August 26, 2011

Singapore’s Sky Park: Architecture as Fantasy

Tom Durning sends along some pics of Sky Park, a mixed-use complex in Marina Bay, Singapore designed by Moshe Safdie – he who did Vancouver’s Central Library.

Gotta say that it looks absurd to me, and even somewhat clunky.  (But I’d love to go for a swim up there. )

In fact, there’s a much more appealing passerelle leading to it than the pretentiousness inside:

Charlie Rose recently did an interview with Safdie here – in which he characterized Sky Park as Singapore’s Eiffel Tower.

UPDATE: For some reason (probably a search engine algorithm), this post continues to be one of the most popular on Price Tags.  So here’s a video to add to the interest – an overview of how the 150-metre long pool was constructed in a mere span of 7 months.

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Richard Campbell thinks a proposed project could allow for a needed passerelle across Boundary Road.

There is a good opportunity to built for the BC Parkway over Boundary Road as part of a huge rezoning that is being proposed at the intersection of Vanness and Boundary. Likely through a financial contribution from the developer.

The Cityis inviting your suggestions:

The application is for all residential use, although the applicant has also proposed a 33,000 sq. ft. “community amenity space” in the base of the two towers on Boundary Road, which has not been programmed.  Staff are considering potential uses for this space and no decisions have been made.   Community input into possible uses for this area is welcomed.

More here. 

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Could you get a betta metaphor?

The Fraser River is running 20 feet above normal for this time of year. Indeed, it’s been running high longer than any time in its recorded history – the consquence of abnormal weather and a high snow pack melting later than normal.    Whatever normal is.

So the high water and heavy current erodes the riverbank, undermines a transmission tower that unexpectedly collapses, pulls down the power lines across two major highways and a big-box arterial – and the most travelled road in the Province and the busiest bridge are closed.

No transit alternatives for most.  Result: traffic chaos.

Or to put it another way:

Just a metaphor.

UPDATE: Speaking of the “New Normal,” here’s a chart for the U.S.:

Once a decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updates its definition of “normal” temperatures, based on the average temperatures of the previous 30 years. Here’s how the 1981-2010 “normal” compares to the 1971-2000 “normal.” Basically, it’s a lot hotter. … [M]inimum temps in Minnesota and Wisconsin increased by nearly a full degree, with Maine, Vermont, Michigan, and Arizona not far behind. On average, normal temperatures increased by half a degree.

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Scott Billings and Josh Hite, video artists, are working on a project inside of the Burrard Bridge.

Yup, inside. 

There’s a stairwell on the southwest end that allowed people to access Kits Point without having to walk an extra kilometre to the end of the bridge and back.  Access didn’t last more than a few months after the bridge was opened in 1932.  It was a desolate space, and even back then, notably during the Depression, the light fixtures and brass railings went quickly missing.  Within six months it was sealed – and has remained closed ever since.

Until now.

Scott and Josh, with support from the City Engineers, the Vancouver Public Art  Program, Canada Council and B.C. Arts Council grants, will be – at least briefly – opening up the stairwell for their project, which involves constructing a device to take a camera up and down the stairwell in a helical fashion, looking at both the space itself, and the ideas circulating around stairwell images in cinema. 

They’re on a search for interested individuals and groups to sign up to enter into the space April 18 to 22. 

We’re asking people to walk in and let us shoot them, either creating something pre planned, or simply walking down to the bottom and back up again.  There will most likely be actors carrying out roles during these times. 

Interested?  Contact Josh at

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This essay – Wal-Mart.  Too Big to Fail – by Charles Marohn in New Urban Network raises the basic question about the way we have financed it all, when we haven’t paid the full price for the infrastructure.

We all have a chance to live like European royalty on our suburban estates, but again, we are dependent on cheap energy, a massively complex and fragile supply chain, and an easy, stable money supply. We have no energy program. Period. No backup plan. We’ve spent ourselves in the public sector, but especially in the private sector, so far into debt that we have no reasonable chance of paying it back. We’ve not borrowed primarily to create things of value, just to consume. Again, no Plan B.

We can build millions and millions of dollars worth of infrastructure for the near-term growth it provides, finance it with cheap borrowing or subsidies from higher levels of government, but now we have to maintain it all with returns well short of what is needed. Didn’t anyone ponder this as we went?

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I really like the new BC Place roof so far:

Crown of thorns, I’ve heard it called.  Whatever –  better than the Marshmallow in Bondage. 

In fact, at this stage of construction – these shots are from Saturday – it looks so strong and sculptural, I wonder if it’ll look as good with the fabric of the actual roof attached?

No need to prejudge.   The views of the roof will be constantly changing anyway, creating more hide-and-peak perspectives.

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Well, ‘downtown’ Abbotsford isn’t technically a strip mall – though there aren’t many vestiges of its historic roots as a stop along the Yale Road to the goldfields of 1858.  Or its farming community past.  Today, it’s main drag really is a drag:


A classic case of a community that grew up in the pre-motordom era giving itself over to auto dominance (thank you, long-serving mayor George Ferguson) and turning its core into one big strip mall.  Now the fifth largest municipality in the province, with an airport that could one day be the second aeronautical anchor of the Lower Mainland, Abbotsford would inevitably be absorbed into vast undifferentiated regional sprawl if it wasn’t for the Agricultural Land Reserve.  

