A brief historical context is available here

The war on buses is continuing.

The City of Vancouver is losing no occasion to attack the downtown bus system:

the North Plaza site analysis as presented in the open house material

Even when a design doesn’t need to threat transit, City of Vancouver can’t refrain to do so:
The site analysis, while showing permanent bus stops on Burrard, and temporary ones on Howe, fails to show a single bus stop on either Robson or Granville. Also surprising is the lack of mention of any major transit corridors in the vicinity (Granville is not considered as such!).

That could be due more to ignorance of the site and unfamiliarity of the bus network by the design team, than malevolent intentions. Nevertheless, the result is still a deceptive material, raising questions on the openness and good faith of the city of Vancouver in regard of the Down Town bus service review.

(why go thru the exercise, when it is all decided as eventually suggested on the left?)

Passing the above provocation, which eventually left little ambiguities on the city intentions if it was any doubts left after the disastrous “block 51 consultation” in fall 2012 [1], let’s have a look at the proposed designs


Since the VAG is poised to move to Larwill park (Cambie#Georgia), in a relatively near future, the purpose of the exercise is a bit futile, but as the underground vault below the square is leaking: work on the plaza needs to happen as soon as possible. That somewhat can explain the relatively low profile adopted (e.g. no design competition) for one of the most important place in Vancouver, which, potentially temporary, facelift is budgeted at $3 millions. 3 options are presented to the public:

Plalo Ring


PlaloRing2PlaloRing3 A Plalo Ring, transforming the square as a night club at night? May be for a “Nuit blanche” event, but permanently?

The focal point of the square is obviously the Rattenbury building, and any design should be driven at making the best of this heritage building. This Plalo ring, not only ignoring the Rattenbury building, but also diminishing it, is probably out of place on the North Plaza. One could also infer, it could create some problem for some events. (lighting issue, and sound reverberation).

The fact that it is considered by the design team, and is a favorite with the public [2] is eventually one reason of despair of the Vancouver cultural and urban scene:

Someday, they will propose to demolish the Rattenbury building to increase the size of the north Plaza![4]

Active edge

Some "edge" on the side of the square?

Some “edge” on the side of the square?

The goal of it is unclear: bring some intimacy to the square?… square being surrounded by traffic sewages on 3 of its sides, that looks:

  • A loosing battle
  • and an unnecessary one, since the spaces north of Robson street fulfill this need

All those “edges” seriously limit the versatility of the place, think the Vancouver Sun Run:

 

  • The Georgia side

 

The fountain along Georgia, seems more inspired by the current “centennial fountain” than anything else. As much as the current fountain, it creates a psychological barrier to the Rattenbury building access. It is worth to note, that a fountain used to sit along Georgia (and is now along Hornby: it is also surprisingly missing of the site inventory). Why not restore the historic fountain in its original location?

 

  • The Howe side

 

The site inventory notice a bus stop at the foot of Howe street, so this design turns its back on Howe, and erect a “wall” there, preventing the transit users to be part of the square life…enough is said!

Wet

the water mirror

the water mirror – for bottom photos, credit (3)

May be the rendering is not making justice to the design, which in some sort is reverberating an early Erickson concept for the square: it doesn’t seem to encouter a great public adhesion [2], but it is by far the best option among the proposed ones:

  • It is the most able to address the formalism and ceremonial aspect of the square
  • while offering a versatility of use, and still not offering an empty place

That is the purpose of such a mirror in Bordeaux, and more recently Place de la Republique, Paris, a huge “demonstrating” square, as we have seen before, that said:

    • Does the water mirror, need to cover all the square?

probably not, since it hinders other spontaneous activities

    • Does the water mirror, is a necessary feature on the North Plaza?

may be, may be not: the square is somewhat small, and a proper surface treatment and other urban furnishings, can be enough, to both compliment the building, and enlivening the square.

Place de la Republique, Paris: a skateboard ledge? a speaker corner? a mattress? Basic, moveable and still permanent furnishing, can gather many spontaenous uses, enlivening  the square at low cost.

Place de la Republique, Paris: a skateboard ledge? a speaker corner? a mattress? Basic, moveable furnishing, can gather many spontaenous uses, enlivening the square at low cost.

And The red carpet

All presented proposals seem to be relatively weak, focusing more at addressing the need of a 3 days Jazz festival, rather than addressing the place itself. As such they are relatively uninspiring, especially when compared to the “red carpet” as presented by Hapa collaborative, at the “Where’s the square?”, VPSN design competition.

