Sometimes cities can seem like drab, impersonal places. But every once in a
while, you see a building that stops you in your tracks. Karen Kelly tells a story about a house designed to do just that:
Sometimes cities can seem like drab, impersonal places. But, every once in a
while, you see a building that stops you in your tracks. Karen Kelly tells a story
about a house designed to do just that:
(sound of construction and trucks)
When you first see it, you’re just not sure.
A two-story house is being covered with marks etched in concrete.
Is it intentional? Or just a layer of construction?
Then you see a large black figure on the west side of the house and realize- oh, it’s
a whale. Waves are etched in the concrete around it. Walk around the corner and
you see flocks of birds flying over roughly drawn buildings.
(sound of scraping)
And just past the birds, there are three men working silently on a platform. Two
are spreading layers of fresh concrete.
The third is artist Christopher Griffin, the owner of the house. He uses a long
smooth bone to draw a picture after each swipe of the trowel – and before the
He says he has to work fast.
“They would scrape the mud on and I would be going around them, over top of
them, actually right behind their trowel and there’s no chance to stand back; there’s
no chance to second guess.”
Griffin has been a professional artist in Ottawa, Canada for almost twenty years.
Griffin’s motivation was simple: his house really needed a new exterior. But the
regular stuff that people put on their houses didn’t feel right to him.
Instead, he thought he’d try some drawings like he’d seen in a photo of mud huts in
“It was irregular; it was organic; it wasn’t pristine; it wasn’t crisp; it wasn’t
heartless. And that sort of quality was something I was after.”
(sound of chatting and scraping)
But while Griffin had this vision of giant sunflowers and caribou, contractors had
no idea what he was talking about.
Several told him it couldn’t be done.
Dan Charette is part of a team that was willing to give it a try.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to bring our craftsmanship to a different level. There’s
a whole other creative level to what we do here with constructive behaviors, so it’s
really a lot of fun.”
For instance, the contractors suggested adding fly ash to the cement. It’s a
byproduct of burning coal and it also makes the cement more elastic.
Griffin liked that it was more environmentally friendly.
He also recycled building materials and added solar panels. But usually that’s not
what people see.
He says what really makes him feel good is when people just stop and stare.
“Absolute strangers stopping their cars, getting out and having a look. There’s a
teenage skateboarder who stopped and said, ‘Wow, awesome house.’”
Griffin says, in that way, his house has become a public space.
In fact, he argues everyone’s house is a public space.
And he suggests people think about what they want their house to say to someone
For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.