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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Nocturne: Hidden views and humans at the parkade

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Nocturne 2009

HALIFAX – Last Saturday’s crisp October night saw people take to the streets to explore the city for its annual Nocturne event.  With open doors, and outdoor installations, the event turned the city inside out.   Introducing new artists and their interdisciplinary work, the event also presented opportunities to experience urban architecture as new artistic landscapes. Among the many impactful pieces, wide-eyed wanderers took bold steps participating in Jesse Walker’s Parkade Project. The project set in the multi-level parking garage at Blowers and Granville Street, sought to lower the heart rate, and reclaim humanity in a building designed for cars.

The project began with a precession where participants filed into the stairwell led in rhythmic two-by-two steps by a pea-coat clad Howard Beye. Each pair of steps was interspliced with erratic tapping patterns made by other facilitators on the metal railings. The echoing tapping sounds were indecipherable in origin and constantly changing – unpracticed cues to march.  As participants ascended the zigzag stairwell, they exchanged silent communicative looks. These quiet conversations, coupled with the mass march, questioned the space itself.  Discussions wondered:  how far to the top? How far down did the stairwell go? Was the tapping coming from the bottom, top, both? How many steps could one tackle with each beat? What accounted for the inconsistent flow?

Architectural works operate in reference to their subject. Considering proponents of a building, scale and proportion are considered relative to the dynamics of whom, and what will fill them. Understanding this, the parkade-structure draws attention to a tension between man and machine. For, while this stairwell is perhaps the one of the few spaces in the building designed for humans, it too follows a predictable pattern – regulated and mechanic. Where is the humanity in that? The Parkade Project climb pushed participants accentuate this pattern, and to question the rhythm of design. With step, participants aimed to match the uniform beat, inevitably one person, or another missed it. In the pursuit of a perfect formula, whether architecturally or socially there lie uncertain, unpredictable forms.

Metro Parkade

Emerging from the stairwell, participants found themselves on the top level of the parking garage. The doors of the stairwell opened up to a city revealing default vistas – often unconsidered views.  These were glimpses into vacant office buildings, the harbour reflected refinery lights, and a view of Granville Street alive anew with art enthusiasts. Pylons lit with flickering tea-light candles decoratively slinked around the lot: acting as romantic barriers that invited crowds to reclaim the space. Crowds there flowed in both directions; some perched to take in the new sights.  This space left me considering the continual dilemma of whether cars and people can really share a space; a tedious environment that has yet to be designed.

Like all art, each interpretation is unique.  The Parkade Project however, invited all to discover and interpret Halifax’s hidden open spaces, and to question the motivation of urban architecture.  The Project triggered a reflection on the way we are human in spaces that refer to machines.  It asked: if we make buildings for cars, for whom do we design our cities? Is there space within them, where we can be human – to live, certain of some inevitable mis-step, and some hopeful discovery of a new, beautiful perspective?  Indeed, among many lessons, Nocturne revealed that if buildings are made for cars, then the streets are made for people.

photos by Matthew Hollett (featuring projector piece by Suzanne Caines) and Jen Polegatto (Parkades project by Jesse Walker)