Vancouver Red Carpet – Hapa Collaborative – entry of the 2009 VSPN Where’s the Square Competition

The surface treatment

All design are based on “Hard landscaping” landscaping because it is “more durable and long lasting”: If Granville mall, where the city believes an outstanding job has been done, is an indication, one should not hold his breath on it. Since, the setting could be temporary, the city could be well inspired to use a compacted fine gravel surface, which has the merit to be much cheaper than a good quality hard surface, and easy to recycle, whenever a new arrangement of the square is required by a different use of the Rattenbury building.

Like many squares in France, Place Bellecour, Lyon, has a compacted surface, able to accomodate a great range of venues

Like many square in France, Place Bellecour, Lyon, has a compacted surface, able to accomodate a great range of venue.


And why not also keep the space as a blank page?… pretty much like Place Bellecour in Lyon, France, which Viva, or other group could program (instead of organizing a blockade on bus routes), and revisit our options when we will have more clarity on the future use of the Rattenbury building?


[1] see “block 51” public consultation, which has left a sour taste with many observers, as we have already noticed here and there. In despite of all evidences, VPSN, a group advocating for aggressive pedestrianism and co-organizeer of the block 51 consultation, unsurprinsingly and sadly, still believe it was a good consultation.

[2] According to a poll by Vancity buzz (3 stunning design revealed for new Vancouver art Gallery North Plaza, Kenneth Chan, VancityBuzz, Oct 1st, 2013), 65& of its polled prefer the “plalo Ring”, while 20% prefer the “wet” concept, with 8% liking the “active edge” one.

[3] flickr user hisgett

[4] This is paraphrasing Victor Hugo, whose famously said, “somedays, they will destroy the cathedral Notre Dame, to increase its parvis”, about the Haussmann work in Paris

Block 51: the North Plaza

October 26, 2012


This post is closing our historic errand series of the Blocks 51-61-71:

The north Plaza of Block 51 is the square sitting north of the VAG. Thought it is part of the block 51, and more generally of the Block 51/61/71 complex, this square has a life of its own.

After the opening of the second courthouse in 1912, This square will very quickly become the ceremonial Vancouver square. Its location along Georgia street, providing frontage to a preeminent and formal government institution, makes it almost a non brainer:

Mayor James Findlay welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Connaught to a civic reception at the newly-completed Vancouver Court House on 18 September
1912

The early days

  • A first fountain, commissioned to sculptor Charles Marega in 1912, had been installed as a memorial to King Edward VII right along Georgia. It was initially equipped with bronze cups on chains, but these were quickly stolen and never replaced.
  • On august 29, 1913, a flag pole has been erected in the middle of the square. It was said the tallest flag pole in Canada

The Vancouver Court House square

It was apparently a staple to be photographed on the front step of the courthouse,and the Vancouver archive are full of group picture [1]

1966: The Centennial fountain

respecting the formalism of the space, the city idea for the square in 1964 was as pictured below:

1964: City vision for the block 51 north plaza (4)

It happens that W.A.C Bennett had another agenda. He commissioned R. H. Savery (design) and Alex Von Svoboda (sculpture/mosaic) to design an “XXL” fountain, 72’x26′ and 16′ high:

The Savery/Svoboda fountain model, showing the original plan for the plaza

According to [5] quoting an official report: the “symbolic twin-pillar centrepiece” is “meant to represent mankind rising from the sea and depicts gods of Celtic mythology”.

The $250,000 fountain will be controversial right from the beginning, and will be called the secret Bennett Project[5], erected behind blind walls. W.A.C inaugurated it at night, during a rainstorm, after having inaugurated the Grouse tramway, on December 15th, 1966. The semi-private ceremony was perturbed by a so called act of vandalism: someone had poured detergent in the fountain, making huge bubble [4][5]

The old fountain has been put in storage up to 1983, when it has been reinstated along Hornby street.

