This giant art structure will feature projections from digital artists all over the world:
Currently at the center of Prague’s Quadrio shopping center, an enormous mirrored bust of Franz Kafka can be seen spinning in a constant state of metamorphosis. Every few seconds, the sculpture splits into 42 layers, rotates, and then converges into the Czech author’s likeness, before repeating over again.
The 35-foot-tall sculpture is the work of David Černý, a Czech artist known for his witty and subversive public artworks. Černý notes that it’s located outside of Prague’s City Hall, and the spinning parts reflect a building full of Kafka-esque bureaucracy.
Urban designer Scot Hein tells the story.
When is a district energy plant more than a district energy plant?
Let’s reflect on the Southeast False Creek Energy (SEFC) Centre. Initially, the site for this new civic utility was to be located in the “Sawtooth Building” which is located on the site of the former city works yard east of the Cambie Bridge.
During initial design exploration for this location, city staff, along with Bruce Haden of Dialog, became interested in the use of lighting effects to tell the “story of energy.” The Light Columns at the entry to Los Angeles LAX airport were seen as an interesting visual reference for what could be a public-art-like feature. As pre-design explorations continued, it became desirable to locate the new utility building under the south Cambie Bridgehead as this was “free land,” and more importantly, this siting would not encumber future utility corridor locations for the WorksYard Neighbourhood which would be the last to develop in Southeast False Creek.
Also at this time, the City began to organize the ownership model, with the City itself being both a utility owner and development permit applicant. Planning staff insisted that the new building (approximately a third would be seen above grade) be as good as any building we might demand of the private sector. This meant hiring a skilled architect and public artist to execute the design with interest, especially as a “teachable moment about district energy”.
The City, to its credit, engaged architect Walter Francl along with Stephanie Robb for these respective roles. As the design process unfolded, it became evident that the building had an important urban design role to play in announcing its location as the intersection of the Cambie Promenade (from Cambie Village to False Creek), with the east-west pedestrian route between the existing community to the west along Spyglass and the future Worksyard Neighbourhood to be implemented as the last phase of SEFC.
The ultimate siting, and shaping of the building became the early focus of the design process with Walter/Stephanie offering the thoughtful triangular shape to creatively reconcile these urban design considerations. As various energy sources, including bio-mass, were being considered it became evident that the building must “do more”, perhaps as a teachable moment in the urban landscape. A decision was taken to use sewer heat recovery, in lieu of bio-mass, given the immediate proximity to large trunk lines that facilitated the flow of warm raw sewage. The “Confluence of Effluence”.
As the technical work advanced, it also became necessary to introduce immediate and future boiler capacity that would emit clean steam as a strategy to augment sewer heat should this be necessary in colder times. The boilers would need vent stacks to discharge clean steam when called upon. This requirement generated the wonderful result of what some refer to as “the fingernails” or the five one-meter- X three-meter-high LED panels that are clipped on to the top of each stack that rises above the south Cambie bridgehead on the east side.
Stephanie was brought on board to execute this feature. Her early thinking generated what she referred to as the “nail polish chart” which reflected a variety of features and effects for breakfast, dinner and afterwards at different times of the year. We were clearly having too much fun in those early days of the design process.
Also at this time, we began to test mock-ups for the “fingernails” at different scales and under various conditions. This concluded with a mock-up in the field. I recall commenting to both Walter and Stephanie that summer evening that we are missing the mirrored disco ball and a funky background soundtrack (read George Clinton and Parliament or Barry White).
The project was constructed on time and was awarded the AIBC Lieutenant-Governor of BC Gold Medal for Architecture in 2010. This is the highest honour that our professional association recognizes. As a side note, I understand that there were no cold showers (over 10,000 taken) during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
This is where the story begins.
The LED panels were energized at occupancy with their colour and effects reflective of the real time consumptive habits for those on the system. The fingernails were our “Scarlet Letter” for all Cambie Bridge motorists and pedestrians to see just how responsible, or not, those on the system were behaving. Overly consumptive – the panels trended to red. Dialed down – the panels trended to blue. This continues to be the default mode for the system.
During design, we also discussed the possibility of taking the panels off-line in favor of a more specific colour/effect. We always knew we could dial in orange for Halloween; red for Valentine’s and Canada Day. On a whim, and with the assistance from project engineer Chris Baber, I e-mailed Gary Killacky who was one of the operating engineers on site along with Kieran McConnell. I asked him if he would not mind dialing up the five panels to “pink” to announce “Breast Cancer Run for the Cure” which was to occur that weekend. I wanted to attempt this programming change as my sister Melinda was recovering from her own challenges with breast cancer. This would be my little secret.
