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Architecture the ‘most visible expression of culture’

Does the economy drive architecture or does architecture drive the economy?

The central premise of Architecture + Commerce, a free event kicking off Supercrawl this weekend, is that good architecture and design drives a local economy by attracting investment and talent, enhancing quality of life and protecting the environment.

The event is hosted by the Ontario Association of Architects, the Hamilton/Burlington Society of Architects and the Renew Hamilton Project.

Seven speakers will present in the PechaKucha format, which allows each presenter 20 slides or photos and 20 seconds per image. The format began with two architects in Tokyo in 2003, with the idea that it offered a chance for designers and artists to showcase their work in a fast-paced way.

Architecture + Commerce speakers will address plenty of hot-button topics in Hamilton: adaptive reuse; using design to attract talent and renew an economy; and sustainability.

It will be held at 95 King St. E., a notable adaptive reuse in the downtown. It was once Mills Hardware and then Diamond Jim's Tavern. It then morphed into a strip club before being bought by the city. It's now an arts centre with gallery space, artist studios and 12 loft apartments.

The OAA, which is marking its 125th anniversary, has hosted two similar events in Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo.

"Hamilton is a great example of architecture as an economic driver. There are a lot of new and existing structures breathing new life into the city," said president Bill Birdsell.

He says holding the event at the kickoff of Supercrawl, a celebration of Hamilton's arts district on James Street North, is a natural.

"Architecture is a language and when it's done well, it speaks to people … It's the most visible expression of culture."

Hamilton architect Joanne McCallum says her talk tackles the need to look beyond upfront costs when designing buildings and cities.

"We have a very impoverished way of looking at design and construction. We focus on capital costs but we need to look at the operational costs down the road."

She said creating sustainability doesn't mean adding costs but being smart about design.

"There's this mentality that cheaper is the best way to spend but taxpayer money needs to go into thoughtful, well-performing buildings."

McCallum says while the momentum of Hamilton's revival "will be challenging to stop," the city must invest in infrastructure, including light-rail transit.

"I think it's a critical piece to attract the middle class to the downtown." 

Source: The Hamilton Spectator, Sept.11, 2014
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