Vancouver people have never been fond of this fountain [2] and we can give here a couple of keys why:

  • The fountain looks over-sized, in respect of the square size, and more especially the old courthouse building
  • Disregarding aesthetic taste, The chosen Artistic choice, doesn’t pair well with the Neo-classic building

To be sure, the Vancouver administration hasn’t made any effort to improve the fountain setting, and the fact that the today VAG is turning its back on Georgia doesn’t help the matter. More generally we can consider that all the intervention on the Rattenbury’s building after 66 (lobby on ground level, rooftop patio…) are unfortunate acts of vandalism

The Erickson proposal

The Erickson view for this square in 1966, was not much different of the one of the city:

1966 Erickson/Massey Proposal: The view along Howe Street looking south

In his 1973 proposal:

  • It was envisioned as a largely hardsurfaced plaza — adapting itself readily to multiple uses according to [6], but model photography suggest nothing much more than a lawn

This part of the complex design has never been implemented, allowing the Centennial fountain to stay up to today [8].

2009: the VPSN competition
In 2009, the VPSN held a design idea competition, “Where’s the square?”, and one of the co-winner of the “people choice” was HAPA collaborative, with their entry, “red carpet”:

Vancouver Red Carpet – Hapa Collaborative – entry of the 2009 VSPN Where’s the Square Competition

We will find some remarkable analogy with the City Hall 1964 vision, and this HAPA proposal epitomizes quite effectively what is the Vancouver collective conscience and wish for this space. It also shows a remarkably solid consensus overtime on the idealized vision of this square.

2011 The Concert-hall by Bing Thom

On March 4, 2011, The Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society proposed a Bing Thom plan for a 1,950-seat concert hall underneath the existing plaza fronting Georgia Street.


The 2011 Bing thom proposal for an underground concert hall – credit (3)

notice how this vision fits well with the HAPA proposal.


[1] Verbatim of John Atkin intervention at the Block 51 event, a look forward, VAG, Oct. 17, 2012

[2] That includes John Atkin, who even qualified it as too noisy![1]

[3] concerthallcomplex.org

[4] VancouverProvince, December 16th, 1966

[5] VancouverSun, December 16th, 1966

[6] heritage vancouver society newsletter, Volume 17 Number 1, June 2008

[7] Redevelopment in downtown Vancouver : report No 5, City of Vancouver, 1964.

[8] In fact the fountain is excluded of the Block 51 lease agreed between the City and the Province. That along original negotiation line dating back January 1974- (Vancouver City council mn, January 8, 1974)


This post follow up on the history of the Blocks 51-61-71

Prologue: The 70’s at City Hall

The 70’s was years of intense civic engagement worldwide and public interest for civic participation was something city hall, controlled by the NPA for the last previous 40 years, was not prepared to deal with. The Chinatown revolt on the freeway plan in 1967 is something the city hadn’t see coming.
That had eventually lead to the formation of “The Electors Action Movement” (TEAM), and COPE in 1968, which made inroad to the council in 1968 (Philips and Hardwick for TEAM and Rankin for COPE). the four ensuing year, 68-62 was electric ones at city hall. Each development put forward by the administration was supported by the NPA, fought by COPE and TEAM, and ended to be defeated in drama, the apex of it being probably the third Georgia crossing in 1972, resulting in a full blow fiasco for the couplet NPA/administration. The only major project of the time which had been able to move forward was the Eaton center (sic). The NPA and the city administration was so distrusted that the NPA didn’t even present a mayoral candidate in the December 72 election, which was won by the TEAM. The first major decision of the new mayor, Art Phillips, had been to dismiss the director of planning of the time, Gerald Sutton-Brown. other dismissals and administration re-organization was on the TEAM menu leaving a vacuum in the city hall affair

1973

The W.A.C Bennett government is defeated by the NDP, in the Provincial election of August 1972. The Provincial plan for the Vancouver Courthouse is stopped. Naturally (sic), considering his previous work on the site, Erickson will be the architect of choice.
The Premier of the time, Dave Barrett, had said something, Bing Thom, then member of the Erickson’s team, translated as “You need to go fast, because we don’t gonna be reelected” [3]. This and the fate of the aborted previous project was also more than an encouragement to do so.
In the meantime the consequence of the politic turmoil at city-hall, involving many dismissals among civil servants, was leaving a vacuum in the Vancouver civil administration giving the Erickson’s team pretty much free rein on what to do in the city, so allowing a speedy process [3][8] :

Ownership question

As seen before, the Erickson proposal was to locate the provincial offices on block 61 and the court house on block 71, leaving block 51 for civic activities. To move forward with this spatial organization required to resolve some ownership issue:

  • Block 71, including lanes, was sold to the Province for $4.6 millions in 1974
  • Block 51 is leased to the city of Vancouver, by the Province, for $1 per year for 99 years started on August 29th, 1975
  • In return, the city of Vancouver leases street sub-surface and air-space to the Province for 99 years started on August 29th, 1975 [1]. exception are
    • The city own the air-space above Robson
    • The Province can sublease Smythe and Robson sub-surface (it can’t on Howe).

