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Needless to say, Ray Spaxman has an opinion on the proposed ‘Jenga’ tower at 1500 West Georgia:

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1500-west-georgia-Ole-Scheeren-27When The Sun called me on Friday and asked what I thought of the proposed building at 1500 Georgia Street, I had only seen the photo of it in the Globe and Mail; and The Sun reporters are correct in reporting that I had nothing positive to say about it. Now that I have seen the photo in today’s Sun I do have something positive to say  about it: It is an interesting sculptural composition of different-sized rectangular blocks arranged randomly to evoke, like so many cubist studies of yesteryear, a fascinating study of three-dimensional sculptural relationships. For those people enjoying that form of art, this object could look quite fascinating, perhaps built with marble blocks  and standing even 30 feet high among the trees in Stanley Park, as a piece of public art. A smaller version could be equally fascinating on someones coffee table. As a residential building in an existing neighbourhood, we should wonder.

I have spent most of my longish life studying urban design. I have wondered deeply about what Vitruvius’s “commodity, firmness and delight” mean to liveability  to sense of community, even to comfort and joy. As many of you know, when I was the city’s Director of Planning I stressed the importance of neighbourliness to develop confidence in the way the city inevitably changes over time. Even if you like the look of the proposal at 1500 Georgia, think of what the neighbours might think of it. Could it be a better neighbour? A building this size affects a very large neighbourhood, especially one that glories in the presence of our miraculous views of ocean, mountains and the whole built-up peninsula that has resulted from previous policies designed to share those amenities with as many people as possible. It was those policies among others, that led to the recognition of a product of urbanism called Vancouverism. Funnily enough, we were not striving for international recognition, nor to be the best in the world. We were just trying to be our best.

Also wonder what we can best do to lower the cost of housing and minimise the use of resources that are becoming scarcer by the day. In the context of all the issues we are facing globally, from global warming to major economic and political restructuring, is this the time to encourage the ostentatiousness that seems to be driving much of our development community? Is this what we want Vancouver to become?

Can you imagine the challenges and additional costs this concept presents for construction in a high earthquake zone, for the interlacing of servicing in all the projections, for dealing with run-off and weathering from our rainy climate, for the shadows cast and the views blocked? I guess the wind tunnel testing will be fascinating too.

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Brian Jackson says there will be an open house. It would be good too to have a well-moderated public discussion so that the interested community can hear what everyone thinks and how the city and the developer respond to that. We have a planning department that deals with these issues all the time and advises development proponents how best to understand the community’s planning and design wishes, so it would be good for them and the developer to present their initial thoughts and advice to ensure the public is well informed by the experts at the start of this conversation. For one small example it would be good to hear what the city’s current policy is regarding allowing proponents to build out over the public street right of way.

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More images and description at Vancity Buzz here.