Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Grace of the Curve - Part 2

Just after posting my last piece, I heard Victoria-based Trevor Hancock talk about beauty in the urban environment. Trevor is a passionate advocate for healthy, sustainable communities. His definition of beauty included more of the emotional response than my definition in Part 1 suggested. He used phrases such as "beauty stirs the soul", "makes life worth living", and "provides intense satisfaction of the mind". 

That is strong stuff! It raises the bar to a high level for designing spaces and buildings in the urban environment. I'm not sure there is much in a city that can hope to achieve the sublime kind of beauty implied by those words. But perhaps it's worth a try! And perhaps, cumulatively, hundreds of individual choices about our living environment can add to beautiful design.

In my previous post, Part 1, I offered thoughts about how curves can add another aesthetic to building design. Here, in Part 2 of "The Grace of the Curve", I look at ideas for adding curves "after the fact". If a building's already there, what can be done to change the visual appeal? 

This is an excellent example of how an interesting pathway with some landscaping can provide counterpoint to a building characterized by simple straight lines and painted in monochromatic shades.The curves of the flagstone path are further emphasized by the defined edges made of stone. 

A curved pathway with an inlaid circular motif within it; a fountain, and rounded columns all soften the vertical and horizontal lines of this building and fence

Another curved path of flagstones. In this case, the rounded shapes of the landscaping plants also soften the overall appearance.

This curved pathway and landscaping transforms what would otherwise be a "boxy" apartment building

This pathway connecting the front door to the sidewalk could just as easily have been a straight line perpendicular to the sidewalk. Instead, the curve - coupled with the brick - provides a far more elegant and attractive look. Note: because Victoria's summers are very dry, grass turns brown. Municipalities, and many property owners, actively discourage lawn watering. With fall rains, grass turns green again.

A few simple curved lines provided by the inlaid rock, and the tree, add to the appeal of this landscaping.

The builders of this stone wall chose to go round the corner in a curve, rather than at right angles. 

Designers of public spaces also can employ curves to soften straight lines.

The curve of the bridge, echoed in the railings, makes an attractive counterpoint to the straight lines of the walking path.

This small sitting area between two buildings is mostly straight lines, but the curved sculpture softens those lines.

Another plaza-like space, again with mostly straight lines, but softened by the curvature of the building's exterior wall and roofline. The brick-lay design is asymmetric, which also adds to the grace of the appearance.

The curved arches of the trellis add appeal to this straight pathway near the Empress Hotel.

My final example of pathways is one of my favorite in Beacon Hill Park. 

I like the mystery of this curved path, which invites me to keep walking, to see what's around the next bend.

Not everyone can design and build a pathway. Here are a few smaller scale things I've noticed that provide curves to balance the linear edges of our urban environment.

An inlay which transforms the gate

The eye focusses on the striking oval, rather than the vertical lines of the post..

Sometimes the interest is not at eye level; this was embedded in the ground.

Another example of an attractive house number design which uses the oval, instead of a rectangle or square, to complete the design.

I don't know the history of this sculpture on a private yard on Dallas Road. It provides interest along the journey, and is such a great example of a graceful curve. 

I did a double-take the first time I walked past this fence

A funky railing adornment at the front of a vet's clinic. As well as the enjoyable light touch, the curved lines of the animals soften the hard line of the railing. 

Discovered at the back of the vet clinic

This post has focussed on examples of curves at a smaller scale, especially in our yards and outside spaces. In looking through my photos for this post, I found many more examples of curves in public spaces - things like road design, and public art. Perhaps I'm not done with the topic yet! 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Grace of the Curve - Part 1

In past blogs I've often focussed on what appeals to me in the urban environment. I realize what I've really been doing is exploring the age-old question of "beauty". It's a subject that has haunted philosophers... artists... designers. An online definition says it is "a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight".

This definition intrigues me. In many of my blog posts I have featured images of colourful scenes that have appealed to me. However, lines, shape and form also are important features, and in this post (and the next one) I'm focussing on them.  

Our human-constructed cities tend to be made of straight lines - vertical posts in buildings, horizontal or pitched roofs, roads, and sidewalks. 

Nature, on the other hand, grows in curves - rivers snake through valleys, trees might form semi-elliptical canopies, branches are snarled curves.

The curves created by the shapes of the conifers soften the vertical and horizontal lines of the highrise in the background
While each branch of this birch is relatively straight, the tree's overall shape is of a soft "U"

An intriguing shaped multi-curved tree, probably caused by pruning decades ago

Another example of a tree with multiple stems and a graceful appeal which interacts visually with the pitched roof, and the horizontal and vertical lines of the house and the fence

In our built environments I appreciate how curves add aesthetic to the design. Some may disagree with me. I recall a recent zoom meeting I attended that included a presentation by an architect for a local proposed high rise project. In response to citizens' concerns that high rises might be ugly, she suggested that they should go to architecture school to learn to appreciate that form of design. Perhaps I need to go to architecture school!  But then, perhaps not.... Some highrises are indeed pleasant to look at - but not all!

