Category Archives: Architecture & Design

Beautiful architecture, architectural elements, interior design, product design from around the world. Stories about architects, interior and product designers.

Jardin de Silice, a Hybrid of Cultures

What is unique to a country’s culture? Do you wonder if moving to another country might significantly change your life? The inspiring story behind the enchanting Jardin de Silice illustrates how a change of country can have a positive cultural impact for the migrant and their adopted community.

 Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

My first glimpse of this unique garden was while walking along rue de l’Église in the Laurentian town of Val David. Unfortunately, a thick wall of cedar hedges blocked all but the garden’s vine and branch covered roof structure from my curious eyes.

Serendipitously, when back in Val David a few weeks later to visit the 1001 Pots Exhibition, I learned the garden belongs to the founder of the exhibition, Kinya Ishikawa, and is open to visitors during the show. Isn’t it an incredible space?

Inside the Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

Small Statue Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

As you enter the Jardin de Silice, look up and you’ll see a delicate figurine tenderly watching over the courtyard. Lanterns hang from the roof beams. Vines twist themselves over the twig roof.

Ahead, fragrant branches burn inside a rustic clay oven.  Through openings in pottery-filled walls, you catch views of lush ferns and giant Butterbur. Figures floating in the clouds at the far end of the garden and other metal sculptures lounging about add to the enchantment.

Side Walkway Lined with Butterbur Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

What makes this garden a hybrid of cultures? The Jardin de Silice embodies Japanese and Canadian aesthetics. The Japanese concept of meigakure (to hide and reveal) is evident in the exterior fence, openings in the interior walls and in the alcoves scattered throughout the garden. The garden doors, create a symbolic division between the busy outside world and the peaceful inner garden. The division reminds you to leave your worries outside. The dry garden, with its carefully placed rocks and pebbled grounds is reminiscent of Japanese temple gardens. Yet, the structure’s layout resembles that of a church. If you stand in just the right spot outside of the garden, you see garden’s roof line captures the outline of a nearby church steeple. The innovative and creative nature of the structure conveys a modern Canadian Québecois influence. The garden’s hybrid of cultures reflects its Japanese-Canadian roots.

Kinya Ishikawa came North America in 1969, as a member of Japan’s bobsled team, to compete in a race. Curious to learn more about North American culture, he decided not to return to Japan after the race. Eventually, landing in Montréal, Québec, Canada, he found a job at a pottery studio, exchanging janitorial services for room and board. While working at the studio, he took an interest in and began to explore the art of creating pottery.

During this period he met his now wife, Marie-Andrée Benoit. She worked at the local library Kinya frequented. Today, Marie-Andrée Benoit makes pottery alongside Kinya.

Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

Kinya Ishikawa’s artistic and entrepreneurial talents led him to open a pottery studio in Boucherville, Québec, Canada. Galleries in North America and Japan soon displayed his work. Awarded a Québec Arts Council grant in 1984, he chose to spend a year practising his craft in Japan.

While there, he observed how one of his friends, a cabinetmaker, collaborated with other artists. After returning to Canada, he thought of ways to connect with other potters. Then, in 1989, he invited 50 artists to take part in the first 1001 Pots Exhibition. Now one of the largest annual pottery show and sale in North America, attracting about 200,000 visitors each year.

A number of years ago, Kinya began to create the Jardin de Silice. Artists and artisans help him to build and expand the garden. Their ongoing donations of pottery and ceramic discards fill its walls. He views the garden as a gathering space for and a tribute to the community of potters he helps bring together.

Cart Scupture by Biscornet Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

At the garden’s entrance is a whimsical metal cart created by Val-David artist Jean Bisson Biscornet. It houses an enchanting moss and fern-filled miniature garden, yet another nod to the Japanese aesthetic.
Landscape Inside the Cart Sculpture by Biscornet Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
Broken Pottery Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

The broken pottery and ceramic fragments create new works of communal art.

Floor Detail of Pottery Shards Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

Jardin de Silice

A small circular room is placed, much like a chapel, to the side of the main structure. As I stood in this room, the sun broke through a large cloud. The movement cast enchanting patterns on the rusty steel walls. Do the shadows look like a dream catcher to you?

