Architecture
February 16, 2007

A Forum for West Point Grey

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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February 1, 2007

Michael Klassen – newly appointed to the Vancouver City Planning Commission – sends along a snippet from his blog (via City Comforts) that features:


These painted highrises in Moscow are actually from a blog called Russian Art & Culture News.

In Russia where is in winter sun is a very rare thing such kind of art might keep the winter depression away. For instance this fall-winter there were no visible sun in Moscow for more than 30 days. Due to this it was reported that a lot of people simply refuse to go to work because of an enormous depressive state they were in.
Maybe such urbanistic art would keep the depression away.

Not if you read the blog, says Michael, which apparently is quite a downer. Still, the pictures are cool.

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January 29, 2007

Brian Libby writes the definitive blog for those admirers of things architectural and urban in Portland. I sent him the recent issue of Price Tags on a comparison of our two cities – and he in turn has featured it in a post on his blog.
Another example of the self-referential world of the blog – click, click, click.
Brian asks:
The Portland-Vancouver BC Mind Meld: Is Price Right?
Click on over, add your perspective – and tell him I sent you.
 [And while you’re at it, click over to this piece in the New York Times on Portland’s aerial tram that was featured in Price Tags 90.]

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Yes, a whole collection of Soviet Roadside Bus-stops! It’s one of those sites you just have to share (which is what Max Richter does on his ‘Shortlist’.)

One would think that the Soviets would have come up with one universal design for this community structure – simple, functional and cheap to mass produce. However, in many instances this was not the case, much time, effort and imagination went into many roadside bus stops…. The themes that these decorated bus stops took usually varied depending on the region, often reflecting the local culture, history, or industries.

Many more here.

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January 19, 2007

Can you identify the city in which this house is located?

Peter Simpson, the CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association, explains:

This photo could be of a single-family home in Langley, Surrey, Maple Ridge, etc. If you were to show it to your associates, chances are they wouldn’t guess Shanghai. (The licence plate on the van might give a clue). The homes are in a gated — and guarded — community in Pudong, a relatively new suburb of Shanghai. The enclave of single-family homes is surrounded by apartments, condominiums and markets.

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The debate on Vancouver’s lack of iconic architecture does seem to be heating up.  Good timing, then, by The Tyee, the online magazine, for its interview with New Urbanist Andres Duany.  Here’s a quote:

The problem with architects who treat cities like modern art galleries:
“You cannot make a city with avant-gardist architects, because an avant-gardist architect is continually trying to do something new, and to stand out. The problem is that modern architecture at this moment — avant-gardism — is expressionist. It’s all about shapes and spikes and articulation, materials, and elbowing away things, and you can’t make a city out of it. You can make some great buildings: avant-garde architects are really good these days, no question. But you can’t make a city.”

Read the whole piece here.

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PT reader Timothy Thomas writes in:

Lisa Rochon hits the nail on its monotonous little head. Finally, after five years, I understand the paradox: how Vancouver can be progressive in livability but so maddeningly conservative in design.
If the Olympic Village architecture leaves another disappointing legacy, maybe they can install an explanatory plaque: “They didn’t want it good. They wanted it Tuesday.”

Rochon’s Globe and Mail piece – “Time to build outside the box” – critiques the architectural scene in Vancouver, now that previous planner Larry Beasley is off to Abu Dhabi.

Over the past decade, Vancouver has developed a culture of urban rules rather than a culture of great design. There are rules for just about any move an architect might want to make….

And now that Beasley is gone, architects speak up:

“It’s a huge challenge for the new director,” says Bing Thom, a prominent Vancouver architect. “We’ve become a victim of our own success. There’s smugness and fear of change. The planning department knows what it wants, the architect knows what the planning department wants and nobody dares to rock the boat. Everybody is in bed together. The podium-tower formula keeps getting stamped out in Vancouver, because everybody knows that will get quick approval.”
“The Beasley regime was so formulaic,” charges James Cheng, another of Vancouver’s major architects who designed the 60-storey Shangri-La luxury hotel and residence currently under construction on West Georgia Street in the city’s downtown.

Hmmm. The supposition seems to be that if the architects were freed of the Planning Department’s constraints, great, iconic architecture would spontaneously appear.
Sorry, don’t buy it. Market-constrained design is inherently conservative. Once the developers discern the minimum acceptable standards, they set the ceiling, not the floor.
I well remember an informal meeting I had in James Cheng’s office with one of the City’ Hall development-permit architects. They were responding to a concern I had, after seeing the model for Quayside – the Concord Pacific complex that now lines Marinaside Crescent, between Davie Street and the Cambie Bridge – that it was all too much the same. How about at least a little variation in colour?

Both of them assured me that, though it was subtle, it would fit well into the larger palate that was planned for the megaproject. I didn’t get any sense that the City was forcing a reluctant developer into a straight-jacket.
As a Councillor, there really wasn’t much I could do other than express my concern. Other Councillors didn’t like getting involved in design decisions – the job, they felt, of the professionals. And indeed, the development process in Vancouver keeps politicians out of the approval process once Council decisions have been made on zoning and general policy. It’s one of the reasons the quality of urban design is high: no deals are done to dumb-down projects; negotiations are done at the staff level, insulated from the politics.
Yes, there’s a need for more ‘iconic’ foreground buildings in Vancouver. But too often the suggestion is made that by negating, amending or ignoring some general policy – like height limits or view-corridor requirements – we would get brilliant architecture as a result. I just don’t think the record, the experience of other cities or common sense gives a guarantee of that.

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ArchNewsNow.com – a daily e-newsletter indispensible for those into architecture – has a nice piece on the American Institute of Architecture’s Top Ten Green Projects Award. As one would hope, Vancouver is well represented – and, indeed, they’ve highlighted two winners from past years:
From 2004, the White Rock Operations Centre by Peter Busby.
And from 2000, the C.K. Choi Building at UBC by Matsuzaki Wright Architects.

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