Vancouver may be a city of green glass (it’s called Solexia; very Low E, very ’90s). But Calgary clearly went through a blue period in its corporate core.
Leaving faddishness aside, anyone have an explanation?
Vancouver may be a city of green glass (it’s called Solexia; very Low E, very ’90s). But Calgary clearly went through a blue period in its corporate core.
Leaving faddishness aside, anyone have an explanation?
Can you identify in which city you’d find this streetscape? (Hint: it’s not Vancouver.)
Answer below the fold.
Did a quick visit to the new Emily Carr University on the Central Valley Greenway a few days ago. I liked the plaza out front, its big electronic display, and the bike racks everywhere. I did notice the big clear bike lanes to the west of the U, connected directly to the CVG at E 1st and Thornton St.
This almost-completed Harwood-Street highrise hasn’t received much profile yet, even though it is one the last buildings designed under Bing Thom, whose voice will be missed as much as his architectural skill.
The development was controversial, with conflicting goals of heritage versus tree versus view preservation. But the result is an elegant addition to a neighbourhood otherwise characterized, with few exceptions, by the blandness of its architecture.
The image does not do justice to the way the perforated panels capture and reflect light. Slick without being garish.
The British have a developed way of building shaming and have wasted no time saying exactly what they feel about the 380 million pound Nova building located next to Victoria station near London’s Buckingham Palace. As Oliver Wright in The Guardian states this “complex, which lurches outside the station in its bright red costume like a drunken member of the Queen’s Guard, has been crowned winner of the Carbuncle Cup for the UK’s ugliest building by Building Design magazine. It beat some strong competition, from the new entrance to Preston station, student housing in Portsmouth and the first phase of Battersea power station’s residential development, among other lurid crimes against the built environment.”
The Carbuncle Cup is named after unguarded remarks made by Prince Charles who called Ahrends, Burton and Koralek‘s London’s National Gallery new wing a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”. Following up on such eloquence, Building Design magazine launched the Cup in 2006, with voting for badly designed buildings conducted online, and final judging done on a short list of those remarkable buildings.
The Nova building has been described by judges as “one that sets a new benchmark for dystopian dysfunction” with “the bright red prows that adorn various points of the exterior like the inflamed protruding breasts of demented preening cockerels”.
The architects PLP Architecture are described as “serial offenders” for their 22 Bishopsgate building which was following “the vogue for faceted glass office buildings”. A photo of the glass walled Bishopsgate structure is below.
It is unfortunate that PLP Architecture describes the red colour as being a reference to “an important transport interchange” and the use of facets and cross-bracing were “patterns to lighten the effect on your eye, to break up the surface, and create more of a decorative surface”. This development takes up a whole city block with two office buildings, and a residential building. The 2017 Carbuncle Cup was awarded specifically for the office buildings, although the residential buildings also warranted attention, and were called “mangled gobbledygook… far too many influences have been at play”.
The Nova has no strong interactive ground plane and no scale or reference for pedestrians at street level other than the unfortunate triangles which look like A frame huts. What is troubling is how a whole city block in one of the most touristic parts of London could have morphed into such an androgynous design. Even the double-decker buses seem to cower away from it.
The sadness in this “wedge gone rogue” is how a design like this with no reference to the historical streetscape could have been developed. Is there a need for a similar system of awards in Canada for architecture that leaves citizens breathless for the wrong reasons?
To see ourselves as others see us. Always useful fun, even if the gushy words are a guilty pleasure.
Here’s Suzanne MacNeille in the New York Times undergoing smitification during her 36 Hours In Vancouver.
For locals, it’s no surprise or even a point of interest that the article’s lead illustration shows a bike rider on a bike path. But it’s a big deal to visitors. The city is becoming well-known for its broad and growing bike culture and safe infrastructure. Judging from the busy bike rental shops popping up everywhere, and the earnest material by Mobi on how to decide between Mobi or a rental shop — the tourist bike thing has serious legs.
Other highlights and cultural touchstones for Ms. MacNeille: nature, coastline, multi-ethnicity, public art, especially indigenous art (including murals), the eclectic food scene, architecture and neighbourhoods (like the West End).
Taken this Sunday aboard the Elision.
From left to right: Lions Gate Bridge, Stanley Park, downtown, Burrard Bridge, Mount Baker, Vanier Park.
Even with sky-high land costs in the City of Vancouver not all developers are relying on multiple lot assembly in order to build mixed use projects. While traveling around East Vancouver you notice various multi-family developments making it work on smaller lots, some as narrow as 33′.
