A Critique of Vancouver’s ‘Downtown Plan’

This long but well written critique of Vancouver’s Downtown Planning in Canadian Architect is well worth the read. Writer Trevor Boddy comments on Vancouvers habit of replacing office space in the downtown core with condo’s and mentions the alarming fact that one third of Vancouver’s head-office jobs have left Vancouver in the last six years while Calgary has seen an increase of 64 percent. Are we forgetting about jobs in the midst of our condo mania?

“A revealing example is the fate of Rhone and Iredale’s 1969 West Coast Transmission Tower on Georgia Street, recipient of many engineering awards for its Bogue Babicki and Associates-designed cable-hung forms, converted recently into condos and renamed “The Qube.” Many more of downtown’s dwindling stock of towers would have met the same fate, had City Council not slapped a moratorium on such conversions last year. Although hard to grasp for many planners–especially Americans or Canadians in slow-growth cities–too much housing may be killing peninsular downtown Vancouver, especially the mono-form, mono-class, crank-the-handle towers of recent years.”

and what article mentioning condos in Vancouver would be complete without Bob Rennie?

“..Leading this trend is the extremely influential and political condo super-marketer Bob Rennie-topping Vancouver magazine’s 2005 list of most influential Vancouverites. As a society we may come to regret a scene in which 15 percent of the cost of new housing goes to marketing, but only five percent goes to all design fees. With the exception of a token condo tower by Arthur Erickson for Concord Pacific, Vancouver’s finest architects are largely conspicuous by their absence in the downtown boom.”

Boddy has lots of not-so-nice things to say about the state of architecture and design in Vancouver. He refers to the corner of Richards and Nelson streets as “a particularly bleak concentration of the Beasley-era architecture of Vancouverism”, but wraps his critique up with a postive note, well.. positive other than the ‘sharp recession’ bit.

“Vancouver will succeed–despite its resolutely lame mass media, the rewarding of its architectural bottom-feeders, its unsettling convergence of developers’ and planners’ pretensions–because of the depth of passion many of us invest in it. We have let the rhetoric of real estate supplant the craft and consciousness of city building, and a sharp recession is what will soon set things right. The bones of a great city are coming into place, and now we need time and public wisdom to put some flesh on it. Love-hate relationships are always signs of a love frustrated, and Vancouver is now ours to make or break.”

There are a lot of good points in this critique from an architectural point of view, ranging from design to planning to jobs – definately worth the read if you have the time.

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the pope
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the pope

stuckinburnaby:I have a friend at work who is very calm and easy going. No matter how stressful work gets nothing gets him too worked up EXCEPT Arthur Erickson. Just the mere mention of his name sends him into an apoplectic red-face ranting rage. Lots of words like 'abomination' and 'eyesore' pepper a steady stream of angry ranting about cement filled windows and leaky concrete boxes.I like to bring the topic up every so often just for fun.

stuckinburnaby
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stuckinburnaby

Why is Arthur Erickson so influential? Does anyone ever remind themselves who designed SFU's Burnaby monstrosity?

solipsist
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solipsist
I also have a thing for Art Deco, so I also dig the Chrysler building.I have a thing for Art Deco myself. The Chrysler building is one of my faves. I was lucky enough to inherit a lot of my Grandmother's furniture, which is mostly Art Deco.…about Gaudi'swork…Yes, I was thinking specifically of Gaudi when mentioning Barcelona. My wife and I spent a week there in '89, and our "pilgrimage" was all about Gaudi, and Miro. The cathedral is mind-blowing, and will only take another 40 years or so to complete. I would give my eye teeth to live in one of Gaudi's "melting wedding cake" buildings.I'm with you on Tokyo too. What a visual and aural riot that is. Did you get into any of the Pochinko parlours? You almost need therapy after that.Dubai and (to a slightly lesser… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
Vancouver sun article july 13 2006 "Vancouver's commute times decrease, defy national trend": " 38 per cent of people who live and work downtown now walk to their jobs. Others have short bus rides to work." & "40 per cent of the people who work in downtown Vancouver get to their jobs by public transit."City of vancouver may 30 2006: "With a full 65 per cent of all trips within downtown now done by walking, it has become the fastest growing way of getting around the downtown. Proportionately, more people in Vancouver walk to get to work than do in such cities as Montreal, Toronto and Portland."can't seem to find up to date stats for downtown jobs:workers, but it seems to be closer to 2:1 at roughly 140K jobs and 72K people (my mistake on 3:1) from the stats i… Read more »
Freako
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Freako

Barcelona has some beautiful buildings. And I forgot about Gaudi's work as well. Very cool. Spent a couple of days in Barcelona tracking them all down. And a few nightclubs of course.

