For one day in the summer of 2013, hundreds of people came together to re-invent a Vancouver street using giant blocks of recycled polystyrene. We built castles. We built walls. We built giant games and hallucinatory landscapes. Most of all, we worked and played together to transform the street into an ephemeral social machine. The day was the culmination of months of thinking, arguing, designing and dreaming by a team led largely by volunteers. We at MOV called the project Upcycled Urbanism.
For many urbanites, the landscapes we move through can feel finished, static and beyond our control. Upcycled Urbanism was initiated to empower students, artists, designers, makers, and anyone else who cared to become part of Vancouver’s evolving design culture by reimagining—and rebuilding—part of Vancouver’s public realm.
Working together, teams of participants designed and built prototypes using modular blocks of expanded polystyrene containing material salvaged from construction sites around the Lower Mainland by Mansonville Plastics.
First, students from the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) created prototypes of building blocks. Then, at a series of workshops in the spring, teams brainstormed, sketched, and modelled how to use these blocks for wild new public design ideas. They got plenty of help from design experts from partner organizations, which included SALA, the Vancouver Public Space Network and Spacing Magazine.
Then, on July 13, we hit Granville Street. There were dozens of volunteer builders, and nearly six hundred giant blocks to play with. Our team leaders thought it would be hard to convince the public to join the build effort. Not so! Often led by their children, passers-by leapt into the design+build fray. Because the work was temporary, people took all kinds of chances with their design, using the I-beam and 3X3 blocks to make tables, pyramids, thrones, forts and surreal sculptures.
During the day, more than 1,500 people stopped to play, build, critique or take pictures. My favourite moment came during the heat of mid-afternoon. A fire alarm sounded in a nearby building, and dozens impromptu builders jumped into action, clearing the street of building blocks within seconds. It was a moment of destruction, but also of wonderful, organic teamwork by people, many of whom had begun the day as strangers. And it prepared us to start building all over again.
It all felt like play. In fact what we were doing was learning how to design and build together. We were testing the bubble-bursting potential of new forms. We were teaching ourselves not just styro-engineering, but new techniques for working together with strangers. And with every new structure, we claimed a little bit more ownership of the street.
After all the building was done, volunteers packed the polystyrene into our rented cube truck and hauled it back to Mansonville Plastics, where it was ground down and used to make new building products. The cycle was complete.
Thank you to our amazing partners and team leaders. Thank you to the members of the public who helped build a new street for a day. Thank you to the Vancouver Foundation, whose generous support helped get the project going. Thank you to MOV staff and volunteers. And thank you to Mansonville Plastics, whose recycling efforts inspired us, and whose blocks helped turn our dreams into design.
Upcycled Urbanism was a Museum of Vancouver initiative in partnership with the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Public Space Network, Maker Faire Vancouver, and Spacing Magazine, with generous additional support from SALA, Mansonville Plastics and the Vancouver Foundation.
August 1 - Sex Talk in the City: Special Talk and Tour
August 15 - Redacted Readings
October 2 - Legacy Dinner
[Image: Farmland in Delta. Photo courtesy of Evan Leeson via Flickr]
Vancouver vs. Vancouverism. Last week Bob Ransford asked Vancouver Sun readers to rethink the practicality of what is commonly known as Vancouverism architecture. He argues that the tendency toward building high-density, glass high-rises, actually prevents more innovative, people-based designs from springing up. As his interviewee, architect Gair Williamson, suggests, "The trouble with architecture in Vancouver is that many architects are failing to look at the substance of how people inhabit buildings. They’re looking at how buildings appear. It’s about style over substance." In this context, dear MOVers, what do you think of the new proposal for development of 2220 Kingsway by Henriquez Partners Architects? Does this represent the future of our neighborhood strips? Of Vancouverism? Is it more stylish than substantive? (5 points per question)
At the MOVeum:
September 13 - Art Deco Chic: Talk & Tour with Ivan Sayers | Design Challenge Winners Panel
September 19 - Opening Night - Object(ing): The art/design of Tobias Wong September 20 - Built City @MOV: Urban Evolution, Retold
[Image: Brockton Point 18th Annual Inter High School Sports programme, c. 1929. From the MOV Collections H2008.23.437]
Even for a forward-looking city, Vancouver seems to be on the verge of some particularly big changes this week. Maybe it's because we just finished watching a Franklin Templeton commercial which features a decidedly Vancouver-shaped, futuristic city, but this week's MOVments has us thinking about what the city is going to look like in 5, 10, or 20 years. Check out these links for some clues to what might be in store.