4376 Fraser Street
3401 Fraser Street
6555 Victoria Drive
3939 Knight Street
Simple but effective none the less. No doubt the metrics work due to the less desirable arterials when compared to the Westside, but nice to see some basic effort in materials and ornamentation. These buildings have more architectural interest than some of the newly proposed downtown condo towers.
There is a changing of the guard in the City of Toronto with head planner Jennifer Keesmaat leaving after five years at the helm. She’s leaving on her own terms, and was asked to stay on by Mayor John Tory. We have to remember what Toronto was like five years ago-Rob Ford was Mayor, and he had been elected on a platform of reducing city taxes and doing away with some major transportation initiatives. It was a time of great uncertainty for Toronto-Mayor Ford was against a $30 billion dollar transit plan that would over thirty years provide for six new subway lines, ten light-rail lines plus new bus and street car lines. The plan was to be funded through property tax increases and grants from the Provincial and Federal governments, and was defeated by Council in June of 2012. It was not one of Toronto’s shining moments.
Three months later in September 2012 with a solid consulting background Jennifer Keesmaat was hired as the Chief City Planner. Jennifer had worked on plans for a range of Canadian cites from Vancouver to Halifax, and was a founding partner of the well-known firm DIALOG. She had a great understanding of the importance of community involvement in her consulting work, contributed generously to conferences, and was a firm supporter of Walk to School programs-she even has a TEDX talk on it.
Keesmaat besides being a planner has a family and she is her kids’ mom. She let people know that her kids biked to school, and other people’s kids could too. With her strong organizational abilities it was no surprise she stepped right in and took on some of the major work that Toronto required. She was pretty fearless and strongly supported the concepts of good density and walkability for placemaking. As Christopher Hume with the Toronto Star states “she has described mid-rise development,transportation, and waterfront as areas of focus. She has also been a strong proponent of a national urban agenda by calling for an expanded role of the federal government in supporting Canadian cities.”
Jennifer Keesmaat felt strongly that the revamping of the Gardiner Expressway, which allowed cars to get into the city more rapidly was a mistake and said so. She raised the debate about what planning was, and she made it something people could understand, and made it okay to talk about the city in a different way. Public meetings held by her were also on twitter and broadcast on the local cable channel. She made talking about the city accessible and cool. As Hume notes “she quickly revealed a talent for making people pay attention to issues that normally left them yawning”.
There’s a lot of discussion about Jennifer’s next moves, which may be into the political arena either municipally or federally. Regardless of that, her plucky take on placemaking, and focus on good city building came at a time when Toronto needed some strong direction, and a person willing to stand up for good planning principles. Jennifer Keesmaat most certainly achieved that.
If you’re an architectural photographer, or a painter for that matter, or you take pictures of cars for magazines, you typically look for an oblique angle to capture The Beauty Shot, as Stuart Thomson did a century ago to record the new courthouse from the corner of Howe and Georgia.
That view is now blocked by the … the … what is that thing anyway? Is this where the militia will stand to fire down onto the protesting crowds? Does this annoy anyone else, or is it just nostalgic me? Is this part of the broader trend, identified by Ray Spaxman and others, of new design (of, say, condo towers) completely disrespecting its neighbours?
Fire away, metaphorically….
It could be the biggest ‘architectural deconstruction’ event in Vancouver in years: the demolition of the Empire Landmark.
The hotel, once known as the Sheraton Landmark, is closing on September 30 after a 44-year run. Designed by Bill Lort in that early 1970s exposed-concrete style, let’s face it, few will miss it – except maybe memories of good times in the revolving restaurant.
The story goes that the Wosk Brothers, Morris and Ben, were in competition to build the highest tower at the time – and Ben won with the 40-storey Landmark over the 30-storey Blue Horizon.
The Landmark will be replaced by two condos that will look something like this:
There’s a suggestion that the Landwork will be imploded – an always-exciting prospect for those who like to see things go boom. It’s not unprecedented in this corridor: a 1967 tower in the Pacific Palisades complex, just behind the Blue Horizon, got turned into ash and debris within minutes in 1994 – as you can see here:
Years ago, one Vancouver post and beam house was scouted for a major music network as their “1970’s Clubhouse”. Unfortunately the house’s upgrades determined its ineligibility, but there were several other houses in the neighbourhood that were good candidates. Kerry Gold in the Globe and Mail notes another example of how tight the housing market is-evident in that film location scouts are finding it hard to find old buildings that can reflect “middle class” America in films. This is seen as a “byproduct of Vancouver’s empty-home crisis and the freak show that is the region’s real estate market… as historic buildings get demolished in favour of the generic and new, the city’s “look” is becoming a lot more homogeneous.”
