Owen Rose is an architect and principal of Rose Architecture in Montréal. He’s an urban ecological architect and engaged citizen working to consolidate nature and the built environment into a humanised living experience. He’s also the president of the Montréal Urban Ecology Centre. We asked him about the ecology of Canadian cities.
1.You coined a term called ‘Ecosensual’, meaning environmentally conscious design that allows people to reconnect with their surroundings through their human senses. Are Canadian cities ‘ecosensual’?
The term ‘ecosensual’ is still incredibly relevant today. I keep it in my mind. I speak to what I see. Ecosensual evolved from my thesis at McGill in 2001.
Having moved to Montreal from Vancouver, I found a way to integrate the design culture in Quebec with the ecological culture of British Columbia. People say that you can’t do both, but I found a way to do it. Ecosensual is an approach that connects nature and design in an urban environment.
Unfortunately, Canadian cities are not very econsensual, but there are a few ecosensual neighbourhoods. For example, the Plateau in Montreal offers human scale architecture, townhouses with a lot of natural light, a large amount of green space, and lots of shops within walking distance. The Plateau has most of the key components of ecosensual living.
Not even Vancouver is ecosensual, but there are some exceptions like the neighbourhood of Kitsilano. However, the cost of living makes it much less socio-economically diverse than the Pleateau, even though it has similar characteristics. The Annex in Toronto could be placed in the same category of Kitsilano too.
2.You begin your essay on your personal website by saying: “As distances across the planet are reduced by faster travel and comprehensive communication systems, it is ironic that we are becoming more and more distant from our surroundings and ourselves.” Where is the disconnect?
There is a cognitive dissonance that most of us have. We live in a physical setting, within 3D spaces, which is what a city is, yet we’re more focused on the mental spaces of web and tech, rather than being aware of the physical world, the built spaces we play out our lives in and how that influences the world around us. In order for people to feel more reconnected with the nature within their cities, it would help to walk through their neighbourhoods and be aware of their five senses. Try this exercise as an experience: On a cold winter’s day, sit with your back to a sunny window and let the sun warm you. It’s very relaxing and helps you experience your human senses within the city. Suddenly, you’re aware of the sun, the window location, how natural light comes into a building and the temperature differences. It’s an exercise that creates an instant connection between body, architecture and nature.
3. What is your vision of the future of cities, in Canada and abroad?
Contrary to science fiction movies, where the future of cities is depicted with all manner of flying transportation, the ground is where the future is, not the air. Cities will produce more local vegetables, plant as many trees as possible and drastically reduce personal automobile use. When you travel, have you ever once heard anyone say that a city has too many trees? Never! Living in a city doesn’t just mean that you are a sardine in a can, but a human being in a natural setting that happens to have buildings. The Plateau is one of the densest neighbourhoods in Canada, but it is not a concrete jungle. Cabbagtown in Toronto is another neighbourhood that comes to mind, that offers human scale density and an abundance of trees.
4. In an essay you once wrote “Architects are very well positioned to supply healthy ideas and images to the social discourse.” In what roles can architects achieve this?
Not-for-profits, such as the Montréal Urban Ecology Centre, are a great way to advocated for this. Also, architects can take leadership roles in their projects and propose connections with nature using elements such as green roofs or green walls. They can also advocate for it as part of design competiton juries.
None of us has the one correct answer, but working together for the common good is a good place to start.