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October 04, 2008

Canadian Spaces

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Today I'd like to toss out for your inspection two places I recently photographed in Canada. The only connection I'll make is that I liked one site and hated the other.

Of course, you are free to make comparisons and contrasts. Here is some grist for such activity.

The first site is Montreal's Olympic Park, built for the 1976 games. It's still used for sports events, but traffic has to be less than even a couple of years ago before the Expos baseball team decamped to Washington, D.C. One Olympic structure has been converted into a kind of wintergarden containing nature displays; it's now called the Biodome. The architetcure on the site is a sort of non-retro postmodernist -- there's lots of reinforced concrete, but the signature buildings are sculptural rather than geometric.

The other site is the new (opened 2004) Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls. It's privately owned and managed, but the province of Ontario gets a cut of the profits. Las Vegas abandoned the gambling factory casino style about 20 years ago for semi-traditional architecture and lots of flash to wow the tourists and players. The Fallsview budget was probably less than that of the Bellagio, but the designers gave it a good try.

Here are some photos.


Olympic Park -- Montreal

Perhaps the best-known structures in Olympic Park are the Biodome (left), the Olympic Stadium (hidden) and its tower (right) that supports its roof. A funicular car takes passengers to the top of the tower where there is an observation room.

Looking down at the Biodome from the observation station.

Another ground-level view of the Biodome. Its grounds are basically a large paved surface interrupted by those potted trees and the flag area.

Looking towards the left we can see ...


In principle, large crowds need to be accommodated on occasion, but these spaces are sterile.

Fallsview Casino Resort -- Niagara Falls, Ontario

Here is a view of the part of the exterior facing the falls.

Near the street entrance is this sculpture evoking electrical power generation related to the falls, a heritage of the casino site. Those circular objects near the base aren't car tires; they do turn, representing dynamos driven by water turbines. At the top are cables representing power lines.

Another view of the court near the sculpture. These design evokes late 19th century industrial Art Nouveau.

This was taken just inside the hotel entrance indicated to the right of the previous photo. The theme shifts towards the classical.

View of the shopping arcade. Note the dark band of Louis Sullivan-like Art Nouveau reliefs above the windows.

The interior of the rounded atrium shown in the first photo. This is at the shops level; escalators towards the left-center lead down to a food court level and the exit to the falls viewing terrace.

My verdict: given a choice, I'd much prefer to hang out at the casino (I don't gamble). And your take? (Comments on changing architectural styles, the greater need to deal with large crowds at Olympic Park, architecture of individual structures there, etc., etc. are also more than welcome.)



posted by Donald at October 4, 2008


Oh, without doubt, the casino's much nicer. And that's not to mention the fact that it almost certainly makes money, unlike (I strongly suspect) the stadium complex.

Posted by: Peter on October 5, 2008 5:45 PM

Well, if those were my only two choices I'd go with the casino, too. But geez, DP ... Montreal has other public spaces! And you could have resorted to Niagara Falls' "Castle Dracula" were you intent on slanting the argument another way.

Posted by: whiskyprajer on October 5, 2008 6:16 PM

This is so much a case of apples versus kumquats that it is impossible to compare the two properly. The entire architectural program of each space is radically different. The stadium complex deals with huge crowds coming to see big events, all arriving and departing at the same time and rarely lingering in the spaces between parking and their seats. The casino deals with people spending their time (and money) throughout the space, even lodging there, and arriving and departing individually on no fixed time table. If you want to make a fair comparison with the stadium complex, take shots of an old ballpark or convention center, not a casino.

Posted by: Chris White on October 5, 2008 6:33 PM

whiskyprajer -- Um, I explicitly stated that the only connection I was making was that I liked one and not the other. I definitely wasn't doing a survey piece on Canadian public spaces. (I'll probably put up something on Ottawa's government area before long, so there is more Canada to come.)

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 5, 2008 6:34 PM

Excellent shots, especially of the spaces around the BioDome. Potted trees are often a giveaway that the area's designer/architect failed Public Spaces 101.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 5, 2008 7:08 PM

The Olympic Stadium was a product of government, the Casino is not. The Stadium has been an eyesore around Mtl ever since it was being built. It is really really ugly as you approach it from the ground. The spaces around it are sterile indeed. (The BioDome is a really cool attraction, mind you.)

The Casino is private, of course, which means it needed to listen to its customers, unlike the dirigiste governments of Montreal, Quebec and Canada, technocrats or society-shapers all. The Casino may or may not have gotten tax breaks in its construction, but it will never cost the people of Quebec billions upon billions of dollars for a structure that is largely unused (and not even for large crowds anymore, Chris. It doesn't even do that job well).

Of course gambling is decadent anyway, while the Olympics are a spectacle of SPORT (no "s" please; we're all socialists here!), an exercise in, well, exercise, by governments seeking to establish a legitimacy they don't possess organically. The Casino accepts people as they are (and yes, it exploits them that way, too). The Stadium is a relic of the age when one of the Grand Projects of governments was the transformation of people, the creation of New Man.

Despite some pleasing curves, the Olympic Stadium is a building with Nuremberg in its bones. It should spend the rest of its days hosting Festivals of Praise to the Workers of the World and acting as a drilling space for Young Pioneers of the Democratic Peoples of the Future.

Me, I'm gonna go roll the bones.

Posted by: PatrickH on October 5, 2008 9:06 PM

The first photo made me think of a magpie and its dropping.

Posted by: dearieme on October 6, 2008 11:44 AM

Very interesting perspective on the Olympics, PatrickH.

That picture of the blue fountain is just beautiful, pretty enough to be in a video game. I wish I could see a Photosynth-generated giant pannable image of it.

Posted by: Noumenon on October 6, 2008 11:48 AM

Another sign the sky is falling (as if the world-wide stock market crush wasn't enough): I sorta agree with Chris White.

Donald, if you want to compare two public places, do it in similar categories. You can put side by side:
-public plaza at the entrance
-parking areas
-architectural solutions regarding traffic/flow
Etc etc.
You can't just say I prefer classical (in this case, pseudo-classical, quite senselessly done) inerior of one to the empty, devoid of consideration for humans public plaza of another.

Btw: Montreal's casino is my only experience with casinos, in general. It's awful and depressing, interior AND exterior.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 6, 2008 12:57 PM

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