Architecture
June 9, 2007

Toderian on the Iconic

Brent Toderian, the City’s Planning Director, has posted the latest entry on Planetizen’s blog here. (Isn’t it nice to have a PD who takes advantage of the blogosphere?)
Lots of observations from his particiation at the Forum for Urban Design in New York, but here’s one that touches on an often-debated issue:

On Iconic Buildings vs. Iconic City-Building:

There was much discussion on the value of iconic architecture such as Lord Fosters “Gherkin” Swiss Re Building in London. Although most of us agreed with Kairos Shen of Boston that real cities should resist the temptation to seek out deliberate iconic architecture but rather promote “excellent architecture” (some of which might become iconic), the more interesting debate centred around whether cities could have, and should more properly promote, “iconic landscapes” (i.e. Central Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Chicago’s Millennium Park) or even “iconic city patterns” (Barcelona, and in contemporary sense, Vancouver).

I pointed out that in many ways, “Vancouver-ism” is becoming the “anti-Bilbao” alternative for study, as wave after wave of urbanists come to our City to study how without (arguably) a single iconic world-renowned building (but perhaps several iconic landscapes such as our sea wall, and Stanley Park), we’ve routinely been named the number one tourist destination city, in the top three most livable cities in the World, and a model for contemporary, sustainable and livable city-building.

Is the word iconic appropriate in the context of city patterns? Perhaps not, but Vancouver’s emphasis on a successful public realm pattern within a “city by design” has lead to a consistency of urban quality that puts us in a very nice position to now discuss some strategic architectural “punctuations points”, such as a potential new Vancouver Art Gallery. Although some have lamented the lack of iconic architecture or have expressed a wish for more architectural risk taking in our city (the latter point I myself am promoting), its true that the majority of new Vancouver building construction in the past few decades has been residential and mixed use (of a very high quality, in my opinion), whereas we’re just starting to see again the kinds of civic buildings and commercial architecture that usually lends itself to design “exuberance”. Regardless, cities that start with striving for the architectural, iconic punctuation without the consistent high quality pattern, seem to be hit-or-miss at best in my observation.

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 My Business in Vancouver column this week:

Leaders need to view sustainability as a policy of national defence
More than ever, politicians are confounded by the Gap. And I’m not talking jeans.
Between the outer edge of what is politically possible and the inner edge of what is necessary, that’s where you find the Expectations Gap.
Leaders, of course, have always been aware of the difference between what people say they want and what they’re prepared to do.  A good illustration was the Vancouver Sun poll on how British Columbians would personally respond to the challenge of climate change. Over three-quarters said they’d be prepared “to make significant changes in lifestyle”; less than half would pay an extra hundred dollars a year in income tax.
Because taxes are the sincerest form of commitment, few politicians want to be that sincere. But not much is left, after the lightbulbs have been changed, that would make a difference. Still, damn it, nature didn’t get the memo. And now that planetary systems are becoming less predictable, the Expectations Gap could narrow too, in unpredictable ways.

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