Floating Houses (Maybe...) Vancouver's new Task Force on Housing Affordability will present its second set of findings and recommendations to City Council tomorrow (June 27). One of the suggestions that's gotten a bit of press involves converting container ships into low-income, floating houses. Cool? Oh yeah. Feasible? We'll have to see.
Art Spaces in Unexpected Places. A new art space called The Nines at the former Budget car rental office at Pender and Abbott could be part of a larger trend towards more studios and art spaces in the city. The Tyee explains that the city recently approved a plan to convert a number of former industrial spaces into art studios. Artists, makers, and multi-media-ers all across Vancouver are optimistic.
A Leader in Refugee Care. As new laws make life more difficult for many refugees in Canada, Vancouver will become home to a world-class Welcome House Centre for people escaping dire circumstances in their countries of origin. The Immigration Services Society of B.C. plans to combine a variety of services including short-term housing, language training, and medical care at the facility that will be built at 10th and Victoria.
Life Without Luongo (Maybe...) Speculation abounds over where Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo will end up as the NHL draft finishes this week. Although backup goalie Corey Schneider becomes a free-agent after July 1, opening him up to offers from other teams, the Canucks' manager maintains that they won't be rushing to make any decisions about trading Luongo. And, while you're in a sporty state of mind, check out this little article about the Vancouver Canadians minor league baseball team and what they're doing to help the Toronto Blue Jays in the major league.
At the MOVeum:
Sunday, July 1 (Canada Day) - All general admission is FREE
June through September 30 - Reading the Riot Boards exhibit
[Image: Expo '86 Souvenir Postcard from the MOV collection H2008.23.2501]
Many would say that Nature had it right, and that she’d be much better off environmentally speaking, without human interference. However, since we’ve now burned through the industrial revolution and now find ourselves struggling for solutions to house a human population boasting 7-10 billion by 2050, architects, and scientists alike are asking, “Should design imitate nature?”
For the third and final installation of the MOV’s BuiltCity talks (with Architecture Canada), “Nature, Urban Space, & Biomimicry” Thomas Knittel of HOK and Dr. Faisal Moola, Director of Science at the David Suzuki Foundation responded with a resounding “Yes!”
With close to 80% of Canadians living in cities, and largest population booms expected right here in Vancouver (and Montreal/Toronto), it’s clear that our developmental policy needs change. As Faisal emphasized in his talk, “with scarce resources and little guidance, municipal governments are charged with developing and enforcing many of the policies and programs necessary to ensure that urban development doesn’t consume what’s left of the natural world closest to home.”
For Thomas, this means moving away from a model of simply reducing harmful developmental practices, towards a model of positive impact. At HOK, they’re focusing on a few key principles, based on examples from the natural world. Take, for example, the delicate bones of a vulture's wing, which can be mimicked in the structural design of a building’s framework to concentrate material where it is needed most, and reduce waste elsewhere.
As exemplified by this orphanage built in Haiti, whose design mimics the function of a forest canopy, HOK calls this process a Fully Integrated System (FIT).
The evening’s lecture was a unique contrast in perspective, pairing Knittel’s practical experience, with Moola’s policy/natural capital point of view.
