Architecture
June 20, 2019

Design, Passion & The Proposed Vancouver Art Gallery

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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Trust The Tyee’s Chris Cheung who consistently finds the story in front of the headline, and his latest article does not disappoint. Douglas Coupland wrote a book on Vancouver called “City of Glass”  describing  Vancouver’s towerscape, which is tall, not particularly inviting to look at, and appears to have a whole lot of glass.

Chris Cheung  introduces Genta Ishiumura, a recent graduate in Architecture who looked at Vancouver’s glass landscape after taking a course on “window behaviourology” in Switzerland from Tokyo architect Momoyo Kaijima.

In a time when we are moving toward a more sustainable city, Ishimura notes that the floor to ceiling glass walls of towers are energy wasters, requiring a lot of energy to maintain ambient temperatures. The glass towers are also rather impersonal~in Vancouver it has not been about the close views, but the long range distant vistas. And focusing on the long range views adds “a lack of intimacy and creates a disconnection between occupants and the world outside”.

Ishimura suggests a two fold approach in his thesis work: firstly, create a new exoskeleton for existing towers to deal with the energy loss of huge windows. Secondly, use the opportunity provided by the exoskeleton to create new windows and balconies for more floor space with a flexible use.

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The ‘golden age’ of active transportation development in Vancouver continues, with ongoing expansion of the downtown bike network now reaching Drake Street.

Despite what you may hear elsewhere, Drake isn’t very sexy, or even that interesting. But as the City suggests, Drake is actually essential to the concept of a complete network, because it connects where people are coming from, to where they want to go.

A fair number of people cycle beyond the protected cycling facilities on Drake Street, indicating…strong desire.

Currently, cycling volumes on Drake Street are highest between Burrard Street and Hornby Street, the only section with dedicated cycling facilities.

That “strong desire” is based on evidence of an average of 500 daily midweek bike trips in the summer, about 40% of the volume at the separated portion.

By focusing on the rest of Drake, one can infer that, not only is the ultimate goal to provide safe passage for those venturing between Burrard/Hornby and Richards, Homer, or to destinations like David Lam Park, but that more people could be drawn into downtown by bike in the first place, if only these connecting bits (like Drake) had dedicated facilities.

Here’s where the City needs your input — they’re seeking feedback on two different design options, plus ideas on how to support the activities of local businesses, organizations, and residents.

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Inspire Jericho speaker series brought in talented landscape architect and thinker Margie Ruddick  who authored the very popular landscape book “Wild By Design.”

Ms. Ruddick is a champion of  “wild” landscapes, creating ecologically sensitive places with a strong sense of balance, rhythm and design. One of her New York City landscapes is Queen’s Plaza, located next to Queens Boulevard, the former  “boulevard of death” . New York City has undertaken design work to make Queens Boulevard more pedestrian and cycling friendly, and Ms. Ruddick created a park below a tangle of elevated railway tracks at the plaza. And it is ingenious~realizing that there was not a budget for installed irrigation,  Ms. Ruddick installed wetlands that create a cooler micro-climate, and slightly raised the elevation to lessen the impact of the screeching trains overhead. That elevation resulted in a 25 percent reduction in train noise. Chunky curbs and pavers by artist Michael Singer delight in providing an allegory to the web of railroad tracks and provide detail to the  pathways.

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Hopefully, PT readers are following my exploration of Tel Aviv’s White City on Instagram. As mentioned in the leading post above, this historic neighbourhood shares a lot of characteristics with others of its ilk:

Mid-century modernist beachfront neighbourhoods have an eclectic combo of dense housing, a mix of uses, unique businesses all kinds of restaurants, stirred together with social tolerance.  There’s often a gay village embedded within.

They were often the first suburbs of rapidly expanding cities or linear developments strung along beaches, a few blocks deep, served initially by streetcars and transit with limited parking.   Like Ipanema in Rio, like Miami Beach in Florida, like Venice in California.

They’ll have their beachfront attractions, of course, but usually a block in or leading perpendicularly from the waterfront will be a commercial street cluttered with restaurants and shops, still served by the transit that shaped them   Think Denman and Davie.