The province was also proposing to install and maintain street furnishing including trees on Robson street, and other detail which could still need to be sorted out.

Civic context

The original 66’s design for the block 51-61-71 could have been built with minimal alteration but two important things had happened in the previous years:

  • Following the freeway revolt, the rapid transit idea was getting steam, especially with Rankin as alderman [9], and a plan for downtown was as illustrated above, which was calling for a rapid transit station at Hornby and Georgia
  • More importantly for the project itself, was the public outcry at the tower, but also the conveyed idea that block 71 could have been a green-space

People didn’t want the tower, but wanted the green-space.

The 1973 Erickson analysis
The city was seen like illustrated below, where Robson Square at the highest point of the peninsula, is not considered at the crossroad, but as a destination in itself [10]:

73 Erickson case analysis of Robson square. It is at the center, but not a connector (notice how Robson and Granville are clearly disjointed)

The concern for the building height and its corollary, shadow, starts to commend the shape of the court house:

73 Erickson case study: Height and global shape of the court house, are assumed to minimize shadow casting

That leaded to the below proposal in late 1973, early 1974:

Overview of the Erickson project in 1974

The city Square (left) is located south of Robson on Block 61 while that the east part receive a sunken plaza (right)

Some striking elements:

  • Robson street is interrupted between Howe and Hornby, both being only connected by a pedestrian passerelle.
  • A sunken Plaza on the East side of the block 51/61, featuring a food court on block 61, and a sculpture garden on the block 51
  • A “city square” on the block 61
  • The north side of the old court house, facing Georgia, is in the original proposal a large reflecting pond. This aspect of the design disappears very quickly -the model above seems to show a lawn- certainly due to the lease term of the block 51, which excluded the Centennial fountain

Those elements will be altered in the subsequent project development, but basically the overall design is already fixed:

The Erickson proposal in 1976

A low profile building, with terraced garden designed by Cornelia Oberlander supposed to emphasizes north-south pedestrian continuity between the blocks with multi-level; pedestrian connections[11]

The thing will be built pretty much as planned. Nevertheless the city took issue with at least three components of the proposal.

The rapid transit station location

  • To accommodate the rapid transit plan of the time, the proposal was provisioning a station access along Hornby on block 51.
  • For some reason, the city didn’t like this idea and was wanting it along block 61. That is what has been built [3]

The Trees

Erickson architects was planning to have London plane trees on Howe and Hornby street, and had purchased them right at the start of the project [13]. While a staple and beloved tree in London, Paris or New-York, the city engineers objected to this species, and provided numerous reports explaining that the Acer rubrum was a better choice. This curious bickering could have passably irritated the Erickson team, but the Acer rubrum has been the planted species

Robson street

Mirroring his fordism view of the city, Erickson was looking at keeping separate the Robson “shopping mall” (then made of small shops) of the Granville one (then envisioned as the high end fashion mall) [10]:

The bridging of the Robson street shopping area with Granville one was not something seen as desirable in the Erickson views, who was preferring to see them separated - credit (10)

The bus routing was supposed to support this vision:


The center is not seen as at a crossing of major road/arteries, but as a destination. credit (10)

Accordingly, the original vision was calling for an open sunken plaza without at grade connection between Howe and Hornby to de-emphasize Robson. Nevertheless, it was a telecommunication duct below Robson they couldn’t realistically move, also they have choosen to ” hide” it below a pedestrian passerelle [3].

The city engineers didn’t like too much this idea for the reason below [4]:

  • A too narrow strip above the sunken plaza was breaking the continuity of sidewalk along Robson street, and they wanted to preserve the ability to return the traffic in case of the scheme was not working as expected

By early 1974, The province, the city and the architect, AEA, will agree on a bus only connection. Arthur Erickson rationalized the agreement as below:

“The only traffic through the square will be inner city buses, linking the Westend and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square, whereas the present car traffic would present and irreconcilable conflict.”[12]

  • Robson street was one way street at this time, with a peak transit traffic of 11 bus/hour in the West direction, leaving the transit lanes empty most of the time, what was not seen as a best use of the road space by the city:

The city was calling for foundation allowing a 4 lanes -80 foot- wide street (what has been granted), but was satisfied with the construction of a 3 lanes- 50 foot wide- street (that is the Robson street width between the domes). Another problem at this time was the Connaught bridge (or second Cambie bridge) landing at the foot of Robson at Beatty: the city was pushing its views by painting them as interim, up to a relocation of the Cambie bridge, able to move the traffic away of Robson.