Pointing to another HOK project in Lavasa, India, Thomas spoke to how, recognizing the ecological performance standards of a region are key to the FIT model of development, which aim to create the best social, economic, and environmental capacity of design. For example, if a desert plant grows in a way which provides a degree of self-shading, water storage, and a balance between overheating and sun collection for transpiration during cool nights, why wouldn’t a building in the desert follow similar principles?
Following the presentations from Knittel and Moola, there was an interactive discussion, moderated by Ray Cole. Questions were raised about the ability to distinguish between simply a ‘beautification’ vs. ‘biodiversity’-enhancing project; audience members wondered what the most important area of policy change to push forward to encourage the practice of biomimicry; and some technical discussion emerged around the limits to a biomimicry-styled design process? Is it simply the next trend? Overall, it was agreed that we cannot place the same design demands on all buildings. Warehouses, schools, factories and houses have different requirements and restraints, exactly the same way ecological life has more and less generous players. A sustainable future must recognize that complexity.
Ray Cole, professor at the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and co-founder of the Green Building Challenge, summed up the evening stating that we as humans have been more demanding than nature itself, and that the positive messaging of biomimicry and ideas of nature for enhancing life is the type of powerful point that will sow seeds for the fundamental will to change.
UP NEXT: While the BuiltCity lecture series has wrapped up for now, the MOV has a stellar lineup of architectural and planning-based dialogue planned with the upcoming SALA Speaks series taking place every Sunday in March at the Museum of Vancouver.
[Photos by Hanna Cho and Gala Milne // Images courtesy Thomas Knittel and Faisal Moola]
Gentle readers, we’ve reached the conclusion of the Painful Crushes Vancouver series but what have we learned? Well, for starters, there’s no such thing as a fairytale romance with Vancouver (surprise!). As Charlie Demers told us last month, you can be head-over-heels with Vancouver but living here still sometimes feels like dating someone in rehab.
Counterintuitively, it seems that knocking Vancouver off its pedestal can actually help us get over our painful crushes. Once we realize that Vancouver’s not perfect we can begin repositioning ourselves in the city, reimagining the kinds of relationships we’d like to have here, and challenging Vancouver to be a better place.
This is something that my final interviewee, writer and journalist Charles Montgomery has thought a lot about in researching his upcoming book, The Happy City, which focuses on the connections between urban design and emotional wellbeing. Like other critical, outspoken Vancouverites, Charles loves the city but believes we have a lot to work on. In a fitting end to the series, he talks about how to cultivate the kinds of trusting relationships that make us happy even when the city itself sometimes gets in our way.
When it comes to Vancouver there seems to be some discrepancy between what we think will make us happy and what actually does. What makes a city truly happy?
Well, I recently spent the last day of summer at Wreck Beach, drinking cold beer, eating what turned out to be a poorly cooked Bavarian smokey, and watching the hippies cheer and dance the sun as it disappeared. It was a moment of sweetness followed almost immediately by convulsive vomiting. In some ways it’s a metaphor for the city: Vancouver looks like everything you ever wanted and yet somehow it produces a kind of unwellness.
For the past few years I’ve been researching the connection between the science of happiness and the ways in which we design and live in cities. Vancouver gets so much right and yet we know that people in small towns such as Windsor and St. John’s claim to be more satisfied with life. What are we doing wrong? We know that in places where people say they’re the happiest there’s a high degree of social trust which suggests that the most powerful contributor to our happiness is our relationships with other people.
You say happy cities “guide people into intersecting moments” by providing public spaces where people can meet and connect. Why is Vancouver so bad at this?
People in Vancouver have to work harder just to pay for the places where they live. When you’re working harder you don’t have as much time for personal relationships. And for a variety of reasons Vancouver has been actively designing these experiences out of people’s lives. There’s a tremendous demand for two-bedroom plus apartments but one-bedroom apartments are much more profitable to build. We end up having these towers filled with ‘isolation units’ downtown where you eat alone, you sleep alone, you wake up alone.