They’ve had their up and downs, starting off as attractive middle- and upper-class developments, sometimes as beachfront escapes, sometimes as single-family speculative real estate, sometimes as apartment districts and then gone into decline in the early 20th century until after World War II.   Like the West End, some were largely bulldozed and replaced with higher density rental apartments, some were simply passed by – until rediscovered in the late 20th century and then increasingly gentrified in the 21st.

What shall we call these districts?

Despite their variations, they share enough in common to have a generic name.   MiCe,Hi-Di-on-the-beach.   Okay, not that one.  But help us out.

Scot and I have been developing a list.  Here’s what we have so far:

  • White City – Tel Aviv
  • West End and Kitsilano – Vancouver 
  • Santa Monica and Venice Beach – Los Angeles
    Ipanema and Cocacabana – Rio
    Miami Beach – Florida
    Sea Point – Cape Town
    St. Kilda – Melbourne
    Potts Point and Bondi – Sydney
  • Oriental Bay – Wellington
  • Surfers Paradise – near Brisbane
    Waikiki – Hawaii

Add your own below!

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For most of June, the Price in Price Tags will be far away.  Mostly in Tel Aviv.  More specifically, in the part known as the White City.

I kept hearing good things about Tel Aviv – the people, the food, the beaches, the night life.  Even its Gay Pride and Parade – the antithesis to Jerusalem, I was told.

What really intrigued this urbanist, though, was its planning history.  How its first mayor, Dizengoff – knowing the city would expand far beyond Jaffa, the historic Arab port, after World War I – needed a plan.  And how he went to, of all people, a Scottish botantist in Edinburgh active in the Garden City movement.  And how that planner, Patick Geddes, started on a master plan in the mid-1920s that was accepted in 1929 – and how, amazingly, Tel Aviv built it.  At least the streets, blocks and, to a great extent, the public spaces.  This is very unusual.

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[Update: Do read Geoff’s comment at the end of this post.  Powerful and provocative.]

 

SFU Vancouver – the downtown campus – is now 30 years old since SFU came down from the mountain.  It’s what President Andrew Petter says helps make SFU the engaged university.

Engagement is the particular work of the Centre for Dialogue, Public Square, City Conversations and the City Program – all of which had events happening on Thursday, and two of which featured Mary Rowe, the speaker for this year’s Warren Gill Lecture.  They certainly engaged me, with more questions than I had a chance to ask.  Here are some.

INEQUALITY AND DIVERSITY

When considering the rural-urban divide in Canada, Mary began with two points that are pretty much taken as self-evident in academia: diversity is good, inequality is bad.  Policies for healthy cities should encourage the former and reduce the latter.

But what if inequality is a measure of diversity?

Since a diverse city is one in which there are many different kinds of people and pursuits, do those differences of equality become magnified with greater diversity? In fact, is increasing inequality how we know the city is more diverse?

Let’s say public policies were effective at reducing inequality by redistributing benefits, by building the infrastructure, physical and cultural, to build a stronger middle class.  Isn’t the result a more homogenous city, perhaps less likely to generate the cultural and economic energy we associate with places like New York in the 1970s, London in the 1800s, Florence in the 1500s?  Does equality mean boring and less diverse?

 

MAKING CHOICES IN A CLIMATE EMERGENCY

At noon, at City Conversations the topic was the climate emergency, with Councillor Christine Boyle (who introduced the climate emergency motion at council and is interviewed here on PriceTalks); Atiya Jaffar, digital campaigner for 350.org;  and New Westminster Councillor Nadine Nakagawa.

I had three ‘tough questions’, with the opportunity to ask only one – itself somewhat facetious:

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Sandy James’s post on Cornelia Oberlander – “the First Lady of Canadian Landscape Design” – is so apropos at this time of year, when her legacy, particularly Robson Square, literally blossoms.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the look of Vancouver is captured in her works.

She’s still active, still provocative.  In the film “City Dreamers” in which she’s featured, she says she’s not in favour of daylighting streams that have been previously culverted – as is proposed, for instance, for Brewery Creek through False Creek Flats.  Too many unexpected consequences, says the voice of experience.

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