January 6, 2010

More Underground Art

Further to our underground exploration of great transit stations, here are recent photos of some new stations in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan taken by Ronald Chen, a graduate of the SFU City Program’s Urban Design Certificate Program.  As you’ll see, some of the best parts are on the surface, including the art of the landscape. 

(Follow the links to see more of Ronald’s great shots.)

First up: Formosa Boulevard Station, the station with the glass art “Dome of light”. 

The glass art is designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.  It is said to be the largest glass art in the world – 30 metres in diameter.  And here’s what the station looks like at night:

Next, the Central Park Station designed by Richard Rogers. 

Ronald also has extensive images of the  2009 World Games Stadium exquisitely designed by Ito Toyo. 

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Yes, the Canada Line makes it easy to get Richmond.  But where’s the there there? 

Obviously, at the Oval. 

So I took the train to Lansdowne Station on No. 3 Road, figuring I could walk the route that would take me to the Olympic speed-skating oval, and, along the way, see one of the most provocative pieces of public art in years.  Namely, this:

This is “Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head.”  It’s all the rage in Richmond – another piece of the Vancouver Biennale that’s pushing people’s buttons.  At least it does in Beijing, where the hometown artists – the Gao brothers – aren’t particularly welcome. 

Here, reactions are more quizzical than condeming.

A mini-Mao with breasts.  What are they trying to say?

For me, as interesting as the scuplture was the location.   Miss Mao is posed on a bust in a new park just under construction on the edge of an urbanizing Richmond still embedded in Motordom.

These few blocks at Elmbridge and Alderbridge are the first to reflect the future Richmond, where within walking distance of the Canada Line stations there could be a population surpassing Vancouver’s Downtown Peninsula.

But not yet.  Way not yet.   In the meantime, and certainly during the Olympics, visitors will experience in their treks to the Oval the Richmond of decades past – a triangle of industrial and commercial sprawl, designed when planners, engineers and developer simply assumed everyone would drive, transit would be non-existent, and nobody walked.

This is Richmond’s ALO Triangle – the land between the Aberdeen and Lansdowne Stations, and the Oval.  And that’s a problem.  (More tomorrow).

(Miss Mao and Lenin are within the green ring.)

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December 21, 2009

Good friend Brian Williamson sends some images of how they do festive lighting in Madrid:

What, I wonder, will we be doing in the way of street lighting for the Olympics?  The Vancouver Heritage Foundation had a proposal to highlight the worthy buildings of Hasting Street with some of the advanced lighting technologies used in European cities – but that idea fizzled.

And it might have been possible, during the reconstruction of Granville Mall, to have installed some of the overhead displays that truly create an urban room.  And maybe we’ll be surprised. 

But other than leaving our Christmas lights on, and the special display in False Creek, I’m not aware that we’ll be seeing much more than the Olympic rings in Coal Harbour and the white lights of Robson Street.

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Woodward’s is big, it’s complex.  No doubt, it’s transformative.

First impression: 3 pm, Saturday December 5 – in the atrium.

It was a wow moment – two basketball players shooting hoops on a circluar court in the centre of this soaring space.  On either side, London Drugs and Nesters.  Above, artist Stan Douglas’s depiction of the Gastown Riot of 1971 – a giant photo on glass, staged but seemingly real, that is lit in the same way as the atrium.  It extends the space, and sets the mood.

The Woodward’s development will (no, is) transforming the Downtown East Side.  The change is already being felt, even if the physical transformation of the adjacent blocks is only just beginning.  To stand at the southwest corner of Abbott and Hastings – one of the most intimidating corners in the city, a major drug exchange – and look across to the newly opened London Drugs still comes as a shock.   How did this happen?

Woodward’s is a classic NIC – an example of the “Nixon in China” phenomenon, where the person or political party least expected to be an agent of change is the only one that can pull it off. 

Imagine if this program for Woodward’s had been promoted by the NPA  rather than COPE – specifically Jim Green.  Not much of an exaggeration to say there would have been blood in the streets, as those fighting gentrification in the Downtown East Side would have mounted a major campaign to stop it.  And yet, because the civic Left could not be outflanked, because of the skill with which Green pursued his agenda and because of the effectiveness of the public process, the project is largely being embraced as a benefit to the community in which it was once an anchor, and may become so again.

But this is just the beginning.  Across Hastings, the blank-eyed storefronts are starting to awake.  By the Olympics, this block will look and feel so different, it may well be the story conveyed to the rest of the world – not the indictment of neglect that some were expecting, and even counting on.

UPDATE: Just ran into Mark Townsend of the Portland Hotel Society in the atrium (and isn’t that the point: just running into people.)  PHS will be handling the security for this public space – a smart idea, given the diversity of the community being served. 

As he pointed out, the atrium has been designed to facilitate (if not require) everyone using all the different components of Woodward’s to flow through this space.  Whether you’re a student in SFU Contemporary Arts, a shopper, a banker, a theare-goer, a condo owner, a low-income tenant, a family, a basketball player, a member of an NGO, or just someone taking a shortcut, the atrium welcomes you.   (And Mark was in the process of making sure there would be a storefront for a service agency too, in addition to all the other uses.)

Construction hasn’t even finished yet, and it’s clear that the Woodward’s Atrium has the potential to be one of Vancouver’s most diverse and stimulating spaces.

UPDATE: I’ve been trying to figure out what the Woodward’s Atrium reminds me of.  I thought, first, that it resembled the central court of some 1970s community college back east, a place where they build enclosed urban rooms to deal with the winter, where the materials are strong and basic – brick, concrete, tile. 

And then it struck me: it’s more like a downtown Montreal Metro stop, where the underground city comes to the surface and the towers rise above, where retail stores have their primary entrances on the inside, not on the street, and where these atriums serve as performance and exhibition spaces. 