But we’re also making an effort. I think the Woodward’s development is a really optimistic expression of what it means to live in a city together and to take chances. For the first time we have a roof over a public space so that people from the neighbourhood have somewhere to come when it’s raining. There’s market housing right next door to social housing. We know that Vancouver’s reliance on its supermodel good looks and natural amenities hasn’t fulfilled us but maybe these kinds of experiments can lead us in that direction.
What can we do, short of redesigning the city, to make ourselves happier here?
John Helliwell, an economist at UBC, insists that we just have to try harder. You know that elevator in your apartment building? That’s an opportunity to create new relationships. I’ve also found that spending more time biking has really helped. I used to complain about rush hour and despise other drivers on the road. I began interacting with people in a different way when I started cycling to work. When the city built the Dunsmuir bike path I found that we cyclists began experiencing our own rush hour but rather than avoiding it I timed my trip so that I could ride with all these other people. It’s not that we’re all going to become best friends but a morning culture of conviviality has definitely emerged.
What spaces make you happy in Vancouver?
It’s funny, when I lived in the West End I was a block from the beach and I was a block from shops and services, but I felt inexplicably unhappy and terribly lonely. And that feeling didn’t disappear for me until I found my home in East Vancouver. I don’t have a mountain view, no seawall, no architectural icons, no Vancouverism. But somehow by turning my back on that famous city I found a place that embraced me warmly.
So does wanting to change Vancouver make the city a bit of a "project" or a "fixer upper"? Maybe, but then again maybe that’s not such a bad thing in this case.
This series might be over but the conversation doesn’t need to end here. Find @Museumofvan on Twitter and share your own #PainfulCrushes in our city. What expectations have changed for you since living in Vancouver? What places make you particularly happy or sad?
MOV Guest author Anna Wilkinson is a museologist and oral historian living in East Vancouver. Her Chestbursters blog is a collection of endearingly awkward, cringe-inducing, and heartbreaking crush stories.
On a bright and sunny Saturday morning in February, 75 Moving Through participants embarked on one of three architectural walking tours organized by MOV, as part of a multidisciplinary exploration of Vancouver's built environment, called "This is Not an Architectural Speaker's Series". As some of you know, the groups were completely full, so not everyone was able to join. The good news is, we recorded each walk, and the podcasts are now available for listening and download!
Three concurrent walks and groups set out from Stadium/Chinatown Skytrain, Commercial/6th, and King Edward Stations, and joined together for lunch and an all-group Q&A and wrap-up session lead by Gordon Price at SFU Woodwards. Our intrepid guides report:
Mini-Walk A: The Path(s) Not Taken: Viaducts, Expressways, and Almost Vancouvers.
(*Guides: Vancouver Public Space Network, Michael Green, mgb architecture)
Most Vancouverites rarely spend any time in the parking lot across from Rogers Arena, but standing there looking up at the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, it is easy to feel like you've been transported to the overpass wasteland more typical of LA or Detroit.
Demian Rueter and Brandon Yan, transportation coordinators from the Vancouver Public Space Network and Michael Green of mgb architecture have thought a lot about these overpasses and about what could have been if the downtown freeway started in the early 1970s had been completed. Walking through Gastown, it is easy to see what would have been lost. The European style streetscape that was jeered for so long as a tourist trap left behind by Expo 86 has become in recent years a dependably fun spot for a night out and home to some of the city's best restaurants. If the freeway had been built, not only would this be lost, but also large chunks of Strathcona and Chinatown. By passionately opposing this plan, the residents of these neighbourhoods prevented this plan from occurring. A widely forgotten casualty of the project was Hogan's Alley, the neighbourhood Vancouver's Black community called home.
When we start to think about these great neighbourhoods surrounding the viaducts, it's easy to imagine that parking lot becoming something really exciting if the viaducts were to come down.