Completion

The defeat of the NDP government in the 1975 general election, by the son of W.A.C bennett, Bill Bennett could have signed the abandon of the project again. Something, Bing Thom among other had worked at avoiding by pleading their case to the new Premier [3]. The Province court will move in the new building on September 6, 1979. The entire complex cost had been reported to be $139 million in 1979 [2]. The Vancouver art gallery will move in a renovated old courthouse building in 1983

The project will have received several awards, more noticeably, It won the American Society of Landscape Architects President’s Award of Excellence in 1979, where the jury commented on the “extraordinary integration of landscape architecture with architecture–consistent and coherent.” Envisioned as a “linear urban park, importing nature into the city“. In 2011, The RAIC architecture jury rewarded Arthur Erickson Architects with the Prix du XXe siècle. The jury had commented

Thanks to its splendid horizontality and its complex system of landscape terrace, pools and waterfalls, this vast urban landmark is able to embody a West Coast sense of space and relationships. Bridging between law and the arts, it epitomizes the urban monument in its highest civic aspiration”

(Amen)


[1] The originally proposed lease was on a 50 years period. it has been extended to 99 years , and starting date choose, to match the lease agreed with the Pacific center.

[2] This day in history: September 6, 1979, VancouverSun, September 6, 1979

[3] Verbatim of Bing Thom intervention at the Block 51 event, a look back, VAG, Oct. 15, 2012

[4] Memorandum to Vancouver city Council, Blocks 51/61/71, November 29, 1973

[5] It was in this post 72 context, that Stanley King came to propose his co-design method, object of the movie chair for lovers

[6] Robson Square, The Canadian Architect, May 2011

[7] Urban Development Standards: The Block 51-61-71 Project, Arthur Erickson, JAE, Vol. 29, No. 3, Canada (Feb., 1976)

[8] It was also an opportunity for Erickson to have the city adopting much of its proposed standards and guidelines [7][3]

[9] see The case for rapid transit in…1970

[10] Development standards case study 1. Arthur Erickson Architects, Vancouver B.C. June 21, 1973

[11] Department report, Vancouver B.C. June 21, 1974

[12] 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974

[13] Following Erickson recommendation, the Province bought, at apparently discounted price 300 London plane trees which had been over-ordered for the World’s fair in Spokane, WA. Later the city refused to plant them, they have ended on a waterfront promenade in Victoria [14]

[14] Seven Stones, A portrait of Arthur Erickson, Edith Iglauer, University of Washington Press, 1981

Blocks 51-61 and 71 are the ones sitting between Howe and Hornby, and between Georgia and Nelson, numbered from North to South

the early XX centuries

The first courthouse built in Vancouver in 1888, and will be demolished in 1912. It will become Victory square in 1924.

At the turn of the century the court house was located on what is now Victory square. It will be relocated on Georgia in 1912 in the building designed by Francis Mawson Rattenbury. (nowadays house of the VAG). The annex facing Robson will be added in the 30s.[7]

In those days, the building main entrance face a ceremonial square onto Georgia street [1]:

The Vancouver court house circa 1912

.

While the South side seems to use to be a lawn:

The South side of the Vancouver courthouse seems to use to be a lawn


The 50’s

City of Vancouver was eyeing the Block 61 (South of the today VAG), to transform the whole area in a civic center, by relocating noticeably the public library and the BC electric building.

  • An Auditorium is considered for block 61 in 1949
  • After an exhaustive study to select a location for a public space in 1958, block 61 is selected in 1960.

