Sean Hodgins, the head of Century Group, is undertaking a public process on the future of the “Southlands” in Tsawwassen (the old Spetifore lands) – including a recent charrette with Andres Duany, the New Urbanist architect who also conducted a similar exercise for the East Fraser Lands last year. 

New Urbanism, often wrongly dismissed as a stylistic response to urban planning, does derive inspiration from architectural tradition, since (at least before Modernism) it usually responds to the regional climate and locally available building materials.

So one of the first things Duany does, when assessing a project, is tour the area in which its set. Hodgins was along for the drive, and sends in this revealing anecdote:

We had long discussions and drives around South Delta and in fact around much of Greater Vancouver trying to identify a proper architectural style (my instructions were ‘anything but Arts and Crafts’ which seems a bit too catch-all).

When Duany was first here in January as part of this discovery process we were driving around Boundary Bay and he said, ‘That’s a Swedish house. Look at its simplicity. And the climate is the same. There’s your architectural style right there’.

Swedish House

In fact he had nailed it better than I thought at the time. There is an even stronger Scandanavian (Norwegian) influence in Point Roberts and the whole Scanadavian style really has solid roots here.

Anyway, I found out just two weeks ago from a long-time resident in Boundary Bay that in fact the house that he liked so much and that he had identified as Swedish was actually a kit home that someone had shipped from Sweden many years ago. 

Swedish House 2 
 

Comments

  1. This little anecdote surprises me as it confirms the very criticism of New Urbanism mentioned at the beginning of the post: ie: that it is a merely stylistic response to urbanism. It also surprises me that Duany, (who in his work in Florida and the US south, where he shows such sensitivity to the actual vernactular traditions) would on the basis of a simple drive-by arbitrarily pick an ideosyncratic Scandinavian house-form model. Where is the research into the actual historic building forms of the area? This Scandinavian thing seems to be an odd US response to the BC setting. I recall at a aconference several years back, a planner from Seattle talking about the common Cascadia culture, including its “Scandinavian roots”. Perhaps this makes sense in Seattle (or at least Ballard), but a passing glance at the census hardly reveals substantial Scandinavian origins for the population in the Lower Mainland. Notwithstanding the ubiquity of craftsman, as a domestic architectural style, it at least has the merit of genuine roots in BC’s historic homebuilding tradition, derived as it is in large part from California – particularly San Francisco – models. This piece reinforces for me that the real value of New Urbanism is not in the architecture, but in the urbanism.

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