There’s a provcative critique of Vancouver’s downtown architecture by Robert A.M. Stern in the Sun today. (Here for subscribers.)
“I think there are too many glass towers in Vancouver,” says Stern.
“That’s one reason they all look alike, there’s nothing to write on, so to speak. So you get funny little hats on these buildings, and sometimes you get strange balconies. There are more triangular balconies in Vancouver than anyplace else I’ve ever been. I wonder if they’re storing arrowheads on these balconies.”
I have to agree with him on this. Every generation produces its version of the Vancouver Special (highrise edition), and this one has built a lot of ’em. (115 on the downtown peninsula since 1986, excluding the West End).
“They try to look different, but somehow they all look exactly alike. So I think there’s a kind of boring uniformity. None of them are really bad, they’re not ugly, but [there are] too many identical things.”
We achieve, as I’ve said before, a very high level of mediocrity. Our urban planning is, fortunately, superior to our architecture. In that respect, I don’t agree with Stern:
… [Georgia] is so pedestrian unfriendly and uninviting,” he says.
“It could have been done, should have been done in a very different way. Could have had the high buildings, but should have had more street texture below.
“And no retail. Those people don’t eat,” he chuckles, “they make reservations.”
This suggests Stern has been doing too much drive-by analysis, without understanding the specific reasons why, in this case, we kept the view corridors open at the ground plane on the north side of Georgia (to see the park and mountains), and created ‘green courts’ on the south side. Georgia has its own guidelines, so that unlike most other downtown streets (which have that mix of low- and highrise forms) it retains its special character as a ceremonial boulevard.
Stern is certainly not the only one to feel that Vancouver, while admirable in many respects, lacks signature buildings, or that our planning processes constrain if not prevent great architecture outside the mold the planners have prescribed.
PT reader Timothy Thomas asks:
With all our progressive public policy, why don’t we have more progressive public architecture? … it does seem that we should have more imaginative buildings than we do. Are we underachievers in building fascinating new architecture? Do we discourage aesthetic innovation, preferring architectural comfort food?