For some years now, the City has been approving the replacement of small plazas, originally incorporated into the design of downtown office buildings and open to the public, with infill development.  Now those projects are underway – notably at Hastings and Seymour, and here at Dunsmuir and Homer, which in 2009 looked like this:

The two-storey pavilion and surrounding plaza were part of 401 West Georgia, and were never much used.  Shadowed, windy, and even though windowed, presented a blank, bland facade to the street.  But the empty space at least gave breathing room for the adjacent Holy Rosary Cathedral.

Here’s what that looked like until recently, from the view at Richards and Dunsmuir:

Now that the infill building replacing the pavilion and plaza is almost complete, here’s the view a few weeks ago:

I suspect the architects thought they were being respectful while providing street continuity in this fast-changing part of east Dunsmuir.  But the result is a crowded cathedral and more blank glass walls.  There’s not even a chamfered corner that would have acknowledged the church.

We’ll hold final judgement until the ground-level frontage is complete.  But even though the original plaza will not be missed, the setback and breathing room for the cathedral most certainly will.

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Imagine if the West End had never been zoned for highrises.  Imagine, instead, if through the 1940s and ’50s, we rebuilt the square mile west of Burrard with apartment buildings like this:

So from the 1940s on, it would continue to look like this:

And eventually, with replacement of the original houses by three- to five-storey apartment blocks on small lots, look like this:

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From the Vancouver Sun:

‘We’re in the middle of a sea change’

Today, architects like (James) Cheng and (Foad) Rafii think about a building’s resiliency against future changes. … they consider a future with digital workspaces, ride-sharing and a generation of tenants who will forgo cars entirely.

Many office tenants don’t even ask about parking anymore, which means new buildings probably don’t need several levels of underground parking, Cheng said.

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One of the key things to keep in mind when travelling:

You never get a second chance for a first impression.

A cliche of course – but also the reason why it’s so exciting to visit a city for the first time.  So many impressions to absorb, to replay and construct into an original mental map.  When the pieces come together in your head – crudely to begin with, more detailed every day – then the city is yours.

The major roads, the landmarks, the transit line you need, the safest bike and scooter routes.  The closest grocery store, a gym, a docking station.  How to get downtown, to the best beach, to the restaurant with the reservation on Thursday, to the shop on that hip street you read about.  Every trip adds more names and reasons to remember them.

By the end of two weeks, here was my mental map of the TLV I saw:

We’ll unpack it in the coming week.

 

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City Council voted down a 21-unit rental townhome project for Shaughnessy by a 7-4 vote.  The ostensible controversy was the adjacency of a  hospice, which threatened to close if the project was built – a dubious outcome, given that many hospices exist in much less pleasant prospects.  The reality: Shaughnessy was threatened with higher density, and with rentals – unpleasant prospects for a community that is synonymous with exclusivity.  And they spoke up.

There was a lot of debate, a lot of angst, a lot of rationalizations.  But the most important message coming out of council, whether deliberate or not, is this: ‘No matter what we as councillors say, no matter what policies we pass, no matter what support you get from staff, no matter how great the need we acknowledge, none of that really matters.  If enough of the residents complain, we will protect the status quo.’

North Vancouver District sent a similar message to the development community and housing advocates with their rejection of the Delbrook affordable-rental project – a more egregious case to be sure, but similar in outcome.  ‘Nothing is good enough if the neighbours object.’

The message is devastating for developers who believed council was sincere in wanting to encourage secure market-rental projects and more choice of housing in existing neighbourhoods.  But the impact is more significant when considering the upcoming city-wide planning process.  Council just clarified that they are shifting to the conservationist end of the Bushfield-Prest chart.

Regardless of their rhetoric, desires, intents or instructions with respect to the goals of the plan, in the face of opposition to the outcomes the majority will likely side with status quo.  Those in threatened neighbourhoods can now breathe more easily, knowing that regardless of process, they need only prepare for battle when intent is translated into proposal.

When Jean Swanson votes against rental unless it is social housing, when Adriane Carr votes against new housing unless it is ‘affordable’, when Pete Fry, Michael Wiebe and Sarah Kirby-Yung say they’re for denser development but not today, when Colleen Hardwick wants to give communities a de facto veto, when Rebecca Bligh favours the comfort of the dying over the needs of the living, they’re sending the same message as the conservationists in North Vancouver: ‘We don’t believe the housing crisis is all that serious.’

Necssary acknowledgement, then, to Melissa De Genova, Christine Boyle, Lisa Dominato and Mayor Kennedy Stewart who struggled with the issue and in the end voted in favour.

 

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The Sheraton Landmark’s Big Opening forty-five years ago.

Notice the photo that showed the direction that the top floor restaurant rotated. As Gordon says of its concrete pile demise ~”with its typical brutalist raw concrete, is is now looking more like sculptural art than architecture – and for scale, massing and contrast, maybe never looked better”.

 

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One of the great things about Vancouver is how absolutely passionate and involved  citizens are with the public landscape. Witness the ongoing discussion in the  placement and new design for the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) to be located at 688 Cambie Street on land provided by the City on a 99 year lease.

There is clearly a need for  a new art gallery and the design prepared by Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron five years ago doubles the size of the current gallery space to 85,000 square feet. Remember that this is the first custom built facility for the Vancouver Art Gallery. The total cost of the project was $350 million 2013 dollars with the Province and Federal Governments conditionally pledging $200 million dollars with the remainder to be privately fundraised.

That sum of $150 million dollars may be the largest amount ever raised through the public. The Chan family who had gifted $10 million dollars to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia graciously donated $40 million dollars to the new gallery in January.

I have previously written about the design which will create a new public space in Vancouver. In January new renderings came out that show more glass on the exterior and less wood. The new gallery would have two lower level galleries accessible for free, have a gallery area featuring Emily Carr’s work, as well as restaurant on the top floor.

But in May Kathleen Bartels the Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery did not have her contract extended . As the Vancouver Sun’s John Mackie reported, “The VAG has declined to give a statement on what happened with Bartels, who devoted much of her time at the VAG pursuing a new building at Larwill Park designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & De Meuron.”

In the interim John Mackie has written about Bing Thom’s 2005 design for the site which was for a multi-use facility including a cloud-like floating building. The concept housed “two concert halls, a new National Gallery of Aboriginal Art and an Asian art building.” The design called the Pacific Exchange was never pursued as the Vancouver Art Gallery wished to have a free standing building.

 

Respected urban design pundits Patrick Condon and Scot Hein have written this article in the Tyee which questions the selection of a Swiss “starchitect” for the design, which they say “expresses a facile interpretation of West Coast materials and forms fashioned into something that looks like the spawn of a ziggurat and a giant Transformer — a design that, for better or worse, increasingly seems fated to take its place in the catalogue of unbuilt Vancouver architecture.”

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