This is not a criticism, even though Vancouver weather doesn’t require enclosed malls – and we’ve not been particularly successful at creating them (see Pacific, Royal and Scotia Centres).  For the reasons mentioned above, I think this will still be a very successful space, particularly when it’s used for performances (which is what the bastketball court spontaneously allows for).  But there is a bit too much of the blank brick wall to my taste, particularly in the breezeway to Cordova Street.  A fine opportunity for some more public art,

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In all the coverage of the Olympic transportation plan, there was an interesting omission: no mention of the removal of the temporary bike lane on the Burrard Bridge.

When the trial was announced, the city’s engineer had affirmed that the Jersey barriers would have to go prior to the Games.   Without announcement, apparently the lane is staying.

There’s a lesson here.

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A wrap-up of the sculpture and installations seen on the ‘Bikennale’ – a two-wheeled tour of the Vancouver Biennale.

To start: The Stop

Michael Zheng’s installation, located in Charleson Park along False Creek, has already started a controversy – mainly because of its location.  More here.

Over at Pacific Central Station, a perfectly located piece – Barbora – by Lithuanian artist Vladas Vildžiunas.  Looking east, framed by the neo-classical portico of the station; looking west, framed by the trees of Thornton Park.

 Along the seawall at Sunset Beach, in among the logs, there is 217.5 X 13 by Bernar Venet. 

At the triangle of green where Davie meets Denman, Yue Minjun’s hugely popular A-Mazing Laughter:

“Yue Minjun was a leading figure in what became to be known in the 1990’s as Cynical Realism, an artistic movement that emerged in China after the 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen and the suppression of artistic expression.  Humor, cynicism, repetition and an emphasis on the individual are common characteristics of this artistic movement.”  More here.

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Eventually there will be Biennale installations at many of the Canada Line stations.  First up, though, is “History of Loss” at the King Edward Station:

This piece is by Indian artist Sudarshan Shetty.  The artspeak description: “Although inspired by VW Beetle childhood toy cars, the reference here is multitudinous, iconic combustion engine vehicles entombed and dated as artifacts, reflecting the consciousness and worldliness of young contemporary Indian artists.”

I’m as big a fan of multitudinous, iconic artifacts as the next guy, but the part I like the best is that it’s next to a rapid-transit station that has all the charm of a tomb. 

Michael Geller agrees.

And while we’re here, can anyone explain what this crosswalk is about?  Why the dotted lines?

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A sterling Sunday (will this summer never end?) and a fine day for a bike ride – with some art along the way.  (A tour through Artland, as Charles Jencks might say.) 

That was the idea for the Bikennale – a self-guided tour of  sculpture being mounted in public spaces by the Vancouver Biennale.  It began at Vanier Park with a larger crowd than expected:

Barrie Mowat, the Executive Director, looked  pleased.  Even though all the works hadn’t been mounted, there was enough to justify taking the longer of two routes in order to reach VanDusen Garden by way of the Valley Bikeway – a wonderfully flat experience (until 37th Avenue)  that joined up with the Midtown Greenway.  

So good to see the many different kinds of cyclists exploring the network and discovering Vancouver on two wheels.

Thanks to the bike-valet service, it was easy to explore VanDusen without worry – and to get lost inside its stunning beauty.

I confess: though I’ve lived inVancouver for over thirty years, I never appreciated how big the VanDusen Botantical Garden actually is.  Operated by the Park Board, and supported by countless volunteers, it is one of the city’s great treasures.

Tucked away in its southwest corner is a maze, and next to the maze is “Minotaur with Hare” – one of the sculptures in the Biennale.

A work by UK artist Sophie Ryder, it has been previously located around the city in other pleasant venues – usually provoking slightly salacious comments on the speculative relationship.

Throughout the day, I’d come across friends who were also sharing the experience – like past councillor Peter Ladner and his friend Oleh Ilnyouyj. 

And for those who I didn’t know, there’s nothing like a work of art to start up a conversation.

More kilometres and sculptures to come.

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And so it begins.

I’ve been surprised how little Olympic buzz there has been in Vancouver so far.  Maybe it’s the weather.  Maybe it’s a strategy.  Don’t peak too soon.

In the last week, that’s changed – with the unwrapping of the wraps. 


The best super-graphics so far are on the Hudson’s Bay Company:

Christo-like, this wrap changes the perception of the building, emphasizing those unique columns (they’re unlike any classical order I’ve ever seen), and literally gives the structure a human face.

The face grabbing your eye on Granville Street is of  Carter Rycroft, who’s described as ‘baby-faced’ in the sports columns.   Um, I don’t think so.  Whatever else, this image alone may change the perception of curling as the only sport you can still play while smoking.  Yup, Carter is a curler.

The super-graphics won’t be confined to downtown.  Here’s Central City in Surrey last week:

Apropos to Granville Street, while I was shooting the Bay I turned around to see a gathering of people that I thought at first might be a protest of some kind on Robson:

Rather, it was a busker who had attracted a crowd of hundreds, taking advantage of the empty right-of-way on Granville while the mall is still under construction.

As Lisa Brideau notes below, Granville Street, especially in this block, has the chance to be an extraordinary urban space in the city.  And we’re not even waiting until it’s finished.

It’s an indication of what might be a real Olympic legacy.  Just as Expo 86 changed people’s perception of downtown (being able to drink on an outdoor patio was just one small change), so may the closure of Granville, Hamilton and Robson, connecting the public venues at Larwell and David Lam Parks.  By changing how people move around (along with the fact that no one is going to be able to drive and park near any event), we may take another giant step towards the post-Motordom city.

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