View to the Stacked Rocks Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
Dream Catcher Shadow Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa

Would Kinya be a potter today if had returned to Japan in 1969? I imagine the disciplined-nature of Japan’s apprenticeship process, one which demands pottery students master basic tasks such as sweeping the floor and weighing clay before being permitted to do creative work, may deter those who thrive on learning through discovery and experimentation. However, Kinya Ishikawa finds the creative and inclusive culture of Québec a supportive environment in which to realize his passions and visions.

How fortunate for the 1001 Pots community of potters and the thousands of people who visit the show to see and collect the works art created by Kinya Ishikawa, Marie-Andrée Benoit and many other talented potters, Kinya made his way to a new country. How fortunate the country welcomed him to stay.

If you could freely move to another country, where would you go? How do you think the change would impact your life?

Kinya Ishikawa and Marie-Andrée Benoit’s studio gallery, at 2435, rue de l’Église, Val-David, Québec, Canada J0T 2N0, is open year-round by appointment. Be sure to ask about visiting the Jardin de Silice while you are there.

Georgian Letters of Protest (and Hope)

For this week’s photo challenge from The Daily Post on “Letters,” participants are asked to consider how an “image might convey something bigger: a snapshot of how we communicate with one another, even if we don’t speak the same language.”

While I can’t communicate in the Georgian language, the powerful imagery of the banner shown below prompted me to seek out its meaning.

Save Old Tbilisi

Save Old Tbilisi.

The balcony’s elegant scrollwork is reminiscent of the gently curving lines of the Georgian script. The clenched fist and bold graphics suggest the words have something to do with resistance and strength. Thankfully, as I learned, the banner’s message is stronger than the decaying ironwork that displays it.

Save Old Tbilisi

Decay and protest in Lado Gudiashvili Square.

The banner hangs on one of the crumbling classical late 19th century buildings bordering Tbilisi, Georgia’s Lado Gudiashvili Square. In 2011, information about a radical redevelopment plan for the Square and its historical buildings surfaced. As part of the government’s misguided ongoing campaign to “clean-up” the city to attract investors and tourists, modernization of many areas of Tbilisi had already resulted in the destruction of architecturally important buildings.

News of the Square’s pending redevelopment prompted a group of concerned citizens to establish an “Occupy Gudiashvili” movement. They organized peaceful protests, urging the government to stop the destruction of the buildings and start reinforcing and restoring them. Then, in May 2012, while no building permits had been issued and city officials denied approving the controversial plans, the demolition of one architecturally significant Gudiashvili Square building, known as the “Blue House,” seemed to be illegally underway. The “Occupy Gudiashvili” group continued with their protests, garnering considerable media attention for their cause.

The Square’s radical redevelopment has, for the moment, stopped, “…the Austrian owners have now pulled out, thanks largely to public pressure and the exposure of alleged corruption within the Tbilisi Development Fund. Today the Fund now owns Gudiashvili Square, although it remains leaderless.”

Tbilisi Old City

An early 20th century building near Lado Gudiashvili Square, Tbilisi, Georgia. The monumental Kartlis Deda or Mother Georgia statue is visible in the distance.

The presence of historical buildings give us a visual connection to our roots. They encourage us to learn about history and use that knowledge to create a favourable future. As a child, I was intrigued by the sleek futuristic world presented in the TV show The Jetsons. As an adult, I’m saddened at the thought of losing old world charm and craftsmanship. Many cities have successfully modernized without destroying their connection to the past.

The future of Tbilisi’s many historical neighbourhood’s remains uncertain. The გაამაგრე გუდიაშვილის protests, like the buildings’ decay, continue. If, like me, you see the value in preserving historical architecture, consider joining the efforts to save old Tbilisi.

To view other participants’ submissions for this week’s “Letters” photo challenge, please visit the links posted here.


