Sep 2012 12

Tangential Vancouverism: Planning Vancouver of the Future

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Vancouver by Alex Pappajohn Vancouver by Alex Pappajohn

Vancouver, the “City of Glass” — is this the brand that the city should lose or the one to keep? Tangential Vancouverism: Projects for Vancouver’s Urbanism, has the answer to this question. Yes, it’s time to extend the traditional Vancouverism, the urban planning concept that was born in our city. It’s about time development patterns in the city develop wilder concepts. We have a great thing going on, but we have to build on it to show that our city still has a lot to offer. The new concept should show off the diversity the city has on the inside to the outside world. Vancouver is so much more than the set of rules under which we build our streets, and I think that this project has a pretty good shot at proving just that.

Vancouverism, the architectural and urban planning technique, has been one of the key character features of the city. Vancouver arrived at this systematic approach around 1989, when a set of rules and patterns emerged. It’s characterized by mixed-use developments, typically with a medium-height, commercial base and narrow, high-rise residential towers to accommodate high populations and to preserve view corridors. Continuously, Vancouver ranks among the most liveable cities on the planet.

Tangential Vancouverism brought together eight urban thinkers and design firms to create new, fresh ways of thinking about how people interact with the densifying city — and with each other. Instigated by Alex Buss and Alexandra Kenyon, two graduate students studying architecture at the University of British Columbia, the project is aimed at developing ideas for ways that urban development can diversify and create a new perception that makes previous interpretations of Vancouverism richer and more up-to-date. The project team of eight consists of urban thinkers Hannah Teicher, Ian Ross McDonald, and Matthew Soules and design firms Hapa Collaborative, ph5 architecture Inc, PUBLIC Architecture + Communication, RUF Project, and Space2Place Design.

Urban Thinkers

Hana Teicher

Picture 22
UBC School of Architecture
and Landscape Architecture

This brilliant urban strategist and designer residing in Vancouver also has impressive academic credentials, as in 2010 she taught a UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture graduate seminar on ways to re-imagine zoning from the ground up. One of her successful projects, also included development of a framework for deploying public electric vehicle charging stations, she pursued together with the TIPS Lab at UBC. In 2007, she placed first, with Nick Sully, in the First Annual Cleveland Design Competition with a proposal for transforming a brownfield site into a socially productive urban wetland. Hana has been working with Shape Architecture since 2008, where she works on recreational and small-scale residential infill projects. In her works for Tangential Vancouverism, she takes on the topic of the Vancouver Zoning By-law and confronts it with what she believes it’s missing out on: character. Teicher wrote in her proposal:

This is a much larger project, but one worth pursuing if the city is going to truly become the beacon of exemplary urbanism it already purports to be. This project could be strongly informed by a pointed conversation interrogating the long-standing concept of character.

Ian Ross McDonald

This bright associate working with Bruce Carscadden Architecture since 2007 has already impressed Vancouverites greatly with his Swalwell Park, which even got him the Lieutenant Governor Medal. Among his other significant works are Kensington Park, Robert Burnaby Park Washrooms, the District of Lake Country Winfield Arena Addition, and the new Princeton Town Hall. This talented architect has taught at the UBC School of Architecture + Landscape Architecture since 2005, having taught in both the graduate vertical studio stream as well as the core undergraduate and graduate courses in design media. His work for Tangential Vancouverism examines some of the forces that shape architecture’s ability (or inability) to engage with a segment of society thought to be in need but typically beyond architecture’s reach, looking at the situation through the lens of economics and socia policy. He concludes his study on peripheral Vancouver in a very simple yet powerful thought:

That the start of our solution to architecture’s limited agency might lie in an improved engagement with the public: from conversations come understanding, enjoyment, and ultimately love.

Matthew Soules

Picture 23 MSA

Matthew Soules is a licensed architect in both Canada and the U.S., where he also obtained a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University. Prior to founding MSA, he worked with leading architects around the world,(OMA, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Arthur Erickson). In 2011, he was awarded a Twenty + Change 3 selection. His work for Tangential Vancouverism presents a Rain Urbanism and Architecture. I was very pleased when I found out that this topic is also a part of the project, because it interests me a lot, and I also think that it’s ideal for Vancouver, the city with one of the highest number of days with measurable precipitation of the 36 cities in North America with populations over two million.

This most basic and banal fact, that of rain, is perhaps the single biggest variable of a vibrant, public urbanity here. Yet architecture and urban form have done little in response. Instead of retreating to isolated, disjointed, and private interiors with perpetually soggy feet, how might a new Rain City Urbanism operate?

Matthew Soules attempts to answer this with his two ideas of Sheltering the Collective and The Artificial Aesthetics of Rain.

