There’s a trend in city architecture and in North American vehicle purchase that tests how we view ourselves and what we value in current culture. This is the time of importing starchitects to Vancouver to build structures that do not really respond to their environs or surroundings, but are rather signature statement towers that clearly carry the stamp of who is the designer. And they are not unique to the place~you can see the same Bjarke Ingels Vancouver House twisty forms in this winding development at 76 Eleventh Avenue in New York City.
Take a look at Kenneth Chan’s current article in the Daily Hive on the 2016 proposed Holborn Group development for the Hudson’s Bay parkade on Seymour Street which challenges Vancouverites to think “bigger”.
That Holborn parkade redevelopment plan proposed three towers, one which will be 900 feet (that’s about 90 potential storeys) with just one small problem. The proposed height is 600 feet over the 300 foot limit because of the City mandated view cone to protect the views to the mountains. Kenneth Chan states “this is the same view cone that severely constrained the height of the adjacent TELUS Garden office tower”.
The project’s tower looks like an undulating lipstick tube and is described as bringing “a design flair that is common in modern Asian metropolises like Singapore and Hong Kong, this concept was designed by Beijing-based MAD Architects, which has international offices in Los Angeles, New York City, and Rome.”
The Holborn Group is the same developer who built Vancouver’s Trump Tower and who controls the former social housing fifteen acre Little Mountain site. They state on their website that they intend to build 1,400 units on that land. There’s been all kinds of discussion on how this land was purchased from the Province, and how for nearly 12 years nothing has happened on this site which previously housed 224 social housing units.
It appears that the story for this decade is still the focus on building downtown architecture to be a developer and architect’s standalone showpiece. It does not really need to fit into the existing vernacular or reference the outstanding mountain and sea views. The trend is to outperform other buildings in size, shape, height and shock value. The iconic buildings anticipated for the downtown also do not appear to be responding to any local housing market needs with the exception of the Burrard Bridge located towers proposed by The Squamish Nation. Naoibh O’Connor has created a little compendium of twelve new buildings proposed for Vancouver which allows you to look at some of the designs.
The same nod to brashness and boldness is also taking place in vehicle merchandising where trucks and SUVs (sports utility vehicles) make up more than 72 percent of purchases in the United States. This trend to large rolling dens has resulted in a 47 percent increase in pedestrian deaths. Even Tesla is rolling out the Tesla Cybertruck which begins production next month with a “stainless-steel “exoskeleton” billed as bullet-resistant, a triangular roof worthy of the MoMA sculpture garden and putatively shatterproof “armour glass” windows “. The intent is to have the “utility” of a truck with a “sports car” performance.
Vehicles are getting bigger if not better, and “size and stature” matters. Electric vehicles are still only two percent of American vehicle purchases, and the showdown between “monster-truck-ification of America” and the need to abandon the use of fossil fuels still appears not to hinder sales.
In downtown architecture design and in North American vehicle trends it is all about the big gesture. But is there also a similar clash? Will these new buildings ensure livability and provide enough housing and public amenities accessible to all Vancouver residents? And like the monster vehicle trend not responding to the fossil fuel crisis, how can these new buildings all vying to outperform each other serve as anchors for existing residents as well as new ones?
Images: Daily Hive & Kbb.com