big enough?

how much space do we need to live in the city? when considering the homes we live in, do we desire more or less space? is the idea of economy of space something we are conscious of?

these are the questions that open harbourfront centre’s new architecture exhibit, big enough? and they’re relevant questions for me — and for all of those who have decided to exchange closet space and a private driveway for the privilege to live in close proximity to transit, entertainment options, shops, parks, work, and caffeine.

after first reading about the exhibit in last friday’s globe and mail, i couldn’t wait to check it out, and i wasn’t disappointed. it’s a small exhibit (1226 square feet, to be exact) featuring four parts. i could easily go back a second time just to stare at some of the neighbourhood graphs a little longer.

i firmly believe that if you live in a great neighbourhood and great city like we do, you don’t need a large house. the city becomes your backyard, your living room, your pool, your dining room, even your home office…whatever you need it to be. for some people, the city even becomes their bedroom.

part of the big enough? exhibit is three photographs from a series called don river by boston expat surendra lawoti.

and while having to sleep outside because you don’t have a bedroom is not the same thing as plugging your laptop in at the rooster because you don’t have a home office, it was really fascinating to see these photographs (the rest of the series is on display at gallery kayafas in boston) and realize how wired people are to make homes, no matter their circumstances. (if you look closely at the photo on the right, you’ll see there’s a makeshift wood stove in that tent.)

also, altius architecture prepared an incredible video map that asks people to pin their current neighbourhood and their desired neighbourhood with different coloured thumbtacks.

the map divides the city into 140 neighbourhoods, and while the exhibit has only been on a few weeks, already areas like the beach and high park / swansea were a sea of yellow tacks. high park / swansea or the junction would be my top west end neighbourhood picks (you know, if i had to live across the don), but i pinned my yellow tack right in the centre of north riverdale. (it felt like the point of the exercise was to take two thumbtacks and not pin the same neighbourhood with both red and yellow…though i considered pinning the map to show i’m pretty happy right where i am.)

altius also gathered some amazing data on the city in bar graphs, breaking down all neighbourhoods by the number of homes and the number of square metres per person in the area, and also the value of each square metre based on the average home price. pie charts broke down the different types of home in each neighbourhood.

this pie chart shows the number of homes in danforth village, and the breakdown of detached, semi-detached, low-rise and high-rise apartment buildings.

there was also a set of model homes, built by architecture firm nkA on toronto-sized lots. all three houses were different sizes and had different layouts.

the first home in the row was the largest and the most traditional-looking, but in a survey conducted by the firm fewer people preferred it to the other two homes, which were smaller (around 1700 square feet), but let in more natural light. a question of quality over quantity. in the background is a list of demands from real clients — reasonable things like, “there must be four bedrooms and they must all have their own en suites.”

the fourth and final aspect of the exhibit was a passageway designed by rzlbd that begins and ends with a wide mouth, but narrows in the centre to a rectangle of 625 mm x 375 mm. the architecture handbookarchitect’s dataindicates that this is the minimum amount of space that a person who is 175 mm tall can stand on comfortably. the passageway brings the question of what is big enough? back to the personal level, revealing at what point you start to feel like the walls are closing in.

i was totally enamoured with the whole exhibit, especially as it applies to my real life in a small home. how big is your house? do you wish your house was bigger or smaller and why? what’s your dream toronto neighbourhood and what do you like so much about it?

i also encourage everyone to visit the exhibit — it’s on until july and it’s free!

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