Design Practices

Hapa Collaborative

Hapa Collaborative Hapa Collaborative

Hapa Collaborative is a landscape architecture and environmental design practice whose major projects have made cities like Vancouver, Langley, and Richmond even more intriguing than they were before. Joseph Fry, Doug Shearer, Erika Mashig, Sarah Siegel, Jessie Gresley-Jones, and Hanako Amaya created one of the most successful environmental designs in the city. They won Re:Connect Open Ideas Competition, City of Vancouver in 2011, Where’s the Square Ideas Competition, City of Vancouver in 2009 and many other awards. Hapa brings their ideal of the rural and urban blend to the streets of Vancouver. Their concept of the Thin Green Line that defines the Agricultural Land Reserve is “a boundary that frames our attempts to mitigate growth, preserve arable land, and maintain an agrarian landscape character in municipalities undergoing a massive transformation from rural to urban form.” Hapa set these three design objectives:

  • generate economically-viable, agricultural operations within the urban form
  • foster a sense of place and cultural identity rooted in an everyday agricultural landscape
  • provide space for phytoremediation in areas contiguous to food growing operations

They attempt to find a well-balanced usage of land by merging the two seemingly incompatible worlds of urbanism and rural culture together.

ph5 architecture Inc

Ph5 collaborates with the registered non-profit Urban Republic, creating a very interesting combination of both speculative projects and the material, logistical realities of built architecture. Principals Thakre and Knoetzele guided the practice through several major Vancouver projects like Sing! in 2011, Gastown Drive-in in 2008, Galt Street Housing in 2011, and many more. The practice also won several awards, the Townshift Competition and RAIC Advocacy Award for Architecture among these. Ph5 proposed to illustrate a prototype of a digital 3-D visualization tool that will assist in eliciting meaningful feedback from stakeholders regarding densification.

“Where Do We Go From Here?” recognizes that planning for future growth is not just about defining future land uses and building forms but is a process in which many people participate to shape the evolution of the city.

They aim on improving the stability and interconnectivity of neighbourhoods, making people feel comfortable and at ease in their environment.

PUBLIC Architecture + Communication

Picture 20 PUBLIC Architecture + Communication

An integrated design studio formed from the collaboration between architects and communication designers seems like a very good concept, and I have to say that it really works. PUBLIC Architecture + Communication works together and separately on projects involving environments, brands, and information, resulting in projects such as the University of British Columbia Rugby Centre from 2011, the UBC Buchanan Courtyard Renew from a year before, and their German project, Mirror Maze with Ken Lum in Kassel from 2002. In 2006, PUBLIC was awarded a Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia – Millennial Time Machine, UBC. Their proposal includes the creation of the “creative district,” a concept perhaps inspired by Silicon Valley. Their philosophy:

Vancouver’s creative class can only prosper when planners and politicians recognize that proximity is critical for technological innovation. Ideas must be shared to be realized.

They want to map centres of innovation and creation in Fraser Valley and build on their connections via their proposed Garage system.

RUF Project

RUF Project stands for Rural/Urban/Fantasy/Project the multi-disciplinary design firm led by Sean Pearson. RUF contains both a rigorous aesthetic and an openness to crossing creative borders. Their leading aspect in building new spaces is experience. Their work is marked by high design standards and originality, but also by a commitment to an in-situ approach that respects the local even as it references the global. Their major projects involved the Gulf Islands Residence – Salt Spring Island in 2011, Soweto Athletic Centre – South Africa in 2010, and Go! Gallery/Bright Light – Vancouver in 2010. In 2011 RUF also won World Inside Awards/Culture & Civic category for their Football Training Centre/Soweto. RUF brings in perhaps the most daring concept of them all. Tangential Babel is a fantastical infrastructure that argues for an improved alternative to the current Georgia Viaduct.

Created upon the ruins of a failed expressway, it will be a symbol of achievement and hope for Vancouver, a man-made mountainous pathway for all to exercise or drive upward together while enjoying the majestic view of the north shore and the natural landscape beyond.

Space2Place Design

Picture 21 Space2Place Design

The philosophy of Space2Place is to bring on simple but strong designs that respond to the development on each specific site. Principal Jeff Cutler led the company over many of their major projects, such as Oppenheimer Park in 2010, North Vancouver Spirit Trail in 2008, and Metro Skate Park in 2004. In 2011, Space2Place won the CSLA National Merit Award – Garden City Park, in 2009 the CSLA National Merit Award – Garden City Park and the CSLA Regional Honour Award – Spirit Trail “creating connections along North Vancouver’s waterfront,” and many more. Their project focuses on the image of the city. Vancouverism 2.0 should attempt to understand the city from the perspective of its citizens. They are trying to apply methods of using socio-spatial datasets to evaluate how people interact with public space in the city and to understand what areas draw the most locals and tourists. This should enable urban planners to create better designs according to the “will of the city.”

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