February 22, 2021

Urban design challenge: Georgia and Granville

It’s the No. 1 intersection in Vancouver: Granville and Georgia.  Canada Line, SkyTrain and major bus routes, department stores, banks and office blocks, a major mall with high-profile stores, and some pretty good food carts.

Plus history: it’s been the No. 1 corner for a long time, notably when the anchors were (in addition to the Bay) the Birk’s Building (right) and, across Granville, the second hotel Vancouver.  The 60s and 70s were not kind to this corner.

A good case can be made for tearing out the London Drugs block as part of Scotia Centre and replacing it with something that addresses the corner, hides the party wall of the adjacent Vancouver Block, and provides some architectural interest.  (Could anything be more mediocre than the existing facade?)

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The permanent closure of the 800-block Robson and its redesign (close to the original vision of architect Arthur Erickson) must be getting close to opening.  It’s taken a surprisingly long time, likely because of structural and upgrading issues.

When looking eastward over the fencing, the symmetry of the new space and its urban context becomes apparent:

There are bleacher/steps on both sides (suitable for protests and performances of several sizes).  Then the view opens up.  Horizontal blocks frame a narrow 700-block Robson (likely to be partly pedestrianized in the future?)  Towers rise on either side.

Same elements, slightly different scales, combining to create an harmonious composition with a colour pallet and stonework consistent with the Square.

One obvious question: there’s no separated or distinguishable bike lane.  Is it assumed those cycling through the square will use common sense and etiquette to yield, that they should dismount when the block is crowded, or divert around the square using the Hornby Bikeway?

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CBC Journalist Justin McElroy visited EVERY  park  in Vancouver and published his  ranked visits here. One of those parks is a little strip of land that used to be called “the triangle” located at Kingsway and  Fraser Street.

The park is now officially called McAuley Park, after the wonderful couple Harvey and Theresa McAuley who showed up at every public process event that involved their community at city hall, and were legendary as Neighbourhood Watch volunteers.  Their community in east Vancouver has this couple volunteer their time and talent to whatever needed doing.  In fact one Vancouver Police Constable who was the “go to ” person with Neighbourhood Watch said it was not unusual to receive up to nine calls a day from Theresa. They got things done, and they continued to politely question until they got the answers. They are both retired now, but I am sure they are still deeply involved in the community that they loved and that loved them.

There is another story about how McAuley park came into being, and it is more unusual.

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Landscape Architect Cornelia Oberlander with Glen Patterson at Cornelia’s landscape at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.

The West Vancouver Museum is open. It is limited to eight people at a time, and you may want to contact the museum in advance. But it is well worth taking the hike over the bridge to see this first time exhibition of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s life work.

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is a landscape architect with many firsts, but she will tell you she does not think about it. Born in 1921 she entered a profession that was largely-well, not largely-was all men. She carved a way forward with her views of the importance of the natural landscape, which was a very unusual perspective at the time. This was in the 1950’s and the 1960’s where everything in nature was to be scrubbed, cut back, and manicured. Big green lawns represented status and roots, a visceral taming of nature reaction from the previous war time period in the 1940’s.

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