Gary’s initial response was “What?” “Really?” And then a small miracle: Gary within about 10 minutes e-mailed me back to confirm that he had gone to the Run for the Cure Website, found the pink colour, had matched it to the Pantone Colour Website, and had made a matching lighting colour selection. The panels would be pink from Friday through Sunday. (I am forever indebted to Gary and Chris for this kind act. We continue to have wonderfully creative, thoughtful engineers at Vancouver City Hall.)
But this is where the story gets more interesting.
After a couple of years it occurred to me that we should not stop there. So I cold called Duncan Blomfield who was BC Place’s Manager for Marketing and Communications, and could influence the lighting programming of the prismatic transom that surrounds the entire stadium under the retractable roof, and simply asked him to match the Pantone colour as with the SEFC Energy Centre for that year’s Run for the Cure Weekend. Duncan said, without hesitation or needing to run this up the flag pole, yes.
With BC Place also pretty in pink, I phoned my friend at Science World, the wonderfully creative Kevin Kearns, along with Mila Cotic, who agreed immediately to do the same. Now with three significant, waterfront buildings glowing pink, we only needed to add the Olympic Plaza “Ship Ribs” to complete the ensemble. I phoned Otto Kaufman in Engineering, who did so much heavy lifting behind the scenes on the OV file, and he also agreed. So for two years we were able to enjoy what we, in the City’s Urban Design Studio, would call “Pink False Creek”.
I share this story at Gord’s insistence. It remains relevant towards a larger conversation about the value of an “Urban Lighting strategy” given our lack of seasonal light, and commanding reflective position on our waterfront. Perhaps this will generate a discussion back at the hall.
Please share with others.
You might miss this installation (and its point) unless you know where and what it is, since this is what it looks like to passersby at Bute and Hastings:
This, however, is what it looks like from above:
It’s F Grass, by “China’s most internationally celebrated artist and social activist, Ai Weiwei.” After two years of persuasion, the Vancouver Biennale was able to secure this public-art installation created specifically for this section of Harbour Green Park where it will reside for a year.
F Grass uses industrial cast iron “grass” to shape an elegant calligraphic “F”. It’s an enigma that a Vancouver audience might interpret as symbolic of the recreational crop we’re most famous for and our laissez faire attitude towards the laws that prohibit it, but the meaning is more about the relationship between the individual and the collective and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of Chinese government censorship, control and secrecy.
More here at the Vancouver Biennale site.
Vancouver Deputy Mayor Heather Deal has a number of portfolios – usually all the ways to make sure our City is becoming delightful – including Arts & Culture. She is passionate about the topic and a Councillor Liaison to the Arts & Culture Policy Council so I asked her to tell me more. She shared stories about her conversations with Vancouverites on public art.
Poodle (no official name) by Gisele Amantea got negative media when someone from the area complained that Main Street isn’t a poodle neighbourhood. Which is awesome because public art got people talking about the identity of their neighbourhood.
There were also complaints about cost and it not being a local artist (both based on inaccurate reporting).
(TP note: How many of our public art pieces have their own Twitter account? Follow @MainStPoodle)
When people complain to me about the poodle, I ask them what piece of public art they do like.
2. A-mazing Laughter
9/10 answer: A-mazing Laughter at English Bay – a Vancouver Biennale piece. So I ask them 3 questions about it:
Does it reflect the West End?
How much did cost?
Where is the artist from?
No one can answer that. Not one person to date.
(TP: I was able to answer all 3 – including who negotiated the counteroffer and donated it.)
3. The Third Piece
Then I ask for opinions about a third piece of public art. Very few can name one. Some come up with Myfanwy MacLeod’s The Birds in Olympic Village.
Some can name Giants by OSGEMEOS on Granville Island – another biennale piece from an international artist team.
4. I love it when people talk about our city.
Art is a great place to start that conversation. Learn about the hundreds of pieces of public art in Vancouver at the City’s website here.
5. Notice art.
Think about whether you like it or don’t. Look it up and learn about the artist and their inspiration.
Did you know that the poodle was made by an artist living in the region at the time and that it was inspired by the antique shops on Main Street? (TP: I had no idea.)
We also want to encourage people to think about what they like and want in public spaces such as art (murals, pieces, etc.) and what type of programmed space, festivals, and unprogrammed squares or plazas they’d like.
Ask yourself: Do you want to be entertained? Amused? Challenged?
Reminded of something in our history, negative or positive?
Awed? Do you want to be able to interact with it?
Does it compel you to take a selfie with it?
On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
“People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it. We [all already] know the streets aren’t perfect.”
She estimated that once [in 5-10 years] shared, driverless cars are operating in our cities, most of our on-street parking won’t be needed. In the meantime, one of the many community requested programs is time-of-day based pricing for on-street parking. Of course, the higher turnover of vehicles is better for business.