Mini-Walk B: Speed and the Shape of the City: Vancouver’s Evolving Transitscapes
(*Guides: Andrew Curran/Translink & Graham McGarva, VIA Architecture)
Graham McCarva sees transit stations differently than most people. Graham was the lead architect behind Commercial/Broadway station, it is informative to walk with him through the station and surrounding neighbourhood. "A subway station is a place to buy flowers," he told us, a place where everyone should feel comfortable walking past at any hour. This idea informed the of this station, which responded to neighbourhood concerns of unsavoury characters commanding the intersection. Previously the location of the busiest pay phone in the region, it is now home to the busiest Shopper's Drug Mart. The main action on the Drive used to be north of 1st Ave, but since the station was renovated the neighbourhood has grown right down to 12th Ave.
Andrew Curran, senior planner at Translink, introduced the concept of Marchetti's Constant, and helped put the station into historical perspective, explaining that this, the highest traffic station in the system, serves the same function as did the former streetcar station (now a post office) at 6th and Commercial. Like the streetcar station before it, Commercial/Broadway Station connects two suburban lines to lines bound for Downtown (and UBC), moving thousands of people each day.
Andrew and Graham sparked many questions among the group, making the ride to SFU Woodwards a lively one. We were better able to see the role that transit has played in the development of the lower mainland, and puzzle over the role that the Canada Line and other future lines will play in the area's ongoing growth.
Mini-Walk C: Evolution in Station-Area Planning the Cambie Corridor
(*Guides: Jim Bailey, City of Vancouver & Peeroj Thakre, pH5 architecture & Urban Republic Arts Society)
Tucked beneath the streets at King Edward Skytrain station, Jim Bailey, senior planner for the City of Vancouver's Cambie Corridor Station Area Planning project, led us through an engaging discussion about this interesting, and perhaps under-discussed area of Vancouver. Ranging from the Cambie Village to Marine Drive, Bailey divides the area into 5 Precincts, suggesting each has room for development of a unique character and livelihood. However, while single family homes are currently at a market value of $1.5million near King Ed station, it is clear that increased density will be necessary for more affordable living situations. As we walked through the laneways surrounding the station, Peeroj and Jim discussed with the group, how optimizing transit, cycling, and walking opportunities, as well as increasing public amenities, and opportunities for community engagement will be key for the future of the Cambie Corridor.
See the Moving Through photoset here.
Another round-up of things we’ve been following this week:
Two block diet. The Vancouver Sun ran a great article this week about a small community that has formed around producing local food. Some residents in the Riley Park-Little Mountain area decided to pool their resources and help each other turn their back yards into gardens. They now share a communal compost, greenhouse, pressure-canner, laying hens and bee hives and provide an example of what can be accomplished when people work together.
Marine Gateway. The Marine Gateway Project continues to face opposition from many residents in the Cambie Corridor. Architect Nigel Baldwin is one of the latest people to voice concern. Francis Bula presents a document he prepared that visualizes the proposed development in other locations in Vancouver revealing just how large it would be.
However, Bula brings up a good point that it may be more appropriate to judge the individual parts of the development, rather than condemn the whole. For example, the proposed development would include community gathering spaces, something that is currently lacking in Marpole.
Still, others argue that projects like these are essential to drive down the cost of housing and increase supply.
The Charles. The new pub in the Woodwards building has sparked some controversy over the direction of development and revitalization in the area. Some residents and advocates for the Downtown East Side are concerned that the new businesses opening in the neighbourhood offer products and services at prices well beyond what many residents can afford, speeding gentrification.
Hornby bike lane again. The City of Vancouver released drawings of the blocks affected by the Hornby bike lane. The plans continue to draw the ire of the business community. I have been particularly enjoying following Gordon Price’s thoughts on bike lanes in the city and the current conflict between businesses and planners.
Breaking car-dependence. Another thing we’ve been following is the Tyee’s series Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, about planning cities to minimize the need for cars.