“Trying to find older locations is becoming more and more difficult,” said (location scout) Mr. Hogarth. “What I’ve been noticing is that the buildings that we would go to are now being redeveloped and turned into condominiums, and we are losing locations that we have frequently gone to in the past. We are having to look further and further outside Vancouver for good locations, both residential and commercial.”
The generic housing along Cambie Street, retail on Main Street, redeveloping Chinatown and the demise of the Ridge Theatre were mentioned as great location losses. In an industry that provides over 25,000 jobs, the loss of locations means that productions move out-of-town or in some cases out of country. As old craftsman style houses disappear the “look and feel” of an American city is also lost, and the new housing stock is not suitable for location shots.
“It’s definitely changing, the demographic is changing and a lot of the houses like those upper-middle-class houses in the Kerrisdale and Dunbar area are being sold and redeveloped. And quite frankly, the houses that have been redeveloped or torn down and rebuilt, they all look the same. They are identical. You can get 10 or 12 of them and they all look the same. They are spacious on the inside, but don’t have any quality architecturally that make them stand out from one or the other.”
Perhaps most unsettling is that while this location scout was born and raised in this city, he sees and experiences the paradox- he door knocks homes on Vancouver’s west side to ask about filming. Even though there is a huge affordability housing crisis,”on the west side of the city, these houses are often empty-and no one is home. On Drummond Drive, in Point Grey, I can think of six places off the top of my head that are just sitting empty.”
When Price Tags has a contest for the most important planning initiatives in Metro Vancouver, my vote will be for the recognition of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). This was created in 1973 to permanently protect 47,000 square kilometers of provincial fertile arable land from urbanization and land development. It was a smart idea to start the conversation of the importance of food security and maintenance of farm land. Once its developed, farmland never goes back to arable use.
Of course by its nature the ALR restrictions prevent land owners from flipping and developing agricultural properties, and many may say that restrains the property rights of the owners. But there are lots of loopholes that are being exploited, including the development of monster mansions in Richmond on agricultural properties. Price Tags has already reported on the fact that there is no foreign buyers’ tax on these mansions built on the best farmland in Canada-and hey, raise some blueberries or a few calves on the land and you will be paying the very low agricultural property tax too. This foreign ownership drives up the price of the farmland, and of course makes it so that a local farmer will be a vassal, not a land owner.
A prime example of McMansioning on the ALR lands is Sam Cooper’s article in the Vancouver Sun about 76 acres for sale in Surrey. The land is in the agricultural land reserve. A house with 14,225 square feet has been built on the land in the Tuscan style, and there’s a 15 acre vineyard. B.C. assessment papers value the residential-zoned land at $986,000; the farmland is valued at $76,000, with the buildings valued at $1.84 million. That total assessed value for this property is $2.9 million.
That may be the assessment value-but realtors have listed this property for $28 million dollars. Sam Cooper notes that “Marketers hired to sell the property are mounting a slick video ad campaign targeting a “special buyer” — likely from Mainland China they say — willing to pay surreal money for an “Italian resort” built on the border of Surrey and Langley, on the 4000-block of 192nd Street. Welcome to Villa di Fonti,” realtor Jin Ye says in a video aimed at ultra-wealthy international buyers. “Once inside this architectural masterpiece, you’ll walk into an old world Tuscan villa estate, with all the modern luxuries you can imagine.”
The YouTube video of this house on farmland is below:
This house took two years to build, has a helipad, parking for 40 cars, and a lake stocked with trout. To get approval for this house a “residential lot” had a special zoning process within the agricultural-zoned lands. After building this behemoth the owners are “downsizing” after living on the estate “for a short time“.“It really is fit for royalty,” said home-stager Scotty Rolland, a native of California who says she is familiar with some of the most luxurious real estate offerings in North America. “I’ve never seen anything like it in B.C.”
And with an asking price of $28 million this is how farmland is usurped away from its intended use, purchased at prices that were originally for agricultural land purposes-not a stocked trout pond. As the home-stager observed “It’s the size and the features,” Rolland said. “And it has really good feng shui. I believe there will be a buyer from China.”
New York Times Image-Mansplaining Statue
Alissa Walker is a talented writer, Curbed.com’s Urbanism editor and lives in Los Angeles. In Curbed.com Alissa describes something that women in the planning, architectural or design professions know: despite the fact that roughly fifty per cent of the population are women, that is not reflected in the planning language used to describe place, or indeed the people who are talking, thinking, or writing about planning-they are mostly men. Now there was Jane Jacobs, and New York City’s amazing Janette Sadik-Khan, the former Commissioner of Transportation-but where are the other planning women and why are they not widely championed?
