Architecture
February 19, 2021

The Symmetry of the 800-block Robson

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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Vancouver Deputy Mayor Heather Deal has a number of portfolios – usually all the ways to make sure our City is becoming delightful – including Arts & Culture. She is passionate about the topic and a Councillor Liaison to the Arts & Culture Policy Council so I asked her to tell me more. She shared stories about her conversations with Vancouverites on public art. 1. Poodle on a Stick

Poodle (no official name) by Gisele Amantea got negative media when someone from the area complained that Main Street isn’t a poodle neighbourhood. Which is awesome because public art got people talking about the identity of their neighbourhood.

There were also complaints about cost and it not being a local artist (both based on inaccurate reporting).

(TP note: How many of our public art pieces have their own Twitter account? Follow @MainStPoodle)

When people complain to me about the poodle, I ask them what piece of public art they do like.

2. A-mazing Laughter

9/10 answer: A-mazing Laughter at English Bay – a Vancouver Biennale piece. So I ask them 3 questions about it:

Does it reflect the West End?

How much did cost?

Where is the artist from?

No one can answer that. Not one person to date.

(TP: I was able to answer all 3 – including who negotiated the counteroffer and donated it.)

3. The Third Piece

Then I ask for opinions about a third piece of public art. Very few can name one. Some come up with Myfanwy MacLeod’s The Birds in Olympic Village.

Some can name Giants by OSGEMEOS on Granville Island – another biennale piece from an international artist team.

4. I love it when people talk about our city.

Art is a great place to start that conversation. Learn about the hundreds of pieces of public art in Vancouver at the City’s website here.

5. Notice art.

Think about whether you like it or don’t. Look it up and learn about the artist and their inspiration.

Did you know that the poodle was made by an artist living in the region at the time and that it was inspired by the antique shops on Main Street? (TP: I had no idea.)

We also want to encourage people to think about what they like and want in public spaces such as art (murals, pieces, etc.) and what type of programmed space, festivals, and unprogrammed squares or plazas they’d like.

Ask yourself: Do you want to be entertained? Amused? Challenged?

Reminded of something in our history, negative or positive?

Awed? Do you want to be able to interact with it?

Does it compel you to take a selfie with it?

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Even though Adam Fitch is working up in Thompson-Nicola, he’s keeping his hand in when it comes to Lower Mainland issues.  Notably, on the op-ed page of the Vancouver Sun today:

The most appropriate solution (for rapid-transit to UBC), with due consideration for costs, regional transit priorities (i.e. Surrey, etc.) and time frame (10 years from now to build the subway at a minimum) is to build a mainly street-level light rail along the CPR corridor, the Arbutus corridor, and West 16th Avenue to UBC. Compare this route with a Broadway subway on cost, construction time and capacity, and it prevails.

And in my email box, with this proposal to elevate Robson Square:

 
  • A simple circular plaza, elevated over Robson Street – a large new space for gathering and temporary installations
  • Accessed by stairs and spiral ramps, contains numerous glass panels to minimize shading
  • Allows buses to pass through on Robson Street.
  • Provides shade and weather protection on Robson Street.
  • Enables pedestrian bridges over Hornby Street and Howe Street, to connect to adjacent buildings – Sears/Nordstroms, for example
  • An iconic piece of architecture.

.

[Oh look over there: Isn’t that Cornelia Oberlander reaching for a pitchfork?)

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