Why do I care about architecture? When was the last time you saw a strip mall on a postcard or a Pay Day Loans building on a tourism website?

Even a doofus likes something good looking, and no city wants to be known for butt ugly buildings or brain dead design.

What’s this got to do with cars, my beat for the Bay Observer? Even the architecture of cars makes us happy to look at them, and pleased to drive.

My recent test drive was the Audi S3. It’s a small, sleek and sensational car, and some might say with a matching stratospheric price tag of $52,750. You could get a similar sensation with a tricked out Volkswagen Golf starting at $28,500, but it would be minus the horsepower, a bit of technology and some of the luxury of the Audi S3.  What these cars share though is an elegant yet functional design philosophy. They’re exteriors are unencumbered by frivolous embellishments, and the interiors are edited down expertly so that they are intuitive to use and to drive.

I posed the S3 in front of another thoughtful piece of architecture the Hamilton Port Authority building near the foot of James Street North.  The Audi seemed pleased to sit under the watchful eye of a marvelous piece of design, a carved stone edifice resembling a boat with a handsome figurehead on the prow.

Some might feel the Port Authority building, like the Audi is a little too stern looking. It’s not. It’s authoritative and business like. Several years ago all the stylish stainless steel railings were replaced with exact copies, and they like the steel framed windows and big lettering over the front entrance, are signatures of a building with no identity crisis.  If you have never seen the view of the harbour from the top floor of the Port Authority building, go during Doors Open and enjoy a splendid panorama of the water. There’s a bonus viewing too of the Frank Pananabaker paintings of the harbour on the wall.

It’s interesting that people have such strong opinions on what they like about car design, and yet they might travel through the city and never glance at the diverse inventory of buildings in Hamilton. The recent awards handed out by The Hamilton and Burlington Society of Architects showed the range of what is good and exciting here. The winners included a fine modern addition added to the stately Carnegie Galley in Dundas done by Perkins + Will Canada, and the inventive repurposing of the building at 95 King East into the Arts Centre and Lofts designed by Their + Curran Architects, both local firms.

Both those buildings have something fresh to say about design. They are not recycling the Victorian era, which seems to be such a prevalent crutch in architecture.  Imagine if car design was stuck in 1940 or 1972?  Those car designers with their sketchbooks and clay models may reference the past sometimes but are always seeking the next big thing.

That’s why I’m fond of a new house going up on John Street North. It’s defiantly modern. Tall, skinny, flat roof, industrial windows, clad in black corrugated metal, it’s making a fresh statement about personal style.

Cars and buildings are at their best when they show us something new and something exciting to look at.

By: Kathy Renwald

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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