Alissa had been reading four books on gentrification, and found “Not only are these four books by men, they’re largely about men. According to the books themselves, the factors that have contributed to gentrification—displacement of marginalized communities, systemically ingrained racism, unequitable housing policy—have been largely implemented by powerful men over the last century.”
“It’s no secret that the lack of gender diversity is an issue for the architecture and development world. It’s also an issue for elected officials who initiate policy: Among U.S. cities with populations of over 30,000, only 20 percent of mayors are women. A 2015 report by the American Planning Association not only notes the lack of gender diversity in urban planning careers—the field is 42 percent female—but also the fact that women are more likely to be affected by urban affordability issues: Up to three-quarters of households living in public housing are solely headed by females.”
Alissa Walker looked at her own media contacts and how she got information about planning, and found that again her links were largely male. “Much of the content I consume daily about city-making is written and distributed by men… I see it at the conferences I attend. On the panels I participate in. In the Facebook groups I join. Even at the meetings where the decisions about neighborhoods are being made… A group of very white, very loud men have confirmed that they are, indeed, the problem when it comes to our cities, and now the conversation about how to fix them is mostly being conducted by very white, very loud men—who happen to be very active on social media.”
Alissa’s article includes a great list of books written by women on planning issues listed below. Quite simply in the twenty-first century we should be supporting not only gender equity in planning our cities, but ensuring that women’s voices in communities are heard and recognized. Reading Ms. Walker’s full article is a good place to start.
Must-Read Books About Cities by Women
Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism by Rebecca Solnit
Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places by Sharon Zukin
How Women Saved the City by Daphne Spain
Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin
The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo by Saskia Sassen
A Black Urbanist by Kristen Jeffers
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work and Family Life by Dolores Hayden
Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City by Mary Pattillo
Modern Housing for America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era by Gail Radford
Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities by Mindy Thompson Fullilove
Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow
Sex and the Revitalized City: Gender, Condominium Development, and Urban Citizenship by Leslie Kahn
Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation over Public Space by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Renia Ehrenfeucht
Towards Cosmopolis: Planning for Multicultural Cities by Leonie Sandercock
The Just City by Susan S. Fainstein
A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity by Japonica Brown-Saracino
Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Moore
Canadian Business Image
With some of the recent events and policies south of the Canadian border it’s no surprise that there is a squish for office space, as reported in the Province by Sam Cooper. While vacancy rates have dropped from 8.3 per cent to 6.8 per cent and sound healthy compared to the housing market, they are not.
“The report from professional services firm JLL says a tight Vancouver commercial real estate market will be driven by new demand from technology companies. Vacancy rates could dive from about seven per cent currently to three per cent in 2019, the JLL report says, which would be “the lowest vacancy rate on record.”
How low is a low office vacancy rate? Cushman and Wakefield estimated that by 2019 “Vancouver is predicted to have the second-lowest office-vacancy rate in the Western hemisphere. ” The vice-president of the services firm JLL noted that he had never seen such a great demand from companies for Vancouver office space in 25 years of work . “A lot of the companies are from the U.S. The low Canadian dollar is attractive, and also we are a market where it is easier to bring in (high-technology) workers from overseas.”
To put that in better perspective, there was 2.3 million square feet of new office space built in the “downtown market” in the last two years. With the swift uptake of office space, it is expected that suburban Metro Vancouver communities will reap business relocations, with higher vacancy rates and lower rents, not to mention the fact that employees would have access to more affordable and varied forms of housing.
The City of Vancouver observes that there are new rezonings in Railtown, the False Creek Flats and in Mount Pleasant for new office space. The challenge is going to be finding the large floor plates and area amenities necessary to accommodate hundreds of new employees working in one office location. Will this be a driver for further office development in other parts of Metro Vancouver?
Daily Hive Image
Found on the corner of Abbott St and W Hastings St, in a parking lot adjacent to the Woodward’s development.
The proposed rezoning details are reflective of Vancouver’s Rental 100 Policy:
The policy provides relaxations to developers who choose to build 100% secured market rental housing in defined locations. This incentive forms part of the City’s 2012-2021 Housing and Homelessness Strategy, which “identified the need for an additional 16,000 new units of rental housing, of which 5,000 are from purpose-built market rental units.”
In addition, the Strategy “sets aggressive targets for social housing (5,000 units by 2021) and supportive housing to end homelessness (2,900 units by 2021). The City is currently revising the Housing Strategy, noting targets exceeding those set in the current plan.
