A ‘Plague’ of Condos

There’s an interesting interview in the TYEE with English architect Alain de Botton and his ‘first impression’ of architecture in Vancouver.

“Lots has gone wrong with these condominiums. There’s just too many of them. I guess it’s just a matter of people pulling the levers. The condominium structure is never going to be all that inspiring. The best of them are done with touches that are out of the ordinary. And I haven’t found any evidence of that. I found that they are standard-issue stuff. And I think it is ruining the city. I think as an outsider it is clearly, clearly wrong. It’s a real pity.”

I wonder how much demand there is for stand-out design in Vancouver. We do tend to have a ‘sameness’ to our condo tower architecture, and there is something to his point that tourists tend to gravitate to the unique rather than the ‘same’.

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I wouldn't bother to look at a condo that's praised by architects, just like I would never buy a piece of clothing from the runway. With the cost of construction days, which developer would risk his project to build something that might appease a few architects, but tack on substantial construction costs? Do architects guarantee the sale of condos? Condos are meant to be bland, as they are no more than an alternative to living on the street.


I have to disagree. I've been to Vancouver many times (I live in San Francisco) and I like the highrise condos. Compared to what you see here or in places like New York, I think they look good. I'll agree that there are probably too many of them…


Architects and engineers rocksLook at COSTCO in downtown Vancouver Imagine think beleive it if you looking for design and color in highrise condo look soon to be build TV TOWER1 and TV TOWER 2 by concord pacific On Robson.


Article in Tyee is informing on how others always want to control what someone else wants to do. Taste,design,beautiful,ugly are individual choices. The gov't has no business being involved in "taste" other than size, setback for a lot.I think the Wall centre is beautiful not close up but when viewed from say Jericho. It resembles a finger, an appropriate choice.


Hey Reductimat: Sorry, I must have missunderstood your comment to westendgirl about the choice between large or small windows being the reason that so much vancouver architecture looks the same.I'd define 'character' as an admitly subjective quality of 'uniqueness'. I associate a lack of 'character' in architecture as meaning one building may not be substantially different in appearance then one next door.I agree with the consensus here though: no demand means no reason to invest the extra money in unique design.


said it before but will say it again, Vancouver condos have to be the ugliest on the planet. But agree with most of the comments here, people don't care, they just want to live in Vancouver, everyone does you know.


Vancouverites are willing to spend $800,000 on pink stucco monster homes and 1970s Vancouver Specials.Why spend extra money on architects when the market isn't asking for it? Most Bosa buildings look the same because Bosa realized that people don't care what the building looks like as long as the interior is functional. As a result, Bosa uses the same building design all the time. Why not? Why go through the entire building design/permit process again for no reason?That's why we have generations of Vancouver Specials. You can take pre-approved building drawings to City Hall and get your permit. It's a real pain to hire an architect and go through the entire approval process. If it's your own, personal dream home, that's one thing. But if you're a developer pumping them out, then it doesn't make sense.


reductimat – I don't object to highrises. I like cities and highrises are kinda essential for those, ya know? I just object to Vancouver highrises, which are mainly condos (even the hotels are going the condo route) and are remarkable on for their sheer numbers and unrelenting blandness.As the view from large/small window question – of course, when there is a view (there isn't one today) it is indeed stunning. But as I've got a good 35 years to go before I'll be ready to spend my days contemplating the view from my living room, I care more about what life there is on the street. And, as ol' Jane Jacobs elaborately explained over 40 years ago, a variety of buildings – and the people & businesses occupying them – are vital to a vibrant city.


Digi said:"Even the wall center has a bit of character, but the city kept them from putting dark glass all the way up for aesthetic reasons. Now its a weird mix of black glass half way up then suddenly not for the top half."The original promo material on One Wall Centre promised beautiful platinum glass on the entire tower. It was designed to reflect the sky and almost disappear when viewed from various angles. Unfortunately, after getting his approvals, the developer chose to install ugly dark blue (cobalt) glass presumably to increase the visible mass of the entire three building development. The City would never have approved such a monstrosity and issued a "Stop Work"order. After months of negoitiations the City rolled over for the developer (what's new?). Instead of pressing their original demand for the entire building to be… Read more »

Snap Up Real Estate

Isn’t it obvious why Vancouver does not have more distinguishing buildings? People are not smart enough to see the value of being different from everyone else on the planet. Although you can’t blame a developer for popping up a condo high rise that is not drastically different than the one that sold out across the street.


Digi, I fail to see how I implied that highrises either have to have large windows OR character.Actually, it's a pointless discussion when the root of the question lies at this: Define Character. Is it dark glass?


Reductimat: Why do you think that highrises either have to have large windows OR character? Couldn't they have both?It seems to me the problem is an obsession with green and grey. Even the wall center has a bit of character, but the city kept them from putting dark glass all the way up for aesthetic reasons. Now its a weird mix of black glass half way up then suddenly not for the top half. WTF? Like you can see the mountains through the concrete core of a building covered in pale green glass better than one covered in dark glass?


Great TYEE article.There are very few buildings with 'soul' here in Vancouver, and the rapidly built new SFHs and mushrooming condos all lack any such feel.This, in my opinion, significantly decreases the 'ownership premium' for most residential buildings in this city.


westendgirl, it sounds as if you have a distaste for all buildings over four or five floors, no?Assume your ultimate nightmare: You're forced to live in a high-rise. Then assume again that the majority of the units in the highrise had a very nice view. If you were given the choice of two foot by four foot windows, or floor to ceiling windows, what would you rather have?


Instead of architecture we have trees and mountains, which is great as long as it's sunny and you're by the waterfront. Walk down Nelson, Hemlecken, or Davie on an overcast day and its another story. Sadly, I think reductimat's opinion is pretty typical – why else would people be so willing to spend half a mil on an shoebox in the sky, which has a view to other stacks of identical shoeboxes? The blandness of our architecture (if you can call it that – urban tract homes is more accurate) is just one reason why I could never consider this a world-class city. I love Vancouver simply for its access to the outdoors; its urban core is increasingly resembling a high-density suburb.


We want to know why we're living here rather than there.Granted, I'm not an Architect, but I somehow doubt my sub-concious wants my building telling me why I'm living here. Furthermore, how many times does they need to say Architects should be paid lots of money and have monopolies?Regardless, my favourite colour is better than his favourite colour.


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Thanks to jesse & clownmitts for the link.