Short trees, long shadows.

Yellowknife August 2018The longest shadows are those of your parents.

Your parents are not only the ones whose genes you carry, for better or worse, but the ones whose environment you’re largely shaped by, particularly during those tender and impressionable early years.i It’s into the world of your mother and father that you were born, even if young boys and girls imagine that “it’s different now” and “old people couldn’t possibly understand the new 21st century realities” and whatever spew.ii The fact of the matter is that these “millennialisms”iii are but defense mechanisms designed to deny your legacy, your inheritance (particularly non-financial), your shadow because you’re scared shitless that you might not actually be tall enough for this ride. (Which in a way is fair enough. It’s hard as fuck, and perhaps increasingly unlikely.)

These are hackneyed truisms, even trite soundbites, only because they’re so consistently correct — and doubly so if your parents have seen any measure of success — if they’ve put their ding in the universe.

Not that these expectations – these shadows – need be explicit! They can indeed be implicit. So much the better for the child to see the world through the eyes of his community. When he hears his parents spoken of in the highest terms by new acquaintances and relative strangers, what else does he need to hear ? From their reverence, he watches his own shadow extend towards the horizon. From their unspoken awe, the shoes he must fill expand like Shaq hitting puberty.

Not that it’s en vogue to feel sorry for the children of successful parents, certainly not in the “hurr durr ima biggur victum then u” age of entitlement, but it’s really these children who feel the shadow most consciously and acutely. Not only are these priviledged munchkins better mentally and economically equipped to judge their relative places in the worldiv but they’ve also a much more challenging task to climb higher still, the oxygen being that much thinner and Mother Nature being that much fiercer the farther up the mountain they ascend. You’d think that they’d be as well or better equipped than those less fortunate, but the phenomenon of regression to the mean has a way of pulling down even the most fecund of families, if in some geographies moreso than others.

Needless to say, yours truly is just such a lucky son of a gun. While I didn’t exactly grow up in the lap of luxury,v the shoes that I’ve to fill, the shadow that I’ve to step into, is like that old Venetian proverb : the farther from shore, the deeper the So it is that, as I continue to expand my personal and professional horizons, I’m coming to evermore deeply appreciate the monumentality of the task before me. I always knew it would be Everest to climb, but it’s seeming more and more that I’ll be doing it without supplementary O2.

My first trip to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories only confirmed this. It was there that I encountered two seemingly modest buildings by Big City standards, but two that are both physically and metaphorically gigantic by Far North standards.vii

The first is the Greenstone Building. Completed in 2005 for the Federal Government, its south-facing exterior features a four-storey concave facade of ultra-high-performance curtain wall with integrated PV panels.viii It was incredibly cutting-edge design for its day and continues to perform admirably for its client and the community even if imitators have been essentially non-existent.ix It’s iconic all the same.

But it’s more than just that. It’s indelible. It’s solid. It’s lasting.

Greenstone Building Yellowknife August 2018

As is the NWT Government Office Building, if to a lesser degree, which was completed in 2015.

Yellowknife GNWT Office Building August 2018

And they both have my beautiful mother’s fingerprints all over them. She went there dozens of times, surely with temperatures dipping below -60C, for these project and so many others in the Far North. In the most remote of communities – Cambridge Bay, Tuktoyaktuk, Fort Simpson, Whitehorse, and dozens more – for days, weeks, and months at a time, most of which came after I was born. She left her husband with her two boys back at home so that she could venture out to improve the built environment and enhance community engagement in places so far from home. And these are just a couple of her many, many legacies, some of which I’ll never see, but all of which I can feel.

The long shadows tell me all I need to know.x

___ ___ ___

  1. This parental influence, nay, shadow is why your reasoning is largely their reasoning! There are even studies to show this, which you’re free to dig up on your own, but suffice to say that primogeniture owes its enduring legacy and recurrence across time and place to the benefits accrued from the concentrated energies of two parents rather than one or even a fraction thereof, at least for the first year or three. How can a second much less tenth child possible make up that delta ?
  2. Oh really, fool ?
  3. As if millennials invented hanging out in cafes, the sun, the moon, and the stars! Surely, no other generation of youfs ever in history thought this before!!1
  4. It’s a lot easier to look down the mountain from the top than up it from the base.
  5. We always had older cars, a pretty middle class house, very normal clothes, and my parents never wore or had flashy jewelry, but we traded those luxury goods for eye-opening trips to Europe, Australia, Asia, or the Middle East every few years, interspersed with more modest road trips around North America. We did the whole “experience > things” thing 20 years before millennials thought they invented it. Hey, I’m noticing a trend here!
  6. Granted, this is largely a narrative of my own making! Because seriously, where else is hunger supposed to come from in a comfortable late 20th century / early 21st century urban life in a large-ish Canadian city ? It has to come from a compelling narrative! And really, who else is going to write my life story but me… Who else seriously gives a shit ? If I’m not taking charge of the pen and paper, then I’m but a sail in the wind, subject to the vagaries of the breeze. So the eldest-son-of-an-immigrant-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder-and-a-long-shadow-to-fill iz meeeeeee!!!1!11
  7. What are “Far North standards” ? My travel diary from Iqaluit last year should give you a pretty good idea.
  8. The curtain wall was manufactured and installed by a now-defunct company called Vision Wall. Their claim-to-fame was thermally broken framing, at a time when that was the exception rather than the rule as it is today, as well as “quad pane” glass with two outer sheets of 6mm glass sandwiching two inner sheets of Eastman Heat Mirror plastic film. 
  9. One of the more compelling arguments for pushing the boundaries of design, regardless of domain, is that it has the potential to raise the bar for the rest of the industry. You know how hard it was to sell a Blackberry phone after the iPhone came out, or to sell gold once Bitcoin reached critical mass in 2012 or thereabouts ? That right there is the hallmark of next-level, boundary-pushing design.
  10. The trees in Yellowknife are no taller than 50 feet, even if the trees are 200 years old, such are the limitations of the extreme cold, rocky terrain, and high winds, but the shadows couldn’t be longer. Not least of all because there are 23 hours of daylight in June and 23 hours of darkness in December. And the angle, oh, the angle of the sun at 62.454° North Latitude!

3 thoughts on “Short trees, long shadows.

  1. […] fins on your V-Twin, but it’s really not that cold in Mississauga – it ain’t Yellowknife or Iqaluit – and the temps in January are not far off 0ºC.  […]

  2. […] a pretty solid summer! Especially given how much traveling I also packed in to the last 3 months. […]

  3. […] is filled with beautifully crafted models – much like the ones I grew up around in the architecture offices of my parents – of projects by BIG and Westbank, and therefore turned up to 11 in terms of quality, with a […]

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