All posts by Andrea Cordonier

What We Think We Want

When Eat, Pray, Love first came out and I got the big check, I bought a big house, a five-bedroom Victorian with a wraparound porch in this small town in New Jersey. I put a ton of money into making it really magnificent. I spent four years restoring it, putting in amazing gardens, a new kitchen and bathrooms and steam baths, and a huge library. It was stunning—I mean really beautiful. But I never truly felt very comfortable there. I didn’t like being the rich lady sitting on the top of the hill in the biggest house in town. It made me feel disconnected. I felt as if I were living in a house that belonged to somebody else. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

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24 Sussex Drive is Falling Down

Contrary to opinions offered by former tenants of the building, reality television stars, CBC listeners, and social media commentators, there is no single right answer to the question: What should become of the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive?

In fact, it doesn’t matter whether the building is razed or retrofitted. Either way, there will be gains and losses, which is the nature of choice. The answer lies in the the more difficult question: What do we want 24 Sussex Drive to be?

In his iconic 1896 essay The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered, architect Louis Sullivan famously declared “…form… follows function.”

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

Sullivan’s thoughts reached beyond the pragmatic (Stone or brick? Modern or classic? Retrofit or raze?) to the feeling and the symbolic: how a building behaves for its occupants and its role in the broader public life.

24 Sussex has at least two overlapping functions: family home and national symbol. In its current form, it is failing both functions physically, intellectually and spiritually.


In Abraham Maslow’s ubiquitous pyramid, shelter occupies the foundational level of human need alongside breathing, food, water, clothing and sleep. Right-sized, safe, and adequately-maintained affordable housing contributes, among other things, to social stability, mental and physical health, readiness to learn in children, and employability in adults.

Former residents of 24 Sussex, including Maureen McTeer and Margaret Trudeau, confirm the the findings of the 2008 Auditor General’s report on the state of 24 Sussex Drive: The building has been in need of substantial repair for several decades and requires major work, including the replacement of antiquated knob and tube wiring and asbestos remediation.  McTeer suggests “It’s coming down on its own, one could argue, just wait long enough.” Based on its neglect and disrepair, it nudges into the territory of, in affordable housing parlance, Core Housing need.

Most Canadians recognize that having a home is essential to everything we value in life. Without a home, it is extremely difficult to meet basic physical needs or maintain family, friends, community involvement and work. ~ Homeless Action Plan, City of Vancouver, June 2005

And while the prime minister-designate and his family may have options where others don’t, they share the same basic housing needs as all Canadians: a separation of private and public life, security, peace and quiet, privacy, fellowship, comfort and an ability to put their stamp on a few square metres of the universe. A home of their own.

Symbolically, the property represents not only the Prime Minister, but the culture and spirit of the country. The intersection of the buoyant mood of the Canadian electorate and the building’s failing physical conditions position 24 Sussex for a significant change.

The form itself will “evolve from the holistic forces of the project—audience needs, client desires, ethical obligations, aesthetic inclinations, material properties, cultural presuppositions, and yes, functional requirements.”1

Regardless of the final form, it should be about more than just four walls and a roof.

In common with many aspects of modern civilisation, architecture has lost its enriching sense of purpose, leading to toxic anomie… Our relationships with it are so intimate, so fundamental and all-pervasive as the settings of our lives, that we do not fully register how much they sustain and shape us. ~  Peter Buchanan, The Architectural Review

Make it beautiful and highly functional. Make it visionary, a showcase of our finest architects, artists, craftspeople, and thinkers. It should be a treasure box, a jewel in the crown, and an extension of the kind of energetic forward-thinking that still trickles down from Expo ’67. It must be something special.

Let’s not cobble together and ‘make do’ as can be our nature (cross the street and tour Rideau Hall to see what I mean), get mired in populist debate, or sell our souls to branded people and corporations. I vote for the sacred over the profane.

While we’re at it, why don’t we bridge the gap between the symbolic and the tangible? Why don’t we leverage this symbolism of 24 Sussex as home, this phoenix from the flames, to develop and implement Resolution #162, the Affordable National Housing Strategy which states:

WHEREAS Canada does not have a long-term national plan for housing;

WHEREAS the LPC at its 2012 convention adopted a priority resolution calling for development of a comprehensive national housing strategy;

WHEREAS access to affordable quality housing is a first step in reducing poverty, hunger and homelessness, especially among vulnerable populations including low income seniors, new immigrants, Aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities and illness;

WHEREAS affordable housing for young families is an important step to commence a middle income life style with improved health and wellness and which allows children to more fully benefit from the education system;

WHEREAS affordable housing has many different interpretations, any meaningful definition must reflect local community needs ranging from accessible social housing through rental apartments and houses to low-income and middle-income family homes;

BE IT RESOLVED that a national housing commission be struck to work in conjunction with all levels of government and social housing and private sector housing providers to create a national housing action plan that would produce affordable, safe housing for Canadians at all income levels;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the objectives of the national housing action plan be the elimination of waiting lists for affordable housing; the reduction of the cost of housing for middle and lower income earners; and the stabilization of the economy with job-creating investment in housing infrastructure;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this plan will provide sustainable and predictable tax measures to support the development of market rental housing and that governments ensure existing affordable housing and homelessness investments are permanent.