Freako
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Freako
But, take a look at the Petrona Towers in Malaysia,Yeah I saw those up close, very cool. KL is an interesting city. East meets West. Rich meets poor. Colonialism meets Islam.I gotta thing for Flash Gordon style, which is why I like the Petronas. Everything from bus stops to garbage cans have me shoulder check for Emperor Ming. Tokyo also has some Flash Gordon. But more importantly they have the retro 1950's high tech look. You know the one with square and coloured control buttons with lots of blinking lights. Even the toilets are retro tech cool. That is the best part about visiting Japan IMHO, checking out the different look and style of mundane things.I also have a thing for Art Deco, so I also dig the Chrysler building. In Vancouver, my favorite building is … the CBC building.… Read more »
solipsist
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solipsist
solipsist: from your language, dare I say you're sounding a tiny bit like one of them fuddy duddy architectural critics yourself – not saying you are, but compared to Asia (or anywhere else in NA our size), where most newcomers are coming from, most of the condos here are much nicer;I may be a bit fuddy-duddy – no argument there. As to comparing our city to Asia, or elsewhere – as my wife is fond of saying -"compare and despair". But, take a look at the Petrona Towers in Malaysia, Frank Gehry's collision architecture in Bilbao, Toronto, etc. Dubai has stunning architecture. That tower of $29 million condos in NYC is pretty cool. Barcelona has some beautiful buildings. Check out this link.Prince Charles is an architecture fuddy-duddy, I just like something adventurous, artistic and challenging. Vancouver has none (well Arthur… Read more »
noturaveragebear
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noturaveragebear

Actually I thought of this problem years ago before I read this article I think it is self evident. But this 3 to 1 ratio of jobs to people downtown where do you get this. And if this is true is this family supporting jobs or starbucks and waitressing jobs.

solipsist
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solipsist

how 'the people' do enjoy Vancouver architecture.In a few words, Van. architecture (new anyhow) is insipid, lacking in vision, and homogenous. That's just my view as one of "the people".

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Anonymous 2:07Have you noticed the rush hour? It's more like three hours. Many people cannot afford to live in Greater Vancouver and have moved to the Valley and still work in the Greater Vancouver area. It's a sad reality.Pleasing architecture as per the users and people? Are you now representing the people or did you go out and take a survey or have you seen results of a local survey? It's nice of you to do the research to comment on how 'the people' do enjoy Vancouver architecture. 😉

noturaveragebear
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noturaveragebear

oh i wanted to add. you have it backwards. Offices are in demand only if business's need the space. Business' drive work creation which drives real estate. People living downtown don't increase the demand for more offices. So even there are spaces for offices no matter how much these people want work downtown no one will build them unless it makes sense for their business. This is not a space issue it is a zoning issue too much residential zoning and it is unsustainable.

noturaveragebear
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noturaveragebear

in response to anonymous 2:07pmYou are right if there was demand for more offices people would build more. But that is not the point. One is it is more profitable to build condos and they are converting office space to condos. People move downtown for lifestyle. and a big part of that is the ability to walk to work. There are so many condos and so few offices now that people are living downtown and commuting to the suburbs. This is a zoning catastrophe. The current situation is not sustainable. and it will only get worse.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Boddy is an old fuddy duddy. The guy has beat the office space "crisis" horse dead for years, yet there still is no real space crunch. If office space was so tight, then rents would be to the point where building offices downtown would actually make sense economically. Even if Vancouver eventually does need some more space, there are plenty of places (parking lots, south, and east) still to build.Furthermore, Mr. FuddyBoddy complains about the aesthetics, yet the standard being built to in Vancouver is a sight more attractive than in most other cities. Do the exterior building styles always appeal to fuddy duddy architectural critics? Perhaps not. But they appeal inside & out to most regular folk (the actual users), which is far more important.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I left Vancouver a year ago. There is nothing world-class about it.Poor road system, over-priced RE, few events that are socially fun (Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton etc all have much more entertainment options).I have to agree with the 1st anonymous post as well and wih STUCKINBURNABY. World class? I don't think so.

richard
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richard

But hubris is a hallmark of immaturity isn't it?I know you are, but what am I?

stuckinburnaby
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stuckinburnaby

I'm glad someone else acknowledges the fact that Vancouver is far from the world class city its most ungracious promoters purport it to be. This city has neither the wealth nor cultural institutions nor the traditions and creative critical mass that make great cities what they are. But hubris is a hallmark of immaturity isn't it?

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Great and fairly accurate commentary, in my opinion. There are few esthetically pleasing sights in the Vancouver skyline and I think anybody living here would agree. For humanoids, like Rennie, it's all about profits. Churn out the bare minimum and make the maximum. They take advantage of ignorant buyers who have managed to over-extend themselves, in many cases. I think you'd have to be quite well off or insane to buy in this market. You get very little and pay a ton. The correction is coming and reality should set in. If not then so be it. I, for one, refuse to partake in this insanity.