Architecture
September 17, 2019

Just possibly the worst sidewalk to navigate in downtown

A major entrance to Pacific Centre Mall off Dunsmuir Street:

Scaffolding clutters the space, but that’s temporary.  The real problem is permanent: the ramp to the underground parking:

It must have seemed like a small intervention when Pacific Centre was being designed in the sixties.  The project was three blocks long; underground parking spaces numbered in the thousands.  Taking up so much sidewalk space for a necessary exit wouldn’t have been a serious worry.

On the Dunsmuir Street of 2019, it looks like a scar.

 

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September 16, 2019

Via Durning, a  gentle black-and-white video from the CBC Vancouver program the 7 O’CLOCK SHOW special series on “Urbanism.”  (Click title for video.)

This footage depicts the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver (near the Port) Gastown and the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver.*

Older buildings (many vacant) on Alexander, Columbia, Carrall and Powell Streets are featured. In 1964 this was an area of the city in transition, where heritage buildings were neglected and vulnerable to idea of modernism.

*In the days when it was necessary to inform people where Gastown was, and before part of it was renamed the Downtown East Side.  And in the days when the fabled ‘7-O’clock Show’ would commission and run a visual essay without narration.

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In the recent history of Vancouver, it’s unusual when the built-out parts of the city – places where people happily live and work – suddenly change scale and character, when a new urban form, usually larger and different in use, replaces the local urban landscape.

Sudden change was the way we used to do it: when a single rezoning swept away the architecture (and many of the people) in early streetcar neighbourhoods, and converted them into the concrete highrise versions. (See Kerrisdale Village, Ambleside, the West End).  It can also happen where obsolete uses and rising land values come together, when industrial lands convert to residential megaprojects.  (See Collingwood Village).

Or where new transportation infrastructure aligns with new land use. See the impact of the Canada Line on Cambie Street.

Here’s the northwest corner of Cambie and King Edward in May, 2015 – a half decade after the Canada Line opened:

And in September, 2019:

Along the Cambie boulevard, the shift in scale is dramatic.

… compared to what was there just five years before:

 

It won’t take too long to get comfortable with this scale of change.  In fact, the spectacularly treed boulevard will be so much more appreciated now with gallery walls of apartment buildings, all about the same height and setback.  The parkway becomes more an elongated arboretum, less a well-treed highway median.  The entire landscape shifts with your viewpoint on the elegant curves that so gently rise and descend over Queen Elizabeth Park.  On the Cambie Boulevard, the tradition of  Olmstedian landscape architecture lives on.

When Oakridge was laid out, this was the best of Motordom in the City Beautiful, designed for the aesthetic and practical experience of moving by car.   Now, underneath, real change has come but out of sight.

The consequences of planning done after the Canada Line corridor have accelerated; the transformation is apparent, and a little jarring.  But because what was best about the boulevard looks like its being respected, what could have been traumatic change looks like it will be just fine.

When you’re hoping that Vancouverites will come to accept more sudden change in scale and character of the city and its neighbourhoods, it’s helpful to have something done well to show them.

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As a consequence of the West End Community Plan of 2013, there is a massive rebuilding of the blocks on Davie Street from Jervis to Denman.  But the West End is used to that.  The district has already seen such transformations throughout its history.

It began with the ‘New Liverpool’ subdivision prior to the incorporation of the city, bringing with it an explosion of development: mansions of the elite and professional class, along with the ‘Vancouver Specials’ of the 1890s you can still see on Mole Hill. Inserted were the first apartment blocks with the arrival of the streetcar on Denman and Davie in 1900.

Then the crash of 1913, a war, a Depression, another war.  It wasn’t until the late 1940s when redevelopment again transformed a decaying and overcrowded district with dozens of those three-storey walkups.

A rezoning in 1956 brought the most significant change of all: over 200 concrete highrises.  That concrete jungle – the postcard shot – is the West End today: the scale and character of one of Canada’s densest neighbourhoods.

It turned out okay.

Now, the current and expected changes are happening on the border blocks, from Thurlow to Burrard, Alberni to Georgia – and very obviously on West Davie.  Faster than planners anticipated.  The most significant phase of West End development in the last half century.

Here’s an example on one side of one block from Cardero to Bidwell – three towers at the stage where the raw concrete makes a more powerful architectural statement than when the glass and spandrel panels get attached:

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August 23, 2019

Eric is right in his comment to “How do you cycle to Stanley Park Brewing“:

I was at the Pub last night and think there may be some ‘cyclist exceptionalism’ here with regards to parking at the Pub. I’m an avid cyclist, but I don’t expect to be able to ride up and park steps from the front door of every single business I patronize. My legs are still good for walking “some distance”, especially on green grass. And I’m quite adept at walking with my bike as well. I also wouldn’t begrudge a business for wanting to keep their frontage free of racks’ of tangled metal — just as we’d expect car parking to be ‘at the back’.