Image credit: Les Bazso, PNG, from the Vancouver Sun
Another round-up of the things we’ve been following this week:
Zoning vs. indie performance venues. This week City bylaw inspectors discovered that Little Mountain Gallery near Main Street is operating as a performance venue without a proper permit. The gallery provides performance space for a variety of different kinds of small acts but was apparently not zoned to do so. At the moment, the future of the gallery is uncertain and hopefully this issue can be resolved. It’s a great little all-ages venue for people you’ve never heard of to perform. Vancouver needs more of these kinds of spaces, not less.
Pigeon Park street market. The Vancouver Courier reports that the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council has launched a street market for residents in the Downtown Eastside that gives binners the chance to legally sell the things that they have salvaged from the trash. Though this doesn’t eliminate the issue of stolen items, it provides many people with another legitimate source of much needed income.
Waste management woes. Metro Vancouver is voting as to whether plans to construct a garbage incinerator in the Metro Vancouver region will go ahead. The Vancouver and Cache Creek landfills are filling up and as long as people are still producing garbage at the rate that they are going, then the waste has to go somewhere.
Quiet culture war in Seattle. An article on Crosscut talks about balancing the city’s dual identity as a home for new urbanism and the creative class and as an industrial port. Each has different implications for policy and urban design. A lot of issues raised are pretty applicable to Vancouver’s context as well.
Image credit: Dan Toulgoet, Vancouver Courier
A weekly round up of the news and cultural happenings we’re following. Off we go:
Remember the Bixi bike trial the city hosted one weekend last summer? (Bixi being the public bike-share program that’s been successfully implemented in Ottawa and Montreal, and modeled after similar programs in Paris and Copenhagen.) Where’s that at? Looks like Dublin’s the latest city to embrace the idea and it’s described in this article as a “spectacular triumph.” Even better: They’ve launched a bike-to-work tax incentive program where employes can buy bikes and sell them to workers tax-free, “reducing the price by about 40%.” (Global Post)
City Hall’s new rental scheme going over like a lead balloon: There were stories in the local press this week about growing (and unexpected) opposition to city council’s Short-Term Incentives for Rental Housing program. In a nutshell: The plan gives developers incentives to build rental units instead of condos. Seems the first projects announced under the scheme aren’t being well-received by some West End residents because, among other reasons, the new units will rent for market rates. Gordon Price, the long-time voice of the West End and director of the SFU City Program, offers a nice summary of the issues on his blog—click the link. (Price Tags)
And speaking of the SFU City Program… On April 28, they’ll host a discussion entitled, “Post-Game Analysis: How Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler planned for the Olympics.” Six panelists, including Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s director of planning and Whistler’s Mayor Ken Melamed, will discuss how they pulled off the Games, and lessons learned. (SFU City Program)
“Quick Homes,” smart designs: Following on the success of the city’s Housing-First strategy, the local chapter of Architecture for Humanity is hosting a design super-challenge tomorrow night to “generate a series of viable [housing] concepts that are ready for prototyping and implementation.” It’s too late to register for that session, unfortunately, but you can follow the event on Facebook and/or attend the live-jury session this Saturday. Click the link for details. (Architecture for Humanity)
SHOES! Fox, Fluevog & Friends: The story behind the shoes opens in mere weeks and we’ve got shoes on our mind. Next Wednesday, the storied Army & Navy store on Hastings hosts their legendary, crazy-popular shoe sale. It’s one of those events every Vancouverite should attend at least once. Doors open at 8 a.m. (Army & Navy)
As it happens, the Museum of London is also hosting a program devoted to shoes. Tomorrow, there’s a object-handling session featuring items from their leatherworking collection. Among them: handmade leather shoes excavated from the banks of the River Thames. Some things are just made to last. (Museum of London)
And… special thanks to everyone who attended, sponsored, or just perused last Friday night’s DIY@MOV2. Over 300 people attended, and the feedback was stellar. Thanks for making it such a fun and lively night. Happy weekend.