The permanent closure of the 800-block Robson and its redesign (close to the original vision of architect Arthur Erickson) must be getting close to opening.  It’s taken a surprisingly long time, likely because of structural and upgrading issues.

When looking eastward over the fencing, the symmetry of the new space and its urban context becomes apparent:

There are bleacher/steps on both sides (suitable for protests and performances of several sizes).  Then the view opens up.  Horizontal blocks frame a narrow 700-block Robson (likely to be partly pedestrianized in the future?)  Towers rise on either side.

Same elements, slightly different scales, combining to create an harmonious composition with a colour pallet and stonework consistent with the Square.

One obvious question: there’s no separated or distinguishable bike lane.  Is it assumed those cycling through the square will use common sense and etiquette to yield, that they should dismount when the block is crowded, or divert around the square using the Hornby Bikeway?

To get an idea of the original vision for the Square as a whole, download this undated piece (probably mid-80s) by Ann Rosenberg – “A Walk Through Robson Square” – and read about what a different, more innocent time it was:

The complex was designed, however, in the hope that people would come most often to the Square because of the recreation it provides, walk, to talk, to read a book, catch a snooze, get a tan, have a snack. It is a place to enjoy. It is also a place in which to learn. In addition to the programmes the VAG offers, there are art and business displays, conferences, films and dramatic productions booked into the Media Centre. A visitor may also wish to view trials in the Law Courts … the Law Courts.

As originally planned, this glass-roofed foyer was to have been publicly accessible twenty-four hours a day as part of a pedestrian way that concluded at the Nelson Street boundary of the Square.



  1. Like the plaza at the front of the museum, it’s fine. It’s not inspired but it’s flexible, functional, and should be relatively easy to maintain. A highly-trod roof can’t be too precious. It certainly has taken a while but the result will hopefully be a robust space.

  2. I agree that the absence of a cycling crossing almost seems like an oversight, although I can imagine someone thinking that Comox is sufficient – not!

  3. Not a bike lane, but bike permeable. This was discussed during development of the project. Yes, the intent is for slow speed cycling.

    The plan was to potentially restrict cycling access during crowded large events, with a detour to an alternate route during the event. Howe, Smithe, Hornby is an alternate route but requires protected infrastructure on Howe and Smithe.

  4. A city square is defined by its edges. A height-width ratio of between 1:1 to 2:1 and, most importantly, activated on at least 3 sides with retail/F&B. A city square is a destination.

    Robson Square is not a square. It’s a gap in the urban fabric, a pass-through between two active destinations; Robson high street and Pacific Centre. Paving and seating won’t change that.

    This is a square;

    1. Robson Square isn’t a square, and Vancouver does deserve a real square, the closest we get is McArthur Glen which is pretty pathetic, but Robson Square does have its moments. It revels in grade changes, an urban design trope that almost always fails, but actually works here. It certainly is a popular place to gather and mentally feels like the centre of downtown.

      But none of this detracts from the need for a real square. The square at the Olympic Village is getting there, but not fully formed, but it is a long way from hopeless cases like Granville Square.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *