“One Year Car-Less”

It has now officially been one year, that I have lived without a car! I now know, from personal experience, it can be done! It is surprisingly easy and at this point I have no intention of going back! Yes there are inconveniences, like slogging groceries in a backpack in the dead of winter…..actually, now that I think about it, that’s the only one! The benefits however, are amazing. Here are my top 10:

1. When I did drive, I did not have a car loan on my last vehicle, so I got off lucky with around $5K in car expenses a year. With car loan payments, that could easily hit $10K/year. That’s money in the bank.

2. I now have the coolest bike in the world with my Brompton! Check out their webpage – http://www.brompton.com – These guys have created a serious cult following!

3. I no longer have to be a taxi to my kids – I guess that isn’t totally fair as an empty nester, but if they were still living at home I wouldn’t be their personal chauffeur!

4. I walk or bike to work every day which means I get to listen to audio books and learn all kinds of new and interesting things.

5. I walk or bike to work every day so I get the added benefit of being in the best shape that I have been in years – and I get to eat ANYTHING!

6. My blood pressure, which used to be in the mildly hyper tensive range is now, at last check, 109/60 – Freaky low!

7. Did I mention that I am in the best shape I have been in years? I am running the New York City Marathon in November 2013 – I couldn’t have done that a year ago when I commuted by car!

8. Walking is like a moving meditation – I no longer suffer road rage; I have a clearer mind; I have a quieter mind; I am way more relaxed; and I sleep unbelievably well.

9. I have a much better appreciation for my city – when you drive you don’t see beyond the road and the traffic around you. When you walk or bike, you truly experience your environment and the people. Contrary to popular belief, Ottawa is NOT the city that Fun forgot!

10. I am no longer bothered by the weather. When you walk everywhere, you get used to it. Bring it on! Rain, sleet, snow – I am ready for you!

Now that I am moving into year two of my life without a car, I look forward to diving into exploring further the notion of sustainable living and design. I think it would be really cool as a designer to really push the status quo of what has become the conventional Canadian suburban lifestyle by exploring a much more urban based sustainable living model.

“Ditch That Car Dude!”

It was exactly one year ago that I made a life changing decision.

We were sipping a glass of wine on an outdoor patio at the “Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno” (Valencia Modern Art Museum). It was a glorious day. The sun was out, the flowers in full bloom and we had just spent a few hours going through one of the best galleries I have been to in years. Our timing could not have been better. The entire museum was dedicated to Architecture and design exhibits. There was a retrospective of the Madrid based Architectural Firm A-Cero which blew me away (Check out their website to see some seriously cool design). There was a floor dedicated to mega city planning and man-made environmental design for space stations and under sea submersible laboratories. There was also a gallery exhibition of original Russian Constructivist art and and design. It was the most incredible collection of El Lisitzky, Malevich, Tatlin and other major Constructivists that I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe my luck to see such important works.

OK, I digress.

So back to the life changing decision. While sipping our wine, I couldn’t help to notice this older gentleman in a suit, sitting at the next table. Under the table was a folded bike that was no bigger than 600mm x 600mm (24”x24”). It sat under the table next to him like a brief case. He settled his bill, said his goodbyes, picked up the bike which he carried off the terrace and with a quick flip-snap the bike was unfolded and he was off, down the street, blazer flying in the wind. I was gobsmacked! That was one unbelievable cool peace of engineering. I knew right then and there that I had to have one of these bikes.

Later in the day I found a bike shop in the old quarter of Valencia and they just so happened to carry these bikes – the bike was called a Brompton. I had never seen nor heard of a Brompton Bike up until that point. I immediately pulled out my iPhone and went online to find out about this company called Brompton. You definitely have to check out the Brompton Website. This company has such a kick-ass product and they have created a total cult following. The Brompton is the true Hipster urban commuting bike. These guys are marketing geniuses. They have created a brand that has a rabid cult following all over the world. Brompton owners post videos of their exploits with their bikes. They have Brompton Bike clubs in cities worldwide and there are even Brompton races every year held in places like Barcelona, Osaka, Seoul Korea and Rio De Janeiro.

As a designer, I knew I was going to own one. And the best news yet, there was a distributer (Tall Tree Bikes) in Ottawa, less than a kilometer from my home. I immediately placed my order.

When I returned home to Ottawa, I was in a major transition. I had shifted Architectural firms just before heading to Spain and had just closed my art studio. Three of our five kids had moved out and it was time to downsize. Janice and I bought a condo, which meant purging our lives of all unnecessary stuff – I could write a book on that event!

This was when I decided to ditch the car.

It was a huge decision to get rid of the car. I have been driving for 33 years, and had grown accustomed to having the convenience of a vehicle. I hated it though. I am very conscious of the environment and what we are doing to the planet, but I would not consider myself a hard core activist. Consideration for the environment did play a part in my decision, but the major factors for ditching my car were economics and health.

When you add up the cost of gas, parking, maintenance and insurance, the car felt like an anchor – and I didn’t even have loan payments! Public Transit is completely out of the question for me. Ottawa has, if not the most expensive, then very close to it, transit fares in Canada, and it is going up yet again this coming July. There was a point when we had five kids in school, and the cost of transit passes hit $450/month. That in addition to the $18/day for parking my car drove me nuts.

I come from a family of athletes and fitness and health have always been a big part of my life. I found that driving increased my stress levels and I found it more and more difficult to get consistency with my fitness program. I haven’t played hockey in a few years now,and driving to a yoga class just seemed kind of, wrong. Even before I ditched the car, I found myself more often than not commuting to work by bike or on foot.

