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Here are the results of a Global Consumer Survey that was conducted in Canada this year (2019) and that asked respondents whether or not they own a smart home device. That is, a device that can be controlled via a smartphone / internet connection.

Even with all of the concerns around privacy, virtual assistants (such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home) appear to be the most popular device with Canadians. Next are connected speakers and smart thermostats.

The vast majority of respondents (68%) stated that they don’t own any smart home device. However, if you look at the trend lines for Canadian household penetration in the “smart home market,” this is naturally changing:

Curiously, there appears to be a household penetration rate spread between Canada and the US, with the US exhibiting meaningfully higher numbers. Here is the US chart:

Based on these charts, the lowest penetration rate appears to be for “energy management” devices, which would include anything that helps households reduce energy consumption. The rates are the lowest in the case of both Canada and the US.

This is a bit unfortunate given that energy management is an important one. But it’s also one that isn’t best addressed with only a few smart devices. It should involve a more holistic approach to the way in which we design and build homes.

All charts and data taken from Statista.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 23h ago

The below chart from this morning’s Wall Street Journal is perhaps a good example of our ongoing transformation from an industrial economy to an information economy. Just four stocks — namely Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook — have accounted for 19% of the S&P 500’s total return this year. All of them are “tech.”

And this is not new to 2019. Similar contributions were made by tech last year and in 2018. I have been used to hearing about the 4 horsemen of tech. But apparently there’s even now something called the “FAANG stocks,” which refers to Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (Alphabet).

This shift is, of course, one of the reasons why every city is trying to establish a strong tech ecosystem. I saw that first-hand in Lisbon this past week. And frankly I think the city has many of the same characteristics that made Berlin a great place for tech. It’s affordable. It’s filled with young and smart people. And it’s a fun place to be.

There’s a reason that Lisbon now hosts the annual Web Summit, which is generally considered to be the largest tech conference in the world. (The North American offshoot, called Collision, relocated to Toronto this year in order to be in a more global city.)

Portugal only has a population of about 10 million people. There are some 3 million people in the metropolitan area of Lisbon. But that doesn’t really matter because most startups today are immediately targeting a global customer base.

I learned more about Portugal and Spain’s colonial pasts on this trip and I found it fascinating. In many ways, it was the start of globalization. But that was the Age of Discovery. Those centuries are over and done with. Our century is the Information Age. The above chart is part of that story.

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The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that an oversupply of apartments has started to put downward pressure on rents and upward pressure on vacancy rates in the city. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

Sydney is in the grip of an apartment building boom, with 30,880 multi-unit dwellings built last year, a record for any Australian city. There were 16 multi-unit projects finished in the first three months of 2019, adding another 1948 units.

These numbers are flowing through Domain.com.au, where 17,500 units were listed for rent in June 2017, and ballooned to 32,680 listings in June 2019. The result has been landlords asking for $25 a week less median rent than last year.

Sydney-wide rental vacancy rates have almost doubled from 1.7 per cent 2017 to 3.2 per cent this year. But on the upper and lower north shore, in the hills district and Sydney CBD, apartments are sitting vacant at more than twice this rate, SQM data shows.

The narrative here is that you can build your way to lower rents. Make supply exceed demand, and this is what will happen.

But in this case, something else has also impacted the demand curve: China.

Beijing has made it harder to get money out of the country in recent years and their overall economy has slowed. China’s economy is thought to be growing at its slowest rate since 1992 (which is when the country started official record keeping).

The above article suggests that about 80% of new construction apartments in Sydney were sold to investors over the last few years. More than a few were probably Chinese. Though I have no idea if that is an accurate number.

What is unclear, to me, is whether this doubling of rental listings over the last two years is a result of previously bought supply simply making its way through the system, or if current market conditions have encouraged more owners to put their units up for rent.

Whatever the case may be, supply is up and apartment rents appear to be coming off slightly in Sydney.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 3d ago

Here are a few photos from last night’s sunset here in Malaga. (All unedited and straight from my iPhone.) It was one of the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen and seemed to go on for hours. But of course, the photos don’t come close to doing it justice.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 4d ago

The above photo was taken on a walk up to the Castillo de Gibralfaro in Malaga, Spain. It was built by the Moors during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages.

It is located on Mount Gibralfaro (~130m up) in the center of the city, overlooking the historic core, the waterfront, and its lower elevation sibling — the Alcazaba (or citadel).

In the Middle Ages, this is what it meant for a city to be defensible. High ground. Formidable double walls. And places to shoot from.

Thankfully, today, I think one could easily argue that “urban defensibility” tends to instead rely on things like knowledge, innovation, and diversity.

Here are a couple of photos from inside the fortress. It is always amazing to see what labor was able to build without the technologies that we have today.

Portions of it were built using a very elegant and elongated brick. Above is the bar area at the top. Presumably this was a later addition, though, supposedly the Moors did make and sell wine from the Andalucia region.

If you ever find yourself in Malaga, this complex is a must visit.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 5d ago

One of my favorite things about Lisbon is the way in which life seems to happen publicly right on the street and in public squares. Its kiosks (or quiosque), like the one you see pictured above, play a major role in that.

They are tiny; usually only run by one person. But they embody old world charm; usually with a dark green finish and some wrought iron flourishes.

Supposedly these street anchors fell away during Portugal’s authoritarian period (Estado Novo), as there was concern that this sort of urban fraternizing might lead to new, potentially radical, ideas. (That’s usually a feature of cities.)

Thankfully, Lisbon’s kiosks have returned and they’re as charming as ever. I like to think that city builders can workaround any type of climate. But the weather here certainly helps this public life. Lisbon is one of the sunniest cities in Europe.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 6d ago

I now know what all the fuss is about. Yesterday I rode a dockless (Lime) scooter for the first time. I took in lieu of an Uber in order to get to the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT) on Lisbon’s waterfront.

Here’s another photo from my ride:

We don’t have these scooters in Toronto, but I understand they are imminent. And now that I’ve used one — and learned how shockingly fun they are — I can see why they are proliferating across so many cities.

They’re a solution to the last mile problem, but they’re also fast enough (20 km/h) that they can be a substitute for other forms of urban mobility, as was the case for me yesterday. I can also see myself using one to get to the office when I would rather not sweat through my suit.

Of course, there is the much talked about problem of scooters as urban litter. It’s a real thing and I am seeing that firsthand here in Lisbon. Because they are dockless, people leave them anywhere and everywhere. At the same time, part of what makes them so convenient is that, well, you can leave them anywhere and everywhere.

I’m confident there’s a tidier solution that doesn’t involve fixed docking stations. Geofencing, perhaps? Cars are “dockless” and we’ve sort of figured that out. Many cities are already working on and experimenting with different solutions. Here’s an example from Tel Aviv. I have also noticed a natural clustering effect.

I’m not sure how good of a business they will prove to be. The barriers to entry seem fairly low right now. You just need some Chinese scooters and an app, which is why I am noticing so many competing companies. But as the market matures, increased regulation could change this.

We are going through a period of growing pains and it’s not particularly elegant. However, I believe we’ll get there. So I am looking forward to riding these scooters when they do finally land in Toronto.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 1w ago

The out of office responder is on.

I am currently on a multi-day stopover in Lisbon on my way to Malaga, Spain. One of my oldest friends (we went to elementary school together in Toronto) is getting married there this weekend. They chose Spain because that’s where they met (she is Parisian). They have an incredible love story and I’m looking forward to celebrating with them in a few days.

The above photo was taken with my iPhone from Sky Bar.

The green you see in the foreground is Av da Liberdade. Here is another photo from a different angle, where you can begin to see the water (Tagus). Its tree canopy is one of the most impressive that I have ever seen. Its grandeur (largely its width) is quite a contrast against the small and winding streets in the rest of Lisbon. And it may be one of the only level places in this exceptionally hilly town.

I’m a big fan of Lisbon, already.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 1w ago

1. A thread on the Chateau Laurier battle. In which this addition – modified and approved by Ottawa planners – is being described as “vandalism.” pic.twitter.com/GsitHnN8Xn

— Alex Bozikovic (@alexbozikovic) July 11, 2019

As I was going through this Twitter thread by Alex Bozikovic on the “Château Laurier battle,” I came across a great line by Robert Wright: “We cannot recreate the past only parody it.” I told him I was going to steal it, but here I am giving him credit.

The controversy in Ottawa stems from the fact that a number of people believe that a modern addition to the Fairmont Château Laurier (which was constructed between 1909 and 1912) amounts to heresy.

Instead, the addition should be designed to match the “Château style” that already exists. There should be no change. As Alex put it, “people want Disneyland.”

We’ve had this very same debate come up on some of our projects, where people — but notably, not the city — have asked us to replicate something that was constructed in the 1800’s using labor and material techniques that no longer exist.

This is where Robert’s line comes in.

Architecture is a reflection of the cultural milieu in which it was designed and built, which is one of the reasons why we sometimes preserve old buildings. They communicate to us a particular moment in time.

The reason architects, designers, and planners so often respond — negatively that is — to Disneyland-type architecture, is that it lacks that same authenticity. It’s only a simulacra.

It’s for this reason that one of Ontario’s “eight guiding principles in the conservation of built heritage properties” is, in fact, legibility:

New work should be distinguishable from old. Buildings or structures should be recognized as products of their own time, and new additions should not blur the distinction between old and new.”

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be respectful of the past. Five of the eight guiding principles include the word “respect” in the title. There should be lots of that.

But we would be fooling, and cheating, ourselves if we believed we could mimic the past with any justice. We cannot recreate the past only parody it.

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Architect This City by Brandon Graham Donnelly - 1w ago

There’s now evidence to suggest that the political crisis in Hong Kong may be having an impact on capital flows. Bloomberg, as well as others, reported today that wealth managers in Asia have been receiving a heightened number of requests to transfer assets out of the country — to places like Singapore — and to setup new overseas bank accounts so that they can be ready to transfer, should the situation gets worse.

In fact, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) even asked the country’s financial institutions not to prey on the wealthy in Hong Kong during this period of uncertainty. They want to avoid the perception that Singapore is trying to capitalize on the situation. Of course, it remains to be seen how much all of this is here-say and how much of it will actually translate into a meaningful transfer of wealth.

Hong Kong has a significantly larger private wealth base, with about 853 individuals worth more than $100 million. This is more than double the number in Singapore (figure from Credit Suisse). But the current demonstrations have people questioning what will happen to Hong Kong in 2047 when the constitutional article committing Hong Kong to a capitalist way of life is set to expire.

The flows of capital can be fickle.

Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash

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