This year the Ottawa Architecture Week’s flagship attraction is Michael M. Simon’s Piece Tower, an inhabitable art installation built on the lawn of the Knox Anglican Church. Michael was approached in July by Nico Valenzuela, the current chair of OAW, to create an installation to embody the theme of Urban Intensification and bring attention to Architecture week.
A few months, some volunteers, and not a negligible amount of elbow grease later the Piece Tower had its debut in the courtyard of the Metropolis restaurant at this year’s Nuit Blanche. “The first time we built [the Tower] it was up for less than twenty two hours” says Michael “from unloading the first truck to packing up the last.”
Interestingly the structure is totally waste free, from the scaffolds to the LED strips that give the tents their inner glow, all materials involved in it’s construction are either rented, borrowed, or salvaged. Today the Tower stands proud at the corner of Elgin Street and Lisgar and is the product of inspiration, fearlessness and a good idea that resonated with the theme; two seemingly unrelated ephemeral structures, the scaffold and the tent come together to create a vertical campground.
The installation is at the same time eye-catching, puzzling, and fascinating. Where most passersby might see scaffolding, at best, as a necessary eyesore in the process of urbanization or, at worst, do their best not to see them at all, Michael sees it as a kind of chrysalis for architecture, impermanently concealing the metamorphoses of our urban environment without itself being architecture. “These structures go up, they’re there temporarily and when they come down there’s a permanent building … where many people will go to the office … this is the office of different trades, concrete workers or carpenters.”
On this temporary platform Michael juxtaposes a number of tents and campground paraphernalia ranging from firewood to a full-size canoe. “Every family owns a tent” says Michael “and it smells like must and it smells like your basement or it smells like the last time you went camping … they’re these really personal structures … temporary moments of release from the city but again they’re not quite architecture.”
Two so different structures, one that allows us to build our cities and the other meant to help us escape the urban jungle, joined together. The Tower stops most walking by in their tracks and often sparks speculatory conversations as to the meaning of the piece. Some onlookers I overheard mentioned the Occupy protests and Idle No More, others inquired to the artist ‘was he protesting the capital’s current rash of big development projects’?
Michael greets these comments with surprise and delight at the breadth and width of unintended significance that has been associated with his work saying “it’s good that it’s starting conversations, that’s what art should do I think, it’s definitely what architecture should do.”
The Piece Tower will be up until Sunday and is definitely worth a look, or for the brave, why not see if you can spend the night?
Mico Mazza is an Ottawa based photographer and artist. You can find him here.