Even better for business is putting in bicycle lanes. Some of the areas where businesses were most opposed have some of the highest bike volumes now.
It takes 4 things to increase bicyclist volumes significantly and NYC does them all.
- a network of bicycle infrastructure (and traffic-calming design)
- lower speed limits (and traffic-calming designs help)
JSK saw 3 of the above steps to fruition. Mayor de Blasio lowered speed limits to 25mph in November, 2014.
When Broadway closed to cars and opened to people, in Midtown:
- pedestrian injuries decreased by 35%
- motorists injuries went down by 35%
- vehicle travel times increased by 17%
- protected bike lanes brought a 50% increase in sales
Ciclovias, Car-free Spaces and Street Art
“The Public Domain is the Public’s Domain.”
“We asked the community where they wanted plazas and they took ownership of them.”
“The canvas of our streets was transformed by artists.”
Ciclovias involve closing streets to vehicles and allowing people to roam on them via any active transportation mode, often on weekends. In NYC it’s known as Summer Streets. Every Saturday in the summer from 7am-1pm they have about 300,000 people take part. Small businesses along the way have seen sales increase by 71%.
On making parts of Robson Street a car-free space, JSK said: “Try it; you’ll like it.”
Three words: Dedicated. Bus. Lanes.
These are enforced by cameras. Green traffic lights are synchronized with bus use. Like in Colombia, they have off-board fare collection. [Senior planners at TransLink would love dedicated bus lanes on Georgia Street, Hastings Street, or Broadway in Vancouver.]
NYC needs to up our game on the following:
- more bikeshare next to low-income housing and public housing
- #VisionZero “Our streets are sick. Thousands are dying and people are blasé about it. In any other field you would lose your job if that many died.”
- seamless, integrated, multi-modal transportation (all on one card/app) like in Helsinki
- congestion pricing. The state capital is less urban and turned down their request for it. Plus people hate both “congestion”and “pricing”. The rebrand is MoveNY. JSK said paying more to drive to Manhattan is “inevitable”.
Migration Astonishment: 1M here, 1M there
I was astonished (and by the looks of it so was Gordon Price) that NYC estimates that they will have 1 million more people living there by 2030. That’s the same number we expect in Metro Vancouver by 2030! Clearly, the impact here will be a much larger transformation. There’s a lot of work to do.
JSK advised: “Leverage the density. Recognize the value of density.”
“People want safe streets (and affordable housing) and are ahead of politicians and the media.”
“Inaction is inexcusable,” JSK said.
On Thursday, March 24, Brian Wakelin, architect and co-founder of Vancouver-based PUBLIC Architecture + Communication (recent winner of the Professional Prix de Rome in Architecture), will present samples of his work that respond to Greater Vancouver’s lack of significant public gathering spaces. Preceding his talk will be a short performance by emerging poet and musician, Sam Herle.
On Thursday, April 21, Michael Rohd, founder of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice (Evanston, IL) will discuss how art can be a potent tool for public impact and collaboration. Preceding his presentation will be a short performance by First Nations hip hop/spoken word artist, JB the First Lady.
On Thursday, May 19, visual artist, Norie Sato, (Seattle, WA) will describe her creative process developing site-specific works for public places. Preceding this talk will a brief performance by 16-year old professional yoyo competitor, Harrison Lee.
James Bligh: “Found between Main and Quebec on 7th Ave this morning.
“At first I thought it might have been some sort of guerrilla art installation by The Western Front commenting on gentrification in the neighbourhood. I now suspect it was some comedian with spray paint who was in the right place at the right time.”
From the Daily Scot:
I noticed a colourful trend emerging in Auckland before I left in 2014: bold and beautiful painted murals were popping up throughout neighbourhoods
On the sides of prominent buildings, inside alleyways and incorporated into the architecture of newly opened retail and hospitality establishments, commissioned artists where now part of the design team. Graffiti? Definitely not. Detailed splashes of colour adding a new dimension to the urban environment.
We need not rely on the city to commission a public mural to liven up an area. Business owners, why not cover the entire elevation of your restaurant like this venue in Melbourne?
Mix it up a bit and add some vitality and randomness to the street elevation. We could use some bold murals and splashes of colours in areas of the city, especially on those dark gray winter days that tend to endlessly consume us.
From the Daily Scot:
Profiling Christchurch, New Zealand’s Gap Filler Program
When faced with the devastation of virtually losing their city overnight due to a series of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch residents, council, design community and volunteer groups like Gap Filler began a spirited city beautification project using simple and affordable tactical urbanism techniques. The results are fun, interactive and flexible.
Want to screen the damaged fenced off buildings. Why not a row of movable street trees?
Oh, and that required chain link fence to keep people out of the rubble. Well, why not cover it with colourful art pieces?
Oversized furniture for all age groups to linger and climb on – done. Let’s paint the pavement while we are at it.
