For my week as guest editor of Price Tags, I intend to view Vancouver from an architectural perspective. To this effect, I will be releasing an interview with an architect, planner, or academic each day. Each person has been selected for his/her unique and timely perspectives on the city. Our discussions will highlight each person’s practice along with their notions of city building and form in Vancouver.
I’m sharing lunch with architect Nick Milkovich at Epicurean Delicatessen on West 1st Avenue near Granville Island. By chance, Bo Helliwell and Michel Laflamme are also here. This appears to be the place to go if you want to find Vancouver’s West Coast Modern legends. Nick, one of those legends, has been practicing since 1968 with Arthur Erickson and Geoff Massey before starting his own firm, Nick Milkovich Architects Inc in 1991, receiving critical acclaim for projects such as the Creekside Community Centre and Canada House at the Vancouver 2010 Athlete’s Village. Nick has generously offered the time to talk with me about his firm’s recent work and his perspective on architecture in Vancouver.
JB: Your firm designed the plaza (now under construction) on the north side of what used to be the court house and is currently the Vancouver Art Gallery. Can you describe the design intent?
NM: We started by exploring plaza design up and down the coast. We did this study as part of our conceptual design process. A member of the city’s management team came with us to look at the layout, situation, function, and management of the plazas. We learned that although successful plazas had 300+ seemingly random events per year, these events were highly controlled. Public control was better, as private interest groups in control of plazas could make biased decisions about who could use the space. Even a publicly owned plaza will still be scheduled, and the Vancouver Police will do their best to collaborate with groups, assisting with traffic management and safety.
We also learned the value of open space. Our design includes the removal of the water fountain to privilege a large area with no built form whatsoever, and an open kiosk as part of the bus stop. The kiosk and other lighting installation will allow the plaza to be used later into the night. This layout is intended to support as diverse an array of occupation and use as possible for Vancouver’s citizens. In this way, the plaza can be whatever it needs to be when it needs to be it. This strategy took us away from previous design iterations.
JB: Was there any push-back when you decided to remove the fountain?
NM: There was some nostalgia for the fountain, as there is when you opt to change anything. Generally, people saw it as an encumbrance to the success of the plaza and were happy to see it go.
JB: Was there any inspiration taken from the nearby work of Arthur Erickson and Cornelia Oberlander, the Law Courts and Robson Square?
NM: Certainly. Erickson always described Robson Square as a three-block complex. We are completing the third block with our design. We worked with Cornelia Oberlander to move two trees and alter the planting plan, and she calls me from time to time to let us know how we are doing.
JB: Was there anything you saw in other plazas that you want to bring to Vancouver’s?
NM: I like the ways plazas tend to operate in Europe. Many people who live in Europe do not live in large homes, and inevitably they end up using plazas and cafés as their living spaces. So they use plazas in this way, and these spaces assist in achieving a sense of shared memory, stewardship, and attachment among citizens.
We hope our design of the plaza will achieve this phenomenon as well. We tried to give Vancouverites something that they can’t get on the internet or in their apartments – open community space. We hope that people will share this public realm with great affection.
JB: If the Vancouver Art Gallery moves to a new site and a new tenant moves in, are you concerned that the use of the plaza will change? Read more »