One of Vancouver’s most prolific architects, James Cheng, has up to now taken only tentative steps towards incorporating colour into his work.  Best known for the cityscapes of Concord Pacific and Coal Harbour, plus prominent towers like the ShangriLa, his work has typically been rectangular compositions with the most subtle variations of blues, whites and grays.

Like this: the transformation of the old Eaton’s block at Pacific Centre:




It could, in my opinion, use a splash of colour (and the tarps don’t count).

???????????????????????????????To date, his most adventurous incorporation of colour has been the stripes on the Spectrum towers just west of the Rogers Stadium (right).  Pretty modest by international standards, particularly compared to Australia.

I suspect he (or his clients) have been reticent to use large blocks of bold primaries because of the cultural modesty of Canadians, at least expressed in its generic architecture, and because developers do not want to take a risk on anything that seems too extreme.  Best to stick, literally or figuratively, to beige.

As well, our most revered architect Arthur Erickson has had a huge impact: his belief that muted colours were an appropriate response to our northwest-coast climate, that concrete was “the marble of our times,” established an aesthetic norm for the profession.

Well, at least with respect to Cheng’s latest work, that’s going to change.


Cheng 1


From Novae Res Urbis:

Vancouver city council gave the go-ahead last week to Concord Pacific’s two-tower project on a triangular site beside the Cambie bridge …   The project on the site known as 5b west, will have 620 dwelling units in buildings of 28 and 30 storeys. Designed by James Cheng, the curvilinear buildings will be joined by three bridge structures containing residential and commercial uses, linking the towers.

“I love the design,” Councillor Heather Deal said. “It’s a lovely use of colour.


  1. I wish he had recognized the need for colour earlier. His River Green project in Richmond is SO banal. His repetitive rectangular order of seamfoam green glass spandrel panels and grey alumnium balcony rails executed in a mid-rise form makes these buildings look like a series of chicken cages stacked on a semi-trailer delivering the occupants to the slaughter house.

  2. Jim clearly doesn’t have a clue about colour in architecture. Slapping patches of colour randomly does nothing for the spatial attributes of the building as it may interact with its context . . . .

    That is not surprising Canada has resolutely avoided colour, contrasting the rest of the world, in architecture.

  3. Banal architecture, banal architects, banal commentators, too much self serving aggrandizing of shallow buildings, shallow talk from people who have no back up achievements obsessing over getting there rather than being there and that adds up to a city: well look around you . . .

  4. One of the best “colours” on buildings is black – but we all know that the City hates black and is unlikely to approve anything with a dark colour palette. Many current building would look much better with black mullions.
    Typical comments in the Urban Design Panel minutes read: “warm up the colour palette” – giving us shades of beige. (or at Concord’s TV Towers, an inexplicable mauve facade).

    Beware of the Concord Colours project – those coloured panels are supposed to be sliding screens to enclose deep balconies – like what’s being built at 999 Seymour – and the jury is out on those ones so far. Pic here:


  5. And its not just the architecture, Arriving back from 7 years in Auckland you notice in Vancouver that the public realm spaces and streetscapes are terribly conservative and bland with grey upon grey upon grey. Brent Toderian commented that Auckland focuses on the horizontal and neglects the vertical with its love of bluestone paving, I think Vancouver does the opposite. The street trees, building setbacks, awnings, scale, etc are well executed in Vancouver, the horizontal plane whether paving or furniture is really bland in my opinion. I was walking down Cambie yesterday along the Rise (Home Depot, etc.) and the tree cover and setbacks work great but I thought are these the best finishes and detailing that can be done here? Plain cast in place grey concrete walls, grey concrete, tacky fountain. Up to city hall and its the same, grey concrete walls upon walls and more concrete broken up with the mandatory Vancouver concrete obelisk. Then it was over to Denman and Davie to check out the popular laughing sculptures, a well patronized art installation plunked into a circle of grey gravel, surrounded by, you guessed it, plain grey concrete walls. Is this the best we can do folks?

  6. Color is the cheapest design element. Why spend money on an expensive architect if a few cheap colorful panels or a vertical line is all that is required to get city approval and condo sales.

    Vancouver’s and UBC’s condo towers are pretty basic (except a few interesting ones like the Erikson building and the new Gesamtkunstwerk).

    I agree with posters above that we should demand better for structures that last 100+ years.

  7. I know this thread is about colour and I welcome more exuberance as much as the next person, so kudos to Jim Cheng on this one.

    However, I regret that Concord is getting yet more approvals around NEFC when the long overflow park us still just a faraway wish from the perspective of CityGate, Chinatown and International Village residents. This is a huge failure on the part of the city’s planners and decision makers, regardless of the outcome of the viaducts removal study.

  8. What on earth are you talking about Thomas Beyer?

    Color is the cheapest design element. ” Who told you that? Where did you pick up the courage to pull that cheap shot?

    Are you talking about the illustrated display of Jim Cheng’s latest.

    Colour is an integral and essential component of any well-designed building. You mention Erikson’s building as “interesting ones.

    As for the Cheng building illustrated it is obviously a desperate attempt at catch up. Other than the wan colour scheme ask who would want to live in a suite curved to over looks all the other condos.

    This is just another example of Vancouver’s urban disaster. And it all started with the mindless glorification of a mediocre architect called Arthur Erickson who exhorted his fellow-also-rans to believe “concrete is the new marble“.

    I agree with posters above that we should demand better for structures that last 100+ years. “Well Thomas you got that bit right but for the wrong reason!

    Did you ever meet Arthur? What a sad legacy!

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