Vancouver, being part of the west coast, is equally criticized and applauded for its youth. Civilization as we know it barely spans two centuries in this corner of the world, and while that can generate a sense of dawning opportunity and exuberance, it also means that we sometimes lack the refinement, conscience, and depth of a European city.
This criticism is often leveled at Vancouver’s architecture. It’s true that we have yet to build our Notre Dame. The city is not without highlights, however, and I’ve spent many an evening ambulating among them. Here is a favourite from one such stroll:
On this occasion I noted with considerable shock that there was a notice of development staked out in front. My heart sinks when I see these as it usually means another treasure is being cast blindly onto the profiteer’s pyre.
I needn’t have worried. Here is the text of that notice:
The developer here promises to convert the existing Heritage Building. My initial doubts temporarily at bay, I resolved to further pursue the matter with City Hall. I can’t abide by a half-hearted restoration. And there again, good tidings. Birmingham & Wood, the architectural firm contracted to perform the work, appears to be undertaking the job with the best of intentions. From their Design Rationale document:
The property, listed as a B resource in the City’s Heritage Register, is important for its age, and for its material, form and character that are typical for worker’s housing from the very early 20th Century. [...] Following best practices for heritage conservation, the intent of the rehabilitation work to the house is to preserve original form and material wherever possible, replicate original material where the original is beyond repair and where the original is well-documented, and to construct new additions using a compatible idiom that will not fool the viewer into thinking new is old.
Very promising indeed.
Nonetheless, I decided to capture the piece in its current state. A few photographs are a paltry memento compared to the property itself, but one learns with age not to miss opportunities because “there will always be another time.”
Often a guided tour is required to bring the life of a building to the fore after steps have been taken to preserve it. Not so here; the building’s long and storied history is immediately apparent. As observed by Birmingham & Wood,
The house is associated with some legendary characters in the last couple of decades.
Further back along the property — and I trust you’ll excuse my inept photography — the house tells the story of its own construction. Contemporary trends towards airy spaciousness and exposed composition here show a history of flooring materials, doorway expansion, and modern waterproofing and insulation; repairs to the exterior using reclaimed carpeting show charm and flair.
Yet further back, the original construction of the house shines through. The more recent extension to the right, constructed of discarded mattresses and pallets, demonstrates the sort of mixture of new and old that I hope Birmingham & Wood will use for their inspiration. Above that, the air conditioning unit proves that respecting history need not mean doing away with modern conveniences.
Finally, the rear corner of the building, again showing the original rustic construction overlaid with modern workmanship:
I hope you can see, as has the new owner of the building, potential here for a revitalization. If you, like me, take an active interest in the preservation of our architectural capital, I hope you’ll browse the City of Vancouver’s public documents on the project.