Scale meets ambition in Vancouver’s architectural future

Scale meets ambition in Vancouver’s architectural future

The latest instalment in our ‘Letter from...’ series journeys through the urban future of Canada’s ‘most liveable city’

After a contentious mayoral race in October that saw the current mayor win by a slim margin, Vancouver faces growing pains as it grapples with being one of the world’s most liveable yet unaffordable cities. Its charms and natural landscapes attract international interest yet exile long time residents and creatives to its suburban margins. 

With Vancouverism once exported as an international model for sustainable city building, Canada’s third largest metropolis is in the midst of a housing crisis that threatens its very civic health. Yet at the same time, the city is seeing a slew of new public projects emerge, as well as some of the world’s biggest names in architecture flocking in to build here.  

Poised between its relatively recent past, and its future as a growing global metropolis, the 133-year-old city boasts a key new cultural space; the Vancouver Art Gallery is part of the sea change. The current Edwardian former courthouse, bursting at the seams, will give way to a new 300,000 sq ft gallery designed by Herzog & de Meuron and slated for completion in 2023.

Vancouver based developer Westbank has attracted international starchitects like Kengo Kuma and BIG, to design mixed used residential towers, and Büro Ole Scheeren has unveiled plans for two ‘vertical village’ skyscrapers.

The long awaited new Vancouver Art Gallery, now slated for completion by 2023, has shifted slightly from its original all cedar exterior with a new glass sheathing that will make it a shimmering cultural beacon. Image: Herzog & de Meuron

On the city’s edges, there is a flurry of activity at the Arthur Erickson designed Simon Fraser University – where Perkins and Will have designed a new Student Union Building. Meanwhile at UBC, a luminescent new aquatic centre by MJMA & Acton Ostry Architects is the latest jewel in the campus crown. In between these two campuses, the new Emily Carr University of Art and Design by Diamond Schmitt Architects lends a multidisciplinary industrial edge to the surrounding new Great Northern Way arts district.  

Patkau Architects who won a RIBA award in 2018 for their Audain Art Museum in Whistler, have triumphed again with the impressive Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, where Michael Green’s city hall references both mid century optimism and 21st century green technology.  

But projects by the city’s patron saint of modernism, the late Arthur Erickson – like his Robson Square urban plaza and his Museum of Anthropology – still hold their own. And now his 1980 Evergreen Building that narrowly escaped demolition over a decade ago will enjoy an extraordinary architectural homage by the likes of Shigeru Ban – an elegantly small footprint triangular glass and wood tower that practices true architectural symbiosis, extruding organically from its neighbour.

Original landscape architect and longtime Erickson collaborator, 95 year old Cornelia Oberlander has been commissioned to streamline terraced plantings, and her rooftop garden for Moshe Safdie’s Vancouver Public Library opened in September, offering a timely reminder of how Vancouver can stay true to its ‘green city’, community minded ideal. §

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