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? How does immigration impact it? Given that some nations/politicians/people view refugees and migrants as threats to their national cultures, these questions are worth delving into. Granted, a blog post is an inadequate format to fully challenge the negative views on immigration held by some. However, the inspiring story of the tranquil and fascinating Jardin de Silice illustrates how a change of country can have a positive cultural impact for the migrant and the community in which they choose to live.
 Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
Early this past summer, an unusual garden roof structure caught my eye as I walked along the main street of the picturesque Laurentian town of Val David. To my dismay, a thick wall of cedar hedges blocked the full view from my curious eyes.

In late August, I returned to Val David to attend the 1001 Pots Exhibition, a show and sale of work by talented contemporary ceramic and pottery artists from Québec (and a few from Ontario), Canada. The exhibition was fabulous. Equally wonderful was finding out that the garden, which I had previously caught a glimpse of, belongs to the founder of the exhibition, Kinya Ishikawa, and was 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
Floating in the Clouds Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
To enter the Jardin de Silice, you pass through a set of large doors and cross a small hallway. From her perch above the second threshold, a tiny figurine tenderly watches over the courtyard. Lanterns hang from the roof beams. Cedar and other fragrant branches burn inside a rustic clay oven. Vines, growing out of boxes along the top of the walls, twist themselves up the twig roof. You walk through the passageways that run along each side of the courtyard. Here and there, through openings in the pottery-filled grids, you look out at the surrounding yard. You see people in the yard peeking in. Lush ferns, giant Butterbur and more vines dot the pathways and courtyard. Benches urge you to sit quietly and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. You see figures floating in the clouds at the far end of the garden. A whimsical totem pole-like metal sculpture catches your attention. The garden enchants you.

The Jardin de Silice embodies Japanese and Canadian cultural aesthetics. The Japanese concept of meigakure (to hide and reveal) is seen in the exterior fence, openings in the interior walls and the many delightful elements placed in nooks and alcoves throughout the garden. The garden doors create a 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 courtyard is reminiscent of Zen Buddhist temple gardens. Yet, the structure’s layout resembles that of a church. There is an innovative, creative and sometimes humorous sensibility in the architecture and stacked pottery that conveys a modern Canadian Québecois aesthetic. This hybrid of cultural influences is due to the Japanese and Canadian roots of the people who bring this unique garden to life.

Born in Japan, Kinya Ishikawa came to North America in 1969 as a member of the Japanese bobsled team. The team competed in the Lake Placid Bobsleigh World Cup. Curious to learn more about the North American culture, he decided to stay on after the race. Eventually, he landed in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Knowing only a little English and no French, he found a job at a pottery studio where he exchanged janitorial services for room and board. Having dropped out of university and worked as a designer for a clothing company in Japan before joining the bobsled team, Kinya Ishikawa found his calling, that of a potter, while working at the Montréal studio.

He also met the woman who became his wife, Marie-Andrée Benoit. She worked at the library that he frequented. With the aid of English-French and French-English dictionaries, the couple initially communicated through love notes. Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
Primarily a self-taught potter, his artistic and entrepreneurial talents led him to open a pottery studio in Boucherville, Québec, Canada. His work was soon on display at galleries in North America and Japan.

In 1979, he was invited to participate in an exhibition at the venerable Victoria and Albert Museum. While visiting the UK in preparation for the exhibition, he met with the world-renowned potter Bernard Leach. It was after this meeting that Kinya Ishikawa decided to take his work in a new direction. Rather than create precious items destined for display at galleries and museums, he began to make pottery for use in everyday life.

Awarded a Québec Arts Council grant in 1984, he was able to spend a year practising his craft anywhere in the world. He spent it in Japan. While there, he observed how one of his friends, a cabinetmaker, collaborated with other artists.

He began to think about how to connect with other potters. His thoughts became actions. In 1989, he invited 50 artists to take part in the first 1001 Pots Exhibition. It’s now the largest annual pottery show and sale in North America, attracting about 200,000 visitors during its month-long run.

Continuing to experiment and expand his artistic expression, the Jardin de Silice is Kinya Ishikawa’s more recent passion. A work in progress and now more than eight years in the making, He conceived of and designed it. However, like the 1001 Pots Exhibition, the garden is a communal effort. Local artists and artisans help him build it. They also donate pottery and ceramics to fill the walls – their discards combined to become a new artwork.

While beautiful cups, bowls, plates and vases in various states of completion line the shelves of the sun-filled studio that he shares with his wife, who is now also a potter, Mr. Ishikawa prefers working on the garden. He views the Jardin de Silice as a gathering space for and a tribute to the community of potters that he has helped to bring together (video in the link is in French). 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, which is 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
If you look closely, you’ll see that the pottery pieces are thoughtfully arranged in the walls. And, broken pottery and ceramic fragments create new works of art in the garden’s pathways.
Side Walkway Lined with Butterbur Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
Floor Detail of Pottery Shards Jardin de Silice Kinya IshikawaChicken Mosaic Pathway Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
The garden continues to evolve. The small circular room shown below is a recent addition. It’s placed, much like a chapel, to the side of the main structure. The stacked boulders and solid metal walls create a zen-like atmosphere.

As I stood in the room, the sun broke through a large cloud. The movement cast enchanting patterns on the 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 IshikawaChapel Roof Jardin de Silice Kinya IshikawaReflection Jardin de Silice Kinya Ishikawa
Had Kinya Ishikawa stayed in Japan, the beautiful Jardin de Silice wouldn’t exist.

Had Kinya Ishikawa returned to Japan in 1969 after the bobsled race, it’s unlikely he would have become a potter. Not even if he had discovered his passion for making pottery while living in Japan. In Japan, becoming a potter requires a three-year apprenticeship. Years filled with months of completing repetitious tasks as basic as sweeping the floor and weighing clay. Advancement happens only once the studio master decides the apprentice has perfected the current tasks. Japan’s culture of discipline and conformity is a poor fit for someone who thrives on the freedom of discovery and learning through experimentation. How fortunate that Kinya Ishikawa finds the creative and inclusive culture of Québec, Canada a supportive environment within which to realize his passions and visions (video in the link is in French).

How fortunate for the 1001 Pots community of potters, the town of Val David and the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the collective works of Kinya Ishikawa and Marie-Andrée Benoit that he found his destiny in a new country.

How fortunate that the country welcomed him to stay.

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 (call +1 819 322-6868). 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 Photo Jorg Albrecht 120 res v2

Save Old Tbilisi. Photo Jörg Albrecht

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 Photo Jörg Albrecht 120 res

Decay and protest in Lado Gudiashvili Square. Photo Jörg Albrecht

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 Photo Jorg Albrecht 120 res

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

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, Jörg and I were 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. Hopefully, the discarded thingamajig wasn’t part of the printer. 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 - photo by Jörg AlbrechtThrough their designs, from the simple bell-shaped neck-gables, elegant cornices and mouldings…

Canal Houses Amsterdam - photo by Jörg Albrecht…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 - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Landscaping along the Amstel Canal Amsterdam  - photo by Sara Lynne MoffattWith most gardens hidden from view behind the narrow, deep buildings, it was a pleasure to come across this lush 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 Roofed - photo by Jörg AlbrechtIs 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 - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Photo Credits: 1, 4, 5, and 7 by Sara Lynne Moffatt, 2, 3 and 6 by Jörg Albrecht
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