The Rental 100 Policy and it’s predecessor have been contentious – as illustrated by the court battle between the City and the West End Neighbours Residents Society. There is an open house for the West Hastings Rezoning from 5 to 8 pm on Thursday, January 26, 2017 at Vancouver Community College, Room 240.
There is an opportunity to learn more about the esoteric, amazing and extraordinary stories of Vancouver from three people who really do their research-at a special event at the Vancouver Museum on Thursday August 18. Historian and author John Atkin needs little introduction and you can check out his website here. A former City of Vancouver staffer he delves into history the way most of us would a cold beer, travels extensively, and leads very popular historical walks in Vancouver and London, all intensively researched and delightful. Rob Howatson is an established journalist and author that has uncovered many a remarkable story, including how Loretta Lynn performed and was discovered in Vancouver-singing in an old chicken coop.
Mike Harling, a music aficionado and historical detective (credited with finding the Time Capsule at the old Sunset Community Centre) rounds out the trio with “Vancouver narratives which on the surface appear too strange to be true, except that they are!”Besides the discovery of a music legend, this evening will also inform on surprising stories of how the west end became high density, and dispell many commonly held myths of how this city developed.
And here’s a short video via Rob Howatson on the historical ‘Chicken Coop’ Jam Sessions:
South Van Twang meets West End Pangs in a single, fun packed evening of history, stories, images and musical interludes. -Museum of Vancouver, 1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver
Date: Thursday, August 17, 2017
Admission: Advance tickets (Until August 10): *Adults: $15; Seniors, Students: $13; MOV Members Free.
After August 10: *Adults: $17; Seniors, Students: $15; MOV Members Free.
To Register online, click on this link.
Gallery admission included with event ticket. Come early and explore.
* Online Tickets Sales will end ONE HOUR before the event begins. Remaining tickets on sale at the door / Visitor Services at the time of event.
At right is the VGH bike facility (click to enlarge).
Excerpt from HUB’s report, as quoted by Boffo, who sponsored it, in part:
The idea for this project grew out of HUB Cycling’s experience in recent years of being asked by developers to provide advice and insight into how their new building projects could better meet the needs of and appeal to people who ride bikes. At the same time HUB Cycling has been asked by municipal staff how cities can better engage with developers and managers to create more and better cycling amenities in buildings.
Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Metro Vancouver, and 41 percent of people in the region want to cycle more.1 Census data shows that commuter cyclists are over-represented in high-skill and high-income professions.
Some leading Vancouver commercial property developers are already recognizing the benefits of designing and installing exemplary end-of-trip facilities and are seeing the benefits in lower than average vacancy rates but there are opportunities for the broader development industry to see the value and demand more bike-friendly features from their design teams.
The 63-page report (“Not Just Bike Racks — Informing Design for End of Trip Cycling Amenities in Vancouver Real Estate”) looks at a number of examples of bike-oriented development, reviews applicable legislation, incentives and design guidelines, and offers thoughts about how to proceed during the project design process.
As with some politicos, the development community has come a long way. Why I remember (said the crotchety geezer) when any talk of bike stuff with builders and developers would usually get “<*snort*>, NEXT question” as the response.
Welcome to Southgate City the largest new master planned community you’ve probably never heard of, I know I hadn’t until adverts started popping up in the Vancouver Sun. Developed by Ledingham McAllister on the site of the former Safeway distribution facility in South Burnaby, the 60 acre site features a whopping 19 residential towers above podiums. Site amenities including 5 acres of park space, a gourmet grocer, restaurants, cafés, and a community centre all located internally within the development.
Southgate City’s utopian-like glass towers are anchored in floating green space and numerous water fountains with a resounding lack of colour or use of materials. The architectural renderings show building forms that appear difficult to engage with on a human scale once you get pass the street level podium.
It will be interesting to see how it feels when finally constructed but the master plan appears starkly opposite to recent developments such as Olympic Village and UBC’s Wesbrook Village built around a denser street grid with a range of building types.
Olympic Village aerial from Google Earth
Aerial of Wesbrook Village on the University Endowment Lands from Google Earth
I’m amazed at the scale step down from Southgate to the existing single family neighbourhoods across the street. Perhaps this intense density could have been spread throughout the single family zoning with two and three story walkups rather than concentrated on this commercial/industrial land.
The loss of significant Commercial/Industrial space in a central metro location is also something to be debated. A friend was lucky to find a location for his large business two years ago near Boundary and Lougheed Highway but he reports there is currently next to nothing on the market for lease regarding buildings accommodating light-industrial activities in Vancouver and Burnaby.