I want the renewal of 24 Sussex to be the beginning of a strategic plan to meet the housing needs of every Canadian. I want that plan to be smart, thoughtful and integrated with the knowledge and services that already exist. I want it to be long-term and reap the economic and social benefits of improving our existing housing stock. I want it to strengthen the workforce through education, community-based coops, knowledge transfer, training and skills development and model a shift to renewable energy. I want it to engage the imaginations of Canadians, return our pride of place, and polish our international image.

We can run things into the ground because of a focus on fear and optics. Or we can actively reframe the optics with a vision of hope and inspiration, making the kind of history of which we can be proud.

24 Sussex Drive may be falling down, but we can use it to raise ourselves up.

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Cruising in My Neighbours’ Amphicar

I’m confused. “What?” I repeat a second time, hearing Orlaith and Steve’s words but drawing a blank.

We’re drinking coffee and chatting, our first conversation, and I see their vintage baby blue convertible double-parked out front of the house. I’m thinking why, living just up the street, would they drive rather than walk and I’m not grasping how come they call it an Amphicar.

Turns out they hadn’t driven here so much as they had swum up the river in their car, a car that doubles as a boat.

Yes, you read that right.

A Car That Swims

And because it’s perfectly normal to go on spontaneous adventures with people you’ve known for less than an hour, we finished up our coffee and headed out to cruise the Rideau Canal.

According to, Amphicars were manufactured in Germany between 1961 and 1967 with a total production of less than 4,000 units. They are capable of over 70mph on road and 8 knots on water.

Owner David H. Neverth spent so much time answering questions from curious spectators that he wrote this 1965 booklet 60 Reasons Why I Love the Amphicar. His reasons included:

  • Road clearance, 2 inches greater than a Jeep, make it an ideal off-road vehicle; a low first gear also contributes to its off-road capabilities
  • Rear engined traction for “go” in mud and snow
  • The car is truly fabulous in the water and remarkably stable even in 58mph winds on large waters
  • It takes 18 steps to have a day of boating the conventional way but only 3 steps the Amphicar way
  • Unlicensed children can drive the Amphicar – in water that is!
  • Road salt will have a hard time rusting the double-heavy steel body through. The smooth fender wells and underside have no pockets where salt can accumulate
  • The car is like one big bumper guard so it offers maximum safety in a collision
  • A high capacity bilge pump, bilge blower, navigation lights and marine horn are standard.
  • Triumph Herald Engine. An overly durable engine which was used in the Triumph Sedan. Made by Standard Triumph of England, makers of engines for European industrial and automotive use. A Triumph engine to be used in Swedish SAAB soon. Standard Triumph sells more sports cars than an other company in the world.
  • The Amphicar Corporation is a sound company. It owns much of Mercedes Benz, even Mercedes Benz hub caps fit the Amphicar perfectly

I am enchanted by the simplicity of the undertaking. We lock an extra handle on each door to create a watertight seal. Steve starts the engine and drives into the water at the boat launch. He slips the land transmission’s stick shift into neutral to prevent the wheels from spinning but they will act as rudders, controlled by the steering wheel.

With a short stick on the floor he engages the dual propellers of the water drive, with its three positions of forward, neutral and reverse. The propellers kick in, the wake appears and we make our way down river towards the lock station and circle back, dry as a bone.

The Amphicar makes me feel all James Bond and it’s possible I covet this vehicle even more than the Citröen Deux Chevaux I’ve had my eye on for years.

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A Zibi Kind of Day

Sunshine. Twenty degrees. Light breeze. Birdsong out-gunning any human distractions. Views to the Ottawa river. And wildflowers, vines, bushes and trees in bloom everywhere.

It was just another perfect day shooting the Domtar lands as part of the Workers History Museum cataloguing project.

While the industrial buildings remain the focus, Mother Nature with her natural green roofs, biodiverse ‘gardens’ and window boxes have taken over, distracting me to no end.


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Joyce Frances Devlin: Spring Show 2015

This afternoon I dragged my nose away from the grindstone long enough to bathe, swap my grubby work clothes for something more civilized and walk the short distance to Joyce Frances Devlin‘s home and studio.

After the success of last year’s show, Joyce has been exhibiting her gorgeous new work over these past two weekends and the show remains up, by appointment, through June.

While her paintings are meant to take centre stage it’s hard not to be enchanted by her house, which I wrote about here, and, at this time of year, her gardens. Look in any direction and notice the views, colours, plant and object arrangements, rocks, sculpture and painting installations. Nothing has been left to chance and, with these kinds of results, why would you want it to be?

Please contact Joyce directly at (613) 269-4458 to view, purchase or commission work at her studio in Burritt’s Rapids, Ontario.

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