I have been car free now for ten months, and I have to say I do not miss driving one single bit. It never even crosses my mind any more. My default is biking or walking. When the weather is nice, I pull out the Brompton. When it is not so nice, I walk. I no longer stress about traffic, or have to deal with crotchety people on the bus. I take my Brompton everywhere, to the office, the job sites, grocery shopping and even to the pub. I am healthier, way more fit, and my blood pressure is the lowest it has been in 15 years – not bad for a life long stress cadet!

So, if you are trying to de-clutter your life, or simply want to get in shape, I highly recommend you ditch that car and get yourself a Brompton! Yes, you will definitely look like a nerd, but the planet will love you and you’ll feel like a 10 year old kid again! It’s that fun and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

“Now THAT is a Termite Mound!”

I was musing about a project today while eating my lunch. It was very surreal. Here I was, working day to day with a bunch of faceless people that I have little in common with, on a project for a bunch of bureaucrats, technocrats and other seemingly important people, going about their business, doing whatever it is they do, being busy shuffling around in a sort of hive-like mentality.

I was instantly transported back to a course I took in my first year of the Masters of Architecture program.

The school I attended had a multidisciplinary faculty, made up of the Architecture program, Industrial Design, Planning and Environmental Studies. There was a mandatory philosophy course that we all had to take. Maybe philosophy is the wrong term. The course was really about interdisciplinary studies with a philosophical and ethical bent. Needless to say, it was a course that we all had to take, together.

About half way through the first term we were subjected to a round of psychological testing – basically a Meyers Briggs type testing. The point being we were learning about our own personal character traits. It was actually quite interesting as you learn an awful lot about yourself and how you interact and navigate your world. It was after the testing that things got interesting.

We were split up into groups of eight and assigned a project to complete in 2 weeks. Each group had two students from each of the four disciplines (Architecture, Industrial Design, Planning and Environmental Science). Each group was also made up of people with scores on the Meyers Briggs that were complete polar opposites in every respect. We were assigned a design project – an intervention in one of the various areas of the local zoo. Our task, as a group, was to design a kids play structure for the African Exhibit. Our first thoughts – “ No problem – great – we have two weeks – piece of cake!” – and off we went.

Now you have to picture this. We had eight people from four different disciplines, and each person with a completely different temperament. The Architects tended to look to a visionary utopian approach, bent in modernist ideals; the Industrial Designers, many of which likely ended up working in the oil patch or high tech, were more Engineering focused – they like gadgets; the Planners were very much process oriented. Planners make great bureaucrats; and the Environmental Studies students were very focused on environmental issues, some of which I might add, were rabid activists. So I am sure you can see where this is going…………..DISASTER! We could not agree on anything!

A week into the two week project, we were all gathered together in a lecture hall, and the bomb was dropped. What we thought was a quaint little project on human dynamics, a concept we all got and were muddling our way through to get the credit, was now a real project, with a real client, and we were to present to that client the following Friday. Not only that, the media had picked up on it as a general interest story. We were doomed! Our only solace was that every other team had exactly the same stunned look of shock on their faces.

Now the pressure was ratcheted up significantly. We had one week to get consensus, and design a real project that had some kind of relationship to the African Savannah…. And what does our team decide to design? A termite mound climbing structure. It was at this point that I wanted to stick a gun in my mouth or jump off a bridge. A friggan termite mound – I could not believe what I was hearing, but since the clock was ticking who was I to object.  I sucked it up and went along with teh group.

So we got through the next week, without killing each other, and all the teams presented their little projects to the Zoo Officials and our Professors. The Profs had their fun, they got to see us all squirm presenting our projects. The Zoo officials politely thanked us for our efforts – they played along perfectly. We learned exactly what was intended of the course, which is to understand and respect other conceptual frameworks and find any means possible to work together in a team environment, even if we have absolutely nothing in common, to reach a specific goal.

After it was done, we all licked our wounds, tipped back our beers in the pub, had a good laugh at our individual project designs and agreed to never, ever work together on a project.

A few years later, I took my then three year old daughter to the zoo. I had completely forgotten the experience from school, until I rounded a corner near the lion pen and there it was – a 15 foot high concrete structure, charcoal grey in colour, with a little ramp up through the centre, holes all up the sides inside and out, with a gaggle of kids hanging off, laughing away. I was stunned as I watched my daughter run up the ramp.

Then I laughed and thought to myself, “Now that, is one hell of a termite mound!”

And I chuckled to myself today, realizing my life hasn’t changed much. Twenty plus years later, I am still designing termite mounds!

Introducing – The Accidental Architect


So here I am, 33 years into a career that hardly seemed planned.  It was truly a freak accident that I became an Architect.  When I first went to University I had absolutely no clue what an Architect did. I started my education taking a year of Engineering.  It took me about a month to realize I would probably be a crappy Engineer so I spent the better part of first year in the pub.  I was a creative type and Engineering was stifling.  It just so happened that my room mate in residence was in first year Architecture.  I looked at what I was doing and what he was doing and realized I wanted to be doing that.   I always drew and sketched, and I looked at Architecture as a happy medium between being an artist and keeping my Dad happy. It was the start of a 33 year love-hate relationship with my career.

This is a cautionary tale of the obscure life of the Accidental Architect.  It is a memoir of sorts about the life of creative type struggling between two careers – Architecture which fed the family and Art which fed the soul.  It’s a story about a guy who did everything against the grain, about desire to live life on one’s own terms, fighting social norms, ignoring the masses, striving to live life creatively.  It’s a memoir about failure, success, freedom and the absurdity of life. This is not a memoir about buildings or paintings – The Accidental Architect is about being the Architect of your life!

A word of warning: Be careful what you wish for in life – you might just get it!  And I can guarantee that it will be much different than anticipated!