Architecture
April 30, 2007

Where Bike Racks Should Be

Globe architecture critic Lisa Rochon profiles Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie here.   
(You’d think that by now the hometown Sun would be embarrassed that Toronto’s newspaper is doing a better job of covering the built environment of Vancouver than they are.)
Rochon’s column profiles Gillespie’s projects from Shangri-La to Woodward’s, and makes this fascinating observation about the latter:

The vision is monumental, but I admit to being a little fixated on one clever design detail: the bike rack that (architect Gregory) Henriquez has squeezed into the front hall of the tiny units for people on social assistance. “For these people, the bike is really an important part of their lives and their livelihood. They’re not going to park it out on the street.
“They’re going to bring it inside their apartment, so we designed a rack for that purpose.” That insight speaks to the years that Henriquez has poured into the project, meeting with squatters and housing activists for countless consultations, and pushing his practice into the vanguard of architecture with a conscience.

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Larry Beasley was speaking at a forum – “Framing a Capital City” – at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.  Here’s the Washington Post:

Larry Beasley, a former planning director for Vancouver, B.C., brought this nugget of Canadian wisdom: “The whole world is going mad about security,” which has become, in terms of architecture and planning, the most important force shaping our cities. He lamented the return of above-ground parking garages (to prevent a car bomb from taking out a building placed above underground parking) and the use of huge setbacks (they create dead zones in the urban fabric). Cities that are finally reflecting the virtues of density, mixed-use development and walkable spaces are being shoved in the wrong direction by security-mad bureaucrats.
When Beasley advised the assembled crowd (a mix of students, planners, activists and scholars) that it was time to just say no to more needlessly complex, anti-democratic, isolating, intimidating layers of security, the audience broke out into spontaneous applause. It was a hometown crowd.

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Vancouver’s Director of Planning – and Planetizen blogger – addresses the question: Does City Hall stifle good design?
Here’s a highlight:

Some have suggested to me that City Hall sometimes goes too far in shaping the City. That some rules, guidelines or approaches are too prescriptive, too specific, instead of being open minded to better ways to address design aspirations. I’ve listened with an open mind, and have myself observed some examples of “Cadillac” guidelines that might warrant either a re-think, or at least a “squinty-eyed view” when it comes to interpretation. We should always maintain an open-mindedness that doesn’t let a rule stand in the way of a better city-building idea (although we might find ourselves disagreeing on whether an idea is in fact better).
I must say though, I’ve seen great examples of inventiveness and open-mindedness here at City Hall, where the rule book got set aside for a better idea. More examples than in other cities I’ve worked with across Canada, where I was often the one trying to get the better idea through. Some of our best projects have been the result.

The whole post can be found here.

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As in most cities, there’s lots of competition for ‘worst’ building.  Over at Pacific Metropolis, they’re inviting nominations for “a list of those buildings that we’d like to see torn down as quickly as possible – preferably before they’re granted heritage status.” 
Here’s my nomination:
 
The Academy of Music on Vanier Point. Not too many people know about it, thankfully, since it’s another of those 70s-style bunkers they built back then, like the Archives. What makes it my top choice is the lost opportunity. Shouldn’t an Academy of Music be a graceful, inviting, significantly placed icon in the fabric of the city? This is none of those.

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Randy Gragg, one of the best writers on urban design and architecture in America, profiles a Portland developer, Joe Weston, in an article in The Oregonian. Weston, who is building in the Vancouver Style, may the the first of many.

Sunday, March 11, 2007
Standing in the 27th-story penthouse of his soon-to-be-finished condo The Benson, developer Joe Weston foresees a taller, thinner Portland.The building is the city’s first “point tower.” Each floor will be 8,000 square feet or less, hence the “point” compared to the more typical Portland “slab towers” of 12,000 to 20,000 square feet.
Vancouver, B.C., built hundreds of these more slender buildings in the past 20 years, increasing the city center’s population by more than 50 percent and drawing the attention of cities across the world for its combination of higher density and livability. For years, Portland has sent delegations of planners, architects and politicians north of the border to see them.

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Architect Rick Balfour comes up with more audacious ideas before breakfast than most of us have in a year. (He led the “Outside the Box” workshop at the Affordability by Design conference, results here.)
 And another:

Says Rick:

Looking at the land form on Jericho,-could we need a classical amphitheatre like Epidavras in Greece; big enough for 15 000 people, overlooking the beach, bay and mountains.
Forget rain, we can deal with that later, but the urban form and the invitation to meet and on the stuffy west side. I think we need it.  Even first nations might say, good idea, count the area in our contribution.
– we must add a west coast touch related to the Talking Stick
Like the Greeks, I think there are some natural forms on that hill to make it work. It can be used for all the festivals already in vogue and a whole lot more.  When not in use, like in Greece, the children play in it, old folks have tea parties.
 We do not have enough things to leave as ruins.
And for those that say we could build another 200 condos … we need more civic spaces in the city.
 
I also know why these classical spaces are frowned upon and not built in our society, but that is another chapter.

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Architect Bing Thom recommended I read this piece from the Tyee on the prospects for the Larwell Park site (just east of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre) – likely the location for an ‘iconic’ architectural statement. 

Bing’s warning:

Thom worries that civic culture is sliding into the control of a few select, giant institutions that grab a dominant share of publicity and public money. He argues that as Vancouver grows, it is in danger of mimicking other North American metropolises in adopting the same dominant assumptions of what constitutes important culture: opera, symphony, art gallery.
But Vancouver culture is unique, argues Thom. For example, it’s more informed by First Nations and Eastern Asian values than other metropolises, so we shouldn’t necessarily adopt an a eye-stopping, starchitect-designed grand projet. The federal government maxes out its grants to cultural facilities at $30-million per institution; Thom wants the pie to be carved up in as many pieces as possible.

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