Lessons for Vancouver: Try it out in a simple and cost-effective way. Be bold, colourful and listen to feedback. Document it, and let the precedents inspire your permanent public realm designs.
The High Bridge is is accessed through a park on the slopes of Manhattan (map here), where there are still signs of decay from the financial crisis (the one from the 1980s, not 2000s) when NYC was on the ropes.
But then there was this:
A temporary sculpture exhibition, similar to our Biennale, with pieces lining the allee that leads to the water tower.
Several people, young and old, seeing us with a map, spontaneously offered directions, and then engaged in conversation (one was a retired linguistics professor who had good memories of Vancouver “except for the surprising number of homeless people.” Yup, that was from a New Yorker.)
Join us as we celebrate a new public art piece at The WALL with a free artist talk. Artist Faith Moosang will speak about the new 30×40 foot installation titled down. town. which explores the theme of Vancouver’s built environment.
down. town. is a large-scale composite photograph created from 164 individual film frames, video stills and digital photographs gleaned from the CBC Archives and Wikimedia Commons. The selected images respond to three questions: how many buildings have been demolished in downtown Vancouver between 1954 and 2015, how many of these demolitions were considered newsworthy and how does one represent the notion of absence or missing?
Faith proposes that the high number of buildings that have gone missing from our collective landscape is indicative that humans are notorious for forgetting, and that what is normal is always shifting.
The WALL is a public art project made possible by a partnership between Vancouver Heritage Foundation and CBC with support from JJ Bean Coffee Roasters and the City of Vancouver Public Art Program. All exhibits are an artist’s interpretation of the theme ‘Vancouver’s built environment.’
Thursday, November 12
700 Hamilton Street, CBC Studio 700
With the redevelopment of the Hudson Yards has come an extension of a major subway line, the 7 (or as some still call it, the IRT Flushing Line), south to 34th Street.
The site of the Yards was once proposed for a huge stadium and then for the Olympics – and hence a new station was a requirement. In fact, it should have been built when the Javits Convention Centre was constructed in the 1980s.
This one-station extension was originally to cost US$2.1 billion, but eventually grew to US$2.4 billion – the first station to be financed by the City since the 1950s. Its construction tribulations are described here.
Though the station is totally surrounded by massive construction, the new attitude towards place-making in America’s major city is immediately evident – from above …
… and on the ground:
Inside the station, though – not as impressive. The look is certainly consistent with generic NYC MTA – minus the iron pillars:
And even feels a little like Granville Station:
But in the entrance lobby, spaciousness and art:
Two things brightened my day today.
First: I rode past the Vancouver General Hospital on 10th Avenue, and noticed the lovely monument to Rick Hansen. I’ve seen it many times before, but always in progress, with a surround of warning tape. But today I came upon it finished for the first time. I like it when we acknowledge our inspirational heroes, and I really like sculpture. And who better personifies heroic grit, persistence and spirit than Mr. Hansen. It’s a good piece of work because, in Mr. Hansen’s face, I imagine that I can see determination and pain, which must have accompanied him in his travels.
Oddly, there is no attribution on site.
Second: Before that, I found myself at Pender and Abbott, on my way to a bakery, hoping to find the elusive and delicious coconut cream bun. I was delighted and surprised to find this spectacular new mural — composed of what appears to be some 200+ photo-based paintings of people jumping. Simple, happy and goofy. Right up my alley. If you look carefully, you can see at least two bikes in backgrounds.
It is truly a monumental project, that demands your physical presence, and a big chunk of your finest attention. It rewards you with a great big smile and a happy heart.
The project is the work of Eyoalha Baker, called the “Wall of Joy Mural”, part of the “Jump For Joy Photo Project”. This artist has a plethora of social media handles: @eyoalha, @jumpforjoyphoto, www.jumpforjoyphotoproject.com and more. The attribution includes what appears to be the names of all the jumpers, including “Mom”, Gregor Robertson, the artist, Kevin Quinlan and Jay DeMerit.
Featuring larger-than-life creatures powered by pedals, Austin Bike Zoo is a one-of-a-kind blend of puppetry and cycling. This “human-powered puppetry” was born out of a passion to combine the beauty and strength of human movement with the artistry and theater of puppets and a dedication to creating interactive works.
Intense the Heat by Matthew Soules Architecture
A spectacular canopy of shiny silver and magenta balloons offers shade from the August sun while transforming the experience of strolling the pier or gazing from the shore. The balloons sway in the wind as a subtle reminder of the dynamic energetic systems that make up our surroundings.
Friday, July 31
8 – 9:30 pm
City Fabric, by Rebecca Bayer and Matthew Soules.
Underneath the south side of the Burrard Bridge, above the Seawall
Saturday, August 1