It’s good. Very, very good. As a convention centre, it might even be great, operationally. As architecture, though, it isn’t.
It’s certainly not iconic – the presumed test for design these days – and it won’t compete with the sails on the existing structure. But then, why should it? The new Vancouver Convention Centre is essentially a huge box skilfully integrated into the city – and that’s what makes it so good.
From Coal Harbour it reads as a set of angled planes and prows, like a marina of cruisers bobbing in the wake of a passing freighter. And if that’s too cute, settle for the effect of the landscaping. The gentle rise of Coal Harbour Green is carried up to Burrard Street, without a single blank wall in sight.
And that’s extraordinary if you compare this mass to other similarly-sized facilities. When you’re building a million square feet of display space, ballrooms and meeting places, blank walls are hard to avoid. Unlike most convention centres, too, this one has to work at three or four different levels, stacked on top of each other. And it pulls it off.
Of course, there’s the view.
This will give convention planners some tough competition: their programming will have to be sufficiently enticing to keep the delegates in their blank-walled rooms. But the centre goes further when it reflects the city back:
And allows the city in:
The stacking effect also creates dynamism within the vast interior spaces:
And the wood-lined foyers add warmth and texture:
On the outside, the green roof makes a sincere commitment to sustainability, in size alone:
The angled walkways suggest the lay-out of Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park (compare here). In fact, a lot more art would be in order, both inside and out.
There’s no doubt the extension of the seawall will be a great success – but will the plaza between the two main elements of the complex work as well?
It looks as though it’s designed for to accommodate crowds, but it doesn’t have the sense of enclosure that a great public space needs. Still, another place to hang out, so long as they serve good coffee.
Naturally I have to say something about the way the centre has accommodated cycling, and there’s no doubt it has made an effort:
In fact, maybe too much so. The very wide cycling lane runs between two pedestrian sidewalks which feel slightly squeezed as a result, and will probably result in people walking down the bike lane.
But I have no doubt the lane will be well used, particularly when the final link of the downtown loop connects Coal Harbour with False Creek and provides a direct connection to Stanley Park. And any criticism I might have I set aside when I saw this:
As near as I can tell, it’s a bike lay-by, just as cars would have when dropping off passengers. It connects the cyclists with Burrard Street, and offers them handy parking at the posts in the centre. I’ve never seen anything like it – and suggests that the designers took cycling seriously.
Is the centre worth just under a billion dollars? Unless this place bombs in the current economic climate, I doubt that will be a serious question in the future. The spin-off effects should be substantial, and from the point of view of urbanism, it maintains Vancouver’s reputation as a place which produces, if not great architecture, then very good urban design.
And in my book, that counts a lot. Read more »