contribution will be if we end up settling here in the long term, but a lot of ideas were beginning to brew in my mind about how to turn waste into construction materials, how to build more with the sand that is the main type of soil here, and what kind of funding/construction mechanisms could be used for upgrading precarious dwellings. Despite all of the many challenges I have presented here, one redeeming aspect of the city is how friendly and welcoming the people are. I felt well received by all of Othy’s friends and colleagues. Another positive aspect about Kinshasa is that it is close to some beautiful natural places. In the next post I will write about two such places that we visited on the two Sundays during my stay. I think that I saw a good amount for only a two week visit!

July 1, 2018

Transit through Rwanda

In the past I have always travelled through Uganda to get to Beni, DRC, but this time I was instructed to go fly into Kigali Rwanda, drive to Goma, and then fly from Goma to Beni. Although I was sad not to be able to visit friends in Uganda, I was excited at the opportunity to see another country I had not yet visited. I had heard so many things about Rwanda and was looking forward to seeing it for myself. I arrived in Kigali on Saturday afternoon and hired a taxi to take me to Yambi Guesthouse that came on good recommendation from a colleague at Congo Initiative. The first thing that I remarked on during the drive was how almost unnaturally clean everything was, and how the main roads seemed almost European. It was strange to see because it looked so much more organized than the other African cities I have visited. All of the roads had generous sidewalks and some secondary streets were made with cobblestones. Yambi Guesthouse is a comfortable place with a nice atmosphere. It was about dinner time when I arrived, but I didn’t want to spend money or eat more restaurant food after being several days at a hotel. The hostel has a kitchen and so I walked down the street and bought the ingredients for an omelette from a little shop. Instead of spending $10 on a meal, I spent under $2. While eating I met the owner whose name is Patrick. He offered to take me to see some parts of Kigali the next day. That evening I chatted with Othy because it was his birthday and unfortunately we couldn’t be together in person.

IMG_20180513_165242

IMG_20180512_183602

View from Yambi Guesthouse

IMG_20180512_190022

I took the next morning to get some work done, and in the afternoon Patrick took me to the oldest neighbourhood in Kigali called Nyamirambo. We walked the main streets and then in behind where there are precarious settlements. He said that these houses are illegal because the areas always experience erosion with heavy rain, but people build there anyways. Next he took me to a memorial for the Belgian peacekeepers who were murdered at the start of the Rwandan Genocide in 1993. Part of the memorial is the very buildings where the troops were killed. It is a powerful testimony because the building remains untouched with bullet holes in the walls. A chalk board inside the room is covered with messages from family members expressing anger towards the perpetrators and also a UN general who saw that something was happening but chose not to intervene. Near the memorial there was a conference centre with an area where local arts and crafts are sold. The path approaching the crafts building is a tensile construction that I thought was nicely done. The craft pavilions are constructed out of oriented strand board that I thought gave warmth to the space and highlighted the arts and crafts that were on display. My favourite display was a wall of woven baskets because I love woven furniture and accessories! I think it would be cool to make an artwork in my house out of a selection of baskets. Soon after getting back to the guesthouse a driver came and picked me up. We went first to the airport to pick up Jon and then started our journey on to Goma. The drive took about four hours and we enjoyed watching the sun set over the green hills. As we approached the border crossing, I got a short glimpse of the glowing crater of Mount Nyiragongo, the active volcano 20km north of Goma in Virunga National Park.

