Spaces with a Literary ‘Twist’

When I walk around cities, I tend to snap a lot of photos – typically of houses or buildings that catch me eye for whatever reason – well, usually because they make me think of something else.

For example:

1. Here’s a Victorian-style B&B in Victoria whose white and maroon spindles (attached to the lower roof) remind me of bowling pins:

2. I’ve talked about this fairytale house before with its keyhole door. Doesn’t it look like a hobbit house in Lord of the Rings?

3. And combining fairytale houses with Victorian houses, here’s another that looks like a doll house:

Then there are places that catch my eye specifically because they allude to literary texts:

4. The Artful Dodger Pub in Langley named after a character in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist:

Dodger introduces Oliver to Fagin. Original engraving by George Cruikshank.






5. The cleverly-titled bakery “Life of Pie” that puns on the book Life of Pi by Canadian author Yann Martel that I read in high school English class — a great read with an ending that will knock your socks off.

6. And lastly, this one isn’t a direct allusion but can you guess what literary text it made me think of?

Address of a residence in Victoria's historic Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown - only 5 feet wide!

If you guessed Harry Potter, you guessed right. 16 1/2, 9 3/4? Okay, so the numbers aren’t the same, but how often do you come across “half” addresses? Apparently it’s a common feature in historic Chinatowns – nothing to do with the space being on the second floor or between floors (I asked once on a tour).

King's Cross Station in London, England. Site of the famous liminal crossing in Harry Potter.

So there are some textual spaces that have struck me. Which ones have you noticed in your city?

And now for a different type of bus station…

After last week’s post about riding public transit and the week before that on liminal spaces, I thought it’d be fitting to bring them together to discuss this striking image:

Bus Becoming a House in Venturi, California

Picking up on the relationship between work and home, New York architect Dennis Oppenheim brilliantly put into architecture this idea of liminality while waiting at a bus stop. Perhaps you’re on your way home from work, thinking or wishing you were already at home. Or maybe you’ve left home and are heading off to work. I’ve spent many years commuting by public transit so I know the anticipation and reverie that bus stops induce.

When I commuted by bus in Ottawa and Victoria, I often found myself figuring out what things I would do in what order once I arrived home, playing it out in my mind before I even got there. Similarly, Oppenheim plays with this idea of anticipation and transformation with his bus station – of being stuck in the in-between place between work and home (or anywhere else versus home). It has a fairy-tale, imaginative quality to it, caught up in a transformation similar to Dorothy’s home in The Wizard of Oz, as seen in the image.

In fact, the precarious perch of the house in Oppenheim’s design adds a theatrical, cinematic quality to the space. The square windows and rectangular door of the house give it a face. It’s as if the eyes are wide open in surprise and the mouth is similarly revealing its shock and exclamation at the radical alteration it is undergoing.

Speaking of other fairy-tale, face-like houses, I was walking along Victoria’s Foul Bay Road in the fall and came across this keyhole-door house that seemed like it could model as the house for a number of different stories – Hanzel and Gretel, Alice in Wonderland, or The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe.

The arcs created by Oppenheim’s bus station/house design remind me of paintings by Victoria artist Marty Machacek who can often be found selling them in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. His style is distinctly recognizable with the extreme distortion of favourite landmarks.

The movement and precarious tilt of Oppenheim’s bus stop, the arcs and angles, bright colours, and the metamorphosis taking place underground all create a dynamic space that nevertheless invokes some tension. We are not sure where we are – halfway from work or from home? About to enter a bus or a house? It seems the architect even understood this hesitation about embracing his space. Here are his words of reassurance to those commuters a bit fearful to board from this liminal position: For the tired and often alienated traveler the experience of waiting wished to be intervened by the realization that the transaction will be complete. The passengers will arrive at their destination. They will arrive home. On that note, happy travels this week – I hope you too arrive at your destination.