I'll start with some of the old, large buildings in Victoria that I find aesthetic.
Arched windows at the Legislature soften the angles of windows and walls

Curves are created in many ways in this doorway of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church: the arched doorway, with the pattern repeated in black paint, the leaded windows above the door, the curved hinges, and the supporting columns

The arched entrance of St. Andrews Cathedral. Again, curved lines are repeated in the windows above the doors, and in columns

Fairfield Bicycle Shop. This building was originally built around 1913 and housed a pharmacy and a grocery store. (Source: Fairfield Gonzales Observer, Feb 2012)

Law Office, Burdett Avenue. I liked the "curves within curves" of the archway which is decorated with an embossed design.

St. John the Divine Anglican Church. The stained glass window was being lit up from light within the church, probably coming in another window on the opposite side.

Old town Victoria, near Bastion Square.
In editing this post, my partner Ken noted that in former times there were many architecturally designed buildings which remain beautiful to this day. He wonders -- is this beauty a quality which is no longer sought in present day construction?
While the bright colours of the central building draw the eye, the features I'm interested in are the varying curves of the arches above the windows. Do you see all three?

A mural designed almost exclusively with curves transforms this building.

I've noticed that window design can add interesting curves. Here are a few examples:

Maritime Museum window with curves which speak to the ocean.

Part of window detail, Visitor Information Centre, Victoria.

Window features for the Foundry, an addiction rehabilitation centre

Moving from larger buildings to houses: I have talked about the aesthetics of Victoria's old houses in many blog posts over the last few years. I will limit myself to just a few to demonstrate how adding a curved line or two adds to the appeal of the house.

This house has just a few simple curved lines in the balcony overhangs. Those curves are enough to give the building a more dynamic energy than if the lines were all straight.

I liked the curved lines of the brackets above the main floor windows, the rounded posts for the front porch, and the landscaping plants which all balance the vertical lines of the building.

This is one of several Vancouver Street houses built in the early 1890's and designed by architect John Teague. Curves are introduced through the  brackets with the "sunburst" design above the windows, the attic window, and the scalloped siding above the bay window.

Another house softened by an interesting front porch with sublte decorative details, and a half-moon window in the front door. I also like the way the picket fence introduceds a curve at the gate which gives the fence an energy flow.

One final example of curves obtained by porch detail - both the posts, and the railings. Even the drapes are tied back in curves.

I have more to observe about curves in urban design and will continue this theme in a subsequent blog post.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

A Retroactive Thank You

This post is about trees, and about people who have made a difference for them.

There is a striking Copper Beech tree on the grounds of the Legislature. The picture below gives some idea of its size. The Copper Beech can apparently grow to 40 metres tall, and has a lifespan of 150 to 300 years.

Copper Beech, BC Legislature

I have learned a little of this particular tree's history, but there is a mystery associated with it. The tree was planted in 1921, to commemorate the provincial government librarian E.O.S. Scholefield. (

Planting of the Copper Beech tree, April 1921. Source: Friends of BC Archives, Item G-06259, Tweet of April 8, 2018. The spade is being held by the Premier at the time, John Oliver.

To give an idea of the current size of the tree, Ken suggested I pose with it. 

The copper beech today, 100 years later.

And now, the mystery: This tree, for some reason, was almost bulldozed and uprooted in 1970, when it would have been about fifty years old. 

I have not yet been able to learn the reason this action was proposed. But what I have learned is that thanks to two journalists, James Nesbitt and Bruce McKelvie, the tree still stands. When they saw the bulldozer about to destroy the tree, one of them (Bruce McKelvie) stood guard to stop the machine, and the other, (James Nesbitt), hunted down the Minister of Public Works, brought him to the site, and had the work stopped.

Standing with the trees against machinery set to destroy them ... does this sound familiar? 

Every one who walks under this tree and enjoys its magnificent shade might appreciate the actions of those two journalists. 

Nesbitt was also a well-known historian, and it was his energy that led to the "Parade of Ships" plaques on Victoria's Inner Harbour. There is a plaque recognizing his efforts, also in the Inner Harbour.

Plaque honouring Nesbitt at the Inner Harbour's "Parade of Ships".  It doesn't mention his other role as a saviour of trees!
James E. Nesbitt. Source John M. MacFarlane

Now, moving from the 1970's to current times, here is a different type of effort to protect trees.

In July, I visited Coles Bay Regional Park in Saanich.

The popular beach at Coles Bay Regional Park in Saanich

While the beach is idyllic, I was especially entranced by the adjacent forest, and its ferns, cedars and firs.

The forest at Coles Bay
I noticed a number of large firs which had evidence of someone controlling the invasive English Ivy to prevent it from girdling, and killing, trees.
A large fir with ivy snipped around its base

Close up of the dead ivy vine

At the time I happened to be reading a book by the poet Lorna Crozier, telling some of the story of her life with, and farewell to, her husband Patrick Lane, also a poet. 

The couple lived across the road from Coles Bay Regional Park, and Crozier describes their efforts - especially Patrick's - to regularly go into the park and control ivy that was threatening trees. It was hard work, made even more difficult by the gulleyed terrain and the prevalence of hidden pitfalls that could twist ankles. I am surmising that the photos I took of dead ivy vines reflect their handiwork.

Book by Lorna Crozier which includes a mention of her and Patrick Lane's efforts to control ivy in Coles Bay Park
Two stories of fighting for the trees. There are hundreds more. I am grateful to each person who puts their energy into defending these living beings.