IMG_20180513_125813

IMG_20180513_130429

June 23, 2018

Nairobi

I am in awe at how God works things out sometimes. When I accepted to serve with IRI in Congo, I committed to serve 3/4 time because I knew that I would need to find some other work for additional financial support. Soon after, I was offered a position to be an expert fellow with Engineering for Change from May until September. This opportunity was ideal because the work is part time and done remotely. What amazed me even more is that I discovered that E4C had decided to have two kickoff sessions this year, one in Portland Ohio, and the other in Nairobi Kenya. Also, the kick-off session in Nairobi was being planned for May 11th, only a few days after my flight was scheduled to arrive in Kigali! All it required of me was to post-pone my arrival in Congo by one week, and book a flight from Kigali to Nairobi. The only inconvenience was that flight times were limited and so I had a 5 hour layover and a red-eye flight that left Kigali at midnight and arrived in Nairobi at 4am after a stop in Entebbe. The flight didn’t allow me any sleep, and so it was only the adrenaline of being in a new place that kept me going. My friends Jon and Kate recently moved to Nairobi and so I had arranged to stay with them for the first night. I know them from my time in Congo in 2014 and since then have visited them once in Ann Arbor and again in Congo. I was looking forward to seeing them again after two years! Jon had kindly arranged for a driver to come pick me up at the airport. The drive to their place took almost an hour. I was amazed at how cool it was and near the end of the journey we drove through thick patches of fog. Finally we arrived and it was still dark. How wonderful it was to see such warm and familiar faces! I sat with Jon and Kate in their living room and we caught up as they enjoyed their morning coffee. They were the first I shared the news of Othy and my engagement with, which was extra cool because they know both of us! Afterwards Kate made bacon and eggs and we enjoyed breakfast together and were soon joined by the boys. I enjoyed seeing the lush landscape out of the large back window as dawn arrived. Jon and Kate live in a house in Limuru, which is apparently one of the colder parts of Kenya and is an area known for its numerous tea plantations. It is so fresh that they heat the house by burning wood in a fireplace. Because of the fog and the rain, they were having trouble finding dry wood.

Shortly after breakfast I went and took a two hour power nap. I didn’t want to sleep so long as to throw off my schedule. I helped Kate do some homeschooling with the boys and then we went on a walk. They showed me their backyard which was a vast area of lawn and gardens full of large tropical plants and trees. We also visited the neighbour who rents the house to Jon and Kate and is responsible for creating this piece of paradise over the many years she has lived there. Her house is beautiful and from the colonial period. We chatted for a while with her and warmed ourselves by her fire. From there the boys showed us the soccer pitch that the landlord had set up for them and then took us through a trail at the back of the property. There were so many beautiful flowers and thick vines hanging from the trees! Jon and Kate decided to take me to have lunch at Brackenhurst. It is a nicely developed hotel and conference centre. Afterwards they took me on a drive to see the tea fields. The landscapes are stunning and I found that the pictures I tried to take didn’t really do it justice. We returned to the house and spent some time working, and then in the evening we made the decision to go and visit Phil and Emily who live only 40 minutes away at Rift Valley Academy. Phil and Emily are long time friends with Jon and Kate and I know them from my time working with EMI Uganda. We arrived just as the sun was setting. The view of the rift valley we had along the way was amazing! We drove along the top edge of it, and then to get to RVA we started curving our way down into it. We enjoyed catching up over a dinner of pizza and salad and delicious homemade cookies. The visit was short and sweet and we were soon on our way home. Unfortunately some fog had rolled in and it was a bit stressful coming back out of the valley because of being unable to see very well. We made it out and home safely and by then I was pretty out of it! I went straight to sleep! The following morning Kate made pancakes with a delicious homemade syrup. I played some lego with the boys for a bit and then Jon arranged for the same driver to come pick me up to take me to the Azure hotel where I would be staying for the rest of my time in Nairobi. I was sad to say farewell to Jon and Kate so soon, but was thankful for the time we had together and for their generous hospitality!

IMG_2420

IMG_20180508_112501

IMG_2410

IMG_2407

IMG_2416

April 14, 2018

Queen West SCS

This past year I had the opportunity to work on a small project with Philip Beesley and Rolf Seifert called the Queen West Supervised Consumption Site (SCS). Several SCS have opened up in major cities across the country to reduce the impacts of substance use on individuals and communities. Health Canada has a helpful website that explains the reasons, goals, and how the sites work. The project was a good opportunity for me because it was small and I was able to do everything for the project under the supervision of my boss including the bidding and negotiation process and contract administration. I learned a whole lot from working on this project, am proud at how it turned out, and am excited for the impact it will have! Photos are the property of Philip Beesley Architect Inc. and Rolf Seifert Architect. The photographer is Alex Willms.

