Design

Nico Valenzuela’s Instagram Feed Offers an Architectural Tour of Ottawa

His Instagram feed, @built.ottawa, magnificently captures the ordinary and elevates the mundane. With two feet, a heartbeat, and a low-end cellphone camera, the architect — who works as a designer of user-friendly computer systems — sniffs out and magnifies architectural details, vistas, and miscellany with an eye for detail. We draw out the common themes found in his work.

Symmetry
“I don’t set out to take symmetrical photos. Often it’s inherent in the building that I am taking an image of, though more and more I am realizing it is something I am drawn to. I did my undergrad and master’s in architecture. I work as a computer designer at a tech company, but I still have a great interest in architecture, so it’s part of me. A lot of my images are very flat — they’re very orthogonal and straight. It comes from my time in architecture school, doing drawings and representing buildings that way.”

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Some of Valenzuela’s shots are of iconic buildings in Ottawa, while others are more anonymous. This one is tagged #centretown #elgin

Strolling
“I walk a lot. Originally, when I started this in 2014, I was involved with Ottawa Architecture Week, and as I was thinking about the city, I wanted to document these conditions that were exciting for me so I could refer to it from time to time. It was a sketchbook in a way. I tend toward things that are really worn down, and if I feel connected to an image, I’ll put it up. There is a lot that I discard, and I don’t post that often. Sometimes I annoy the people I’m with because I take time to get a shot.”

Urbanism
“I don’t typically see a lot of photos of Ottawa under the #GuardianCities hashtag. It’s a project of The Guardian media company in the U.K. They discuss urban issues, and they also have an Instagram feed that features photos by people who focus on urban photography. They got in touch with me and asked to post one of my photos [Octopus Books, below] on their feed, which was really great. It puts Ottawa on the map.”

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The Guardian media company in the U.K. reached out to Valenzuela and asked him to tag the above photo, of Octopus Books in the Glebe, with the hashtag #GuardianCities

Concrete
“My fascination with concrete goes back a little bit. There used to be a drawing class in first-year architecture, and one of the projects was to sit in front of a concrete wall and draw it. The longer you sit there and the longer you look at it, the more you see. It’s an amazing material, and there’s so much in it to see, especially when it’s old and used and you see fragments of what used to be there.
It’s this material that keeps accumulating layers.”

Brutalism
“I love the National Arts Centre. I remember going there a lot as a kid. It has a dark, brooding interior, and I love that it feels like this fortress and this sanctuary for cultural things. I love going in there — you get these conditions where a beam of light will come through and animate the space.”