Additional Reading:

Newsflash from Tbilisi: Demolition of the Lermontov House
Tbilisi Architectural Heritage Group
Tbilisi Destroys its Past: The Old Town is Transformed
Tbilisi Forum for Architecture
Tbilisi, Where Restoration Means Redevelopment
The Georgian Alphabet: A Gallery of Specimens (

Amsterdam’s Canal Houses: More than Just a Pretty Facade

A while back, I was chatting with friends about things we could make using a 3D printer. Having a 3D printer at home could be quite handy.  Just realized that the unimportant-looking thingamajig you tossed out is an essential component of the juicer/ steamer/whatnot? Don’t worry, simply sketch, then 3D print a new one. Amsterdam’s DUS Architects firm is thinking bigger, much BIGGER. After years of planning, they recently started to 3D print a modern version of the traditional canal house; a life-size, 13-room version. You can follow the build here.

I like that DUS’s future-focused design includes a classic stepped gable. During my visits to Amsterdam last year, I spent hours meandering and taking in the details. While the predominately 17th and 18th century canal houses are fairly uniform in shape, their varied architectural elements add incredible charm and character to the city.

Canal Houses Amsterdam - Bell Gable Through their designs, from the simple bell-shaped neck-gables, elegant cornices and mouldings…

Canal Houses Amsterdam …to the rhythm of windows spanning building facades, Amsterdam’s early architects helped to create a jewel box of a city.

Doors with Figurative Detail Amsterdam

Urban Landscaping Along the Amstel Canal Amsterdam With most gardens hidden from view behind the narrow, deep buildings, it was a pleasure to come across this lush urban oasis when walking beside the Amstel Canal.

Why are the canal houses narrow and deep? Effective urban planning.

Between the 13th and mid-17th century, Amsterdam grew from a humble trading post for commodities such as herring and beer to a bustling multinational centre of commerce. There are a couple of key reasons for the city’s growth. Firstly, tolls were low. The prospect of earning higher profits attracted traders. Higher profits then allowed them to invest in new technologies and expand their businesses. Secondly, people fleeing from the persecution and violence taking place in other parts of Europe were welcomed by the Dutch. Many of the refugees were wealthy and used their wealth to fund sea expeditions to India; eventually, organizing the Dutch East India Company. Later, the Dutch West India Company was established and undertook trading expeditions to the New World.

In 1300, Amsterdam had 1,000 inhabitants.  By 1600, the population stood at 54,000. Relative to today’s mega-cities, that seems small. However, the city was bursting at the seams. To accommodate the rapidly increasing population, in 1613, city planners developed a grand plan to expand the canal ring. Its implementation was a success. By 1675, over 200,000 people comfortably lived and worked in Amsterdam.

The GIF images give you an idea of how the city grew. They depict layouts dating about 1340, 1425, 1585, 1613, 1663 and the end of 19th century.

By substantially expanding the canal system in the 1600’s and creating narrow building plots, the city planners maximized the number of businesses that could be established along Amsterdam’s waterways. The long plots stretched between the canals and allowed for generous backyards.

The typical canal house provided both commercial and residential spaces. The architectural renderings shown below are of a canal house designed by the Golden Age Dutch architect Philip Vingboons. The front of the building was used for retail, office, warehousing and/or trading activities. The residential area was located at the rear of the building, offering respite from the busy waterways and opening into a gorgeous garden. Each zone was serviced by its own staircase.  The famously narrow footprint of the staircases maximized floor space. Furniture and other large items were (and still are) hoisted to the upper levels using hooks attached to the exterior of the building.

VingboonsOver time, many of Amsterdam’s canal houses were converted into hotels, condos, and office buildings. However, the type of work/live buildings conceived by Vingboons and other early Dutch architects could be ideal for today’s expanding entrepreneurial and small business sectors.

DUS’s 3D-printed house concept considers the building needs and environmental impacts of rapidly growing 21st century cities. DUS Architects partner Hedwig Heinsman speaks to this during an interview by Blouin ARTINFO which you can view here.

Canal Houses Amsterdam Neck Gables and Flat RoofedIs a 3D printed home in your future? The potential of this emerging technology is quite intriguing. I’m working on a sketch of the canal houses shown in the photo above. I may start sketching out my ideal home next. By the time I finish it, 3D printed neighbourhoods could be popping up everywhere.

Amsterdam canal house sketch

Illustration Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Additional Sources:

Amsterdam Canal Houses (some information is available in English)
Amsterdam City Archives
Amsterdam: Historical Population
European Architecture: Essential Architecture – Amsterdam
Holland History
UNESCO: Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam Inside the Singelgracht