2018-03-21_QW-11

2018-03-21_QW-8

2018-03-21_QW-6

2018-03-21_QW-2_

2018-03-21_QW-5

July 17, 2017

Boston 2.0

IMG_20170521_174116

Shadow play on the Stata Center

At nine in the morning I headed back to where the Highline begins because it turned out that is where Megabus picks up their passengers. It took a while to get on the bus and then out of Manhattan because of traffic. I did not arrive in Boston until 3 o-clock! Part of me felt silly for going to Boston because I wasted a perfectly good day, but I was determined to make the most of it! The last time I was in Boston was when I had an amazing couch-surfing experience during my solo trip to visit graduate schools. It helped that I already had a good idea of where to go once I arrived at the bus station. From the South Station I hopped on the subway to Kendall station in Cambridge and met Andrea, Kristie, and Christian who are colleagues I know from my work at PBAI. They generously took time to show me the MIT MediaLab and the Stata Center. The MediaLab was particularly impressive because of the breadth of ideas they are exploring. The Stata lab was interesting because it is in a Frank Ghery building (apparently it has had its share of lawsuits from issues like leaks and falling ice) and the computer science research involves testing their software on robots. Kristie and Christian left early and Andrea and I went to go visit the MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen before parting ways.

For dinner I had planned to go meet my old classmate Dan at a restaurant he had selected which was conveniently a short journey from MIT campus. I went and waited for twenty minutes at the restaurant only to learn from texting Dan that it was not a one-off restaurant and that he was at another location! I felt stupid because I should have known that the restaurant would be in Boston and not up in Cambridge! Google told me it would take a half hour to get to the other location, but I missed the bus by a hair and so it actually took over an hour. By the time I got to the restaurant it was closing and Dan was nowhere to be found! It turns out he was worried because there was apparently a THIRD location (although the one I went to turned out to be the correct one)! I told him I would just come to his house instead. So during all of this running around I got to see Boston by night. The area in South Boston where this restaurant was (the Orinoco), was very quaint with older brick homes, brick sidewalks, and lampposts that gave it a European feel. I didn’t arrive at Dan’s place until 9pm but we made the most with the time we had. By the time I got to his place he had already picked up some groceries so that we could make Hawaiian sloppy joes. Yum! We also had a nice time catching up on our lives.

The next morning I could sleep in a bit because I was able to let myself out after Dan was already gone to work. I walked to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that was nearby that has an addition designed by Renzo Piano (this is the most I’ve seen of his work). Another reason I was interested is because I’ve heard it is an impressive collection and it is currently exhibiting an installation by Philip Beesley Architect Inc. that the team installed several months ago. I was sad to discover it was still closed and would not be opening for another hour yet. It was raining and I was in no mood to hang around, so I got a good look at the building from the outside (a common occurrence on this trip) and then headed off. It looked as if the whole day would be rainy and so I took the train back to the South Station, put my suitcase into short-term luggage storage, and went off to see more of Boston. This time I decided to take a suggestion from Dan which was to follow the Freedom Trail, a path through the city that brings you past historical monuments and shares some of the rich history of the city. I enjoyed the walk and also liked that it didn’t require too much thinking because there was a clearly marked brick or painted brick trail on the ground and medallions that marked the special sites. I visited some of the oldest graveyards in Boston, churches that had box pews that were owned by congregants (I had never seen churches designed that way before), and meeting houses where big historical events happened like meetings of the Boston Tea Party that were the beginnings of the American Revolution. I saw the house of Paul Revere who was a silversmith, engraver, and industrialist, but is most known for his midnight ride to alert the colonial militia of the approach of the British before the battles of Lexington and Concord. Lastly I crossed the Charles River to Charlestown to see the Bunker Hill Monument, erected between 1825 and 1843 to commemorate the battle of Bunker Hill that was fought there in 1775, and the USS Constitution, a navel vessel from 1797.

I had an hour left before I had to leave for the airport and so I decided to go quickly back up to Cambridge to see the Sean Collier Memorial on the MIT campus. It was built in 2015 in the honour of Sean Collier who was a police officer killed in the line of duty while pursuing the suspects of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  I heard about this project by a lecture at ACADIA by the designer J. Meejin Yoon who is also a professor and department head of architecture at MIT. It follows a star shape that represents an open hand, and the walls act as buffers from the street and draw you into the monument and also locate the site of the shooting. The stone walls of the star act as buttresses that lift up a thin stone vault in the centre. The details of how it was made are quite fascinating as they involved age-old techniques partnered with digital fabrication technology. I think that the arrangement of the space and use of material have informed a meaningful experience for people passing through. I was glad I went to check it out. Even though it made me more nervous about cutting things too close at the airport, it turned out that my flight ended up being delayed anyways!

IMG_20170522_102624

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

IMG_20170522_123351

Old State House

IMG_20170522_123407

IMG_20170522_131813

The Paul Revere House

IMG_20170522_135750

View from the Bunker Hill Monument

IMG_20170522_150642

The Sean Collier Monument