Meanwhile, keep your eyes on 16th Avenue, which I’m pretty sure the highway planners are.  Imagine an expressway connecting with the Trans-Canada Highway, past the Abbotsford airport, streaking in a straight line across the ALR to the new interchange they’re planning to build on Highway 99 at White Rock, and serving all the expanded streets to the international border crossings.  Won’t that do wonders for the ‘compact metropolitan region.’ 

But I digress.  Appparently they’ve decided they have quite enough asphalt in Abbotsford, and now they’d like a little more transit.  In particular, a frequent transit corridor sort of in the shape of a horseshoe:

Director of Community Planning Carl Johannsen provides a precis of Abbotsford’s ‘Local Transit Enhancement’ concept 

… a long-term vision to develop a high-frequency transit backbone through the City’s urban area, approved-in-principle by Council in November of 2008.  The idea of future rapid transit (i.e. BRT) along much of the horseshoe has been also confirmed by Minstry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley.  

 We aim to build up transit frequencies along these corridors over time, and reorganize the rest of system to feed into these corridors.  The City, with BC Transit and the District of Mission, will also be developing a long-term transit vision (Transit Future Plan) for the Abbotsford-Mission transit system over the next months.  

So in time, the grim gray corridor of South Fraser Way:

…might, from the same view at the top, look like this:

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What are cities about?

First and foremost: water

Clean water in and dirty water out.  Or roundabout. 

But without  getting ahold of the former and dealing with the latter, a city is not viable, not even for a week. 

So this delightful story by David Prowler of San Francisco on the importance of pipes – the containers for the water in and out – and the challenges that moving the pipes can involve, is also a helpful reminder “the next time you take a cold drink” of who’s the real star in ‘starchitecture.’

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Haven’t had one of these for awhile:

Construction of the Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge is set to begin this month  …   Once complete, the Gibbs Bridge will extend 700 feet over I-5, connecting the Lair Hill Neighborhood to the South Waterfront District near the Aerial Tram. The bridge will be for bicycling and walking only and according to the project website, the project also comes with some, “improvements to some pedestrian crossings in the area.”

Another lovely integration of modes – bike, ped, aerial tram, streetcar and, sure, car.   Giving people choices is what it’s all about.  Delightfully.

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November 2, 2010

There’s been a lot of this sort of argument recently:

I thought of how this city, my city, puts more care into providing bike lanes for urban professionals than for housing the homeless. …  If Robertson and the city of Vancouver would put one ounce of the passion into putting a few roofs over a few heads as they do with providing surplus recreation for the over-privileged, there’s one old man who might still be here today.

That’s from an op-ed in today’s Sun.  But it’s typical: Choose your issue – and then decry the expenditure of dollars for something as trivial – or at least of lower priority – as a bike lane.  

Such a juxtaposition usually suggests confusion between capital and operating expenditures.   That is, the difference between paying for a program in an annual budget versus paying (or borrowing) to build or maintain a permanent piece of infrastructure. 

And that’s not just a wonky distinction.   If resources can be shifted from capital to operating any time a consitutency or politician dislikes a high-profile project, then any attempt at planning for infrastructure that extends beyond the term of a council wouldn’t be taken seriously.  

But hey, so what.  It makes a point about our priorities.  So why not go where the real money is?

Did you know we are spending $22 billion on the Pacific Gateway – ports, roads, railways and airports.   That’s a lot of money. (To illustrate: a million seconds equals about 12 days.  A billion seconds?  Almost 32 years.)  

Doesn’t quite turn people’s crank like a bike lane, does it?   And while, sure, the Gateway project is arguably justified as a jobs-generator, as good for the economy, so, arguably (no kidding), are bike lanes.


This is the block of Hornby Street (you can see the cycle-track divider in the foreground) between Beach and Pacific where the Appleton Gallery (the red building on the left) was once located – the business the owner claimed was killed by the Burrard bike-lane project. 

But look what is next to it.  The gray building is the Tactix Gym, which specializes in the kind of cross-training that appeals to, guess who?,  the kind of customer who will be attracted by the bike lane.  So which kind of business has the most potential for investment, jobs and growth?   The art gallery or the gym?  And which will benefit by this ‘investment in infrastructure’?   I’m guessing the gym.   With the bike racks out front. 

So if job generation and economic growth is a good argument for the Pacific Gateway, it’s a good argument for a bike lane that attracts customers for the business that pays the city rent and property taxes.  Which then helps pay for a city-funded shelter in the lane a block from the gym.

(Interestingly, the architect, Richard Evans, who has his office atop the gym, tells me that practically all eight of his staff will cycle to work, walk or take transit, with no need for car parking.   Another saving, another competitive advantage for a downtown business.)

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