Yes, more and better racks are needed at the Pub, and it’s GREAT that Park Board seems to be moving towards “to AND through”, but let’s not get too precious. 🙂

It’s easy to get all precious over something in your neighbourhood that annoys you. And I remember from my own experience that listening to overly upset people get all tedious over minor concerns is really annoying.  Over things like bike racks.

The danger is the bigger issue gets lost in the trivial.  And the bigger issue is that this is what the Parks Board and the client think is good urban design in 2019, in Stanley Park:

Leaving aside the possibility of placing a bike rack on the abundant asphalt exactly where the bike is in the advertising:

 

That would definitely be a little precious.

 

 

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Andy Yan, Vancouver’s Duke of Data and Director of the Simon Fraser City program asks~what do we do when the glass towers that make Vancouver’s “Vancouverism” are sustainably outed  as hungry  power hogs? What is the 21st century sustainable version of Vancouver’s glass tower style? As reported in The Guardian and as Price Tags has previously written the iconic glass towers are becoming a faux pas “because they are too difficult and expensive to cool.”

As  Simon Sturgis, an adviser to the government and the Greater London Authority, as well as chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects sustainability group observed “If you’re using standard glass facades you need a lot of energy to cool them down, and using a lot of energy equates to a lot of carbon emissions.”

Because glass towers reflect a lot of heat into the buildings, air conditioning has been standard to cool towers. But the International Energy Agency now estimates that forty percent  of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from construction, demolishing, heating and cooling buildings. And here’s a staggering statistic~the energy for air conditioning has doubled in the last twenty years, and makes up 14 percent of all energy used.

In New York City Mayor de Blasio is demanding that glass towers now meet new energy efficient standards, which really means less use of glass and steel in towers. While other cities have not yet grasped the connection between warmer hotter climatic conditions and glazed towers, new regulations will come under play to ensure that glass towers are efficient for the lifecycle of the building.

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Number One on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List site for 2019 is Mount Pleasant, one of Vancouver’s original neighbourhoods – an area under threat of losing its valuable heritage qualities.

Intersected by the commercial high streets of Broadway, Main and Kingsway, the old Mount Pleasant village (the “Heritage Heart”) has been the hub of the neighbourhood ever since it first developed in the 1880s. Pedestrian-friendly and human-scale streetscapes are lined with independent stores and restaurants that lend this commercial area of Mount Pleasant a welcoming, interesting and vibrant village atmosphere.

Many of the heritage buildings from the neighbourhood’s streetcar era still exist, alongside others from the early and mid-twentieth century.  They continue to provide affordable housing, artist studios and commercial spaces for a wide variety of community groups and local businesses.

The area is a complete neighbourhood and is clearly distinct from the rest of the city. However, the forthcoming subway, new transit station at Main and Broadway and accompanying development may put this in jeopardy.

 

Sunday, August 18

10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Cost: $10 for Heritage Vancouver members, $15 for non-members.  Tickets here.

Meet at the NE corner of 13th and Quebec Street.

Tour Lead is Christine Hagemoen

 

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The Shipyards has been launched.   It’s just east of Lonsdale at the North Vancouver waterfront – a mixed-use commercial development at the centre of the City of North Vancouver’s Central Waterfront  

The commercial offerings (the restaurants, the boutiques, the Cap U extension) are still to come.  Nearly complete, however, is a great new public space that will serve not just Lower Lonsdale (LoLo) but the whole North Shore.

The Shipyards replaces the bloodlessly named Lot 5 in the plan below.  The green-coloured Commons’ fulfils almost exactly the vision that informed the project from the beginning.  The Commons is a covered year-round public space big enough, at 12,000 square feet, to accommodate major events while still providing a flexible intimacy needed to give sparkle to what mayor Linda Buchanan calls ‘the jewel in the crown.’

The design is by Dialog, among whose principals, Norm Hotson and Joost Bakker, were the architects of Granville Island.  This space is not just what’s on the floor and at first level.  There is also the spectacle of the walls and ceiling: a cathedral-like industrial legacy above, a retractable roof extension over the water park alongside, with galleries surrounding the space to the east and south.  There’s constant animation around, over and above, with people looking down, up and across.  Irresistibly moving around to capture views and Instagrammable moments both front and back.  It’s dynamism in three dimensions.

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