Most of the block 61 is acquired-thru expropriation- by the city by early 1964. At this time Downtown Vancouver is a sea of parking lot:

Aerial view of block 61 and surrounding circa 1964 – credit (2)

The 60’s

The Province had expansion plan for its court house since 1955. The original 1955 plan to add a building on Robson having encountered firm opposition, the Province had acquired the land behind Hotel Vancouver and some parcels on block 61… But in 1963 it was considered critical to add a parking structure to the Hotel Vancouver. a deal was stroke:

  • The Province sold its land north of Hotel Vancouver to the Hotel, for purpose of building a parkade
  • The City sold block 61 to the province, for the court house expansion and other governmental uses, understanding it will also include a civic square

The sale occurred in 1964, and land ownership was then as illustrated below, with Eaton owning block 52 and 71:

Land ownership in 1964 of blocks 51, 61 and surrounding

In 64, the block 51-61 was envisioned as below by the Vancouver city planning department:

1964: City intention for blocks 51-61 according to (4)

The Province was seeing the things slightly differently, with the adding of building on block 51, and some commercial developments:

The Province intention for block 51 and 61 not revealed before April 65 according to (4)

Retail corridors like Hasting were already seriously declining and the city was not seeing commercial development on block 61 as desirable. The city strongly opposed to the Province proposal for this reason.

…At least, it is the story telling of the city brief [4] to be presented in 1965 to the Premier W.A.C Bennett:

The 1964 Redevelopment plan

The redevelopment plans published by the city in 1964 [2] were already integrating an additional building on block 51

Block 51, 61 and surrounding as envisioned by a 1964 city report

The design then considered by the city didn’t seem to consider a major public square. The development of pedestrian precinct, fully segregated from motorist traffic, was considered along the lines below:

Vancouver 1964: considered Pedestrian precinct fully segregated of motor traffic

That said, the city will have the Vancouver art council to commission Arthur Erickson Geoffrey Massey and Bruno Freschi to offer a counter proposal for which we have a specific post:

the 1966 Erickson/Massey proposal

Robson square and the provincial court as originally envisioned by Erickson in its 1966 proposal

Needless to say the Province was decided to move on with its plan leaving the square question open:

1966-1972 : Where is the square?

The Province design was not considered offering an attractive enough space for a civic square. The city approached the Province to buy back block 61 without success. so the city resolved to consider [8]

  • block 71 as a civic square., a then considered very poor alternative.
  • block 42 because it was owned by the city (purchased with the proceed of the block 61 sale).
  • a one block in the area bounded by Hasting, Seymour, Georgia and Hamilton street
  • have scattered open space in the city

And a last alternative, echoing the Erickson 66 proposal:

  • Acquisition of block 51 for a civic space

In the meantime, the city acquired block 71 from Eaton, since the site was considered as suitable for a ‘central’ park, if not a civic square, and could be used to trade with other properties, again echoing the erickson 66 proposal.

The Province, on its side, was busy moving on the new court house:

The Plan in early 1972

The year 1972 starts with the following design, from aprioiri Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners, poised to be built:

the court house at block 51-61

The proposed high-rise, beyond its height, 698feet accomodating 55 storeys, was a 200 feet wide slab tower along Smythe, twice bigger than the Electra building (by the same architect). It was obviously against any by-law; the Province is not legally bind by city by-law; but this was not the major contentious point with the city administration. The proposal have its fair share of oddities:

  • Block 51 and 61 was needed to be zoned commercial
  • No sidewalk was planned on the south side of Robson
  • A 14 feet passageway between the old court house and a new building was planned, to connect it to a 25 feet wide interior court yard
  • The proposal was assuming that the block 71 should be a park, providing an open setting to the tower

While the city engineering department was considering the provided parking space (630), as noticeably insufficient (they were asking for 1200), the civic design panel had considered that “the tower structure itself, is well designed and in an acceptable location” but that the “most important problem is considered the lack of open space separation between the proposed new building and the [old] court house”[6].

…Needless to say the resident had a very different opinion on the slab-tower.

August 30, 1972

The W.A.C bennett government is defeated by the NDP, in the Provincial election: The project is stopped, but it is not the end of the story, to be continued here


all source from [4] unless otherwise noticed


[1] More informal gathering space was at Larwill park, at Georgia and Beatty.

[2] Redevelopment in downtown Vancouver : report No 5, City of Vancouver, 1964.

[4] Block 51 and 61, D.L. 541 City Planning Department, Vancouver BC, June 1965

[6] Memo to Vancouver City council- “BC Centre and court House additions Block 51 and 61″, May 31, 1972

[7] date from [4], Notice that there is a discrepancy with what say Wikipedia

[8] Memo to Vancouver City Council- “A civic square for DownTown Vancouver”, September 22, 1969

in the 1960’s the Province and the city of Vancouver were in thorny discussions regarding the development of critical downtown blocks known as block 51 (where the Vancouver Art Gallery sits) and the block 61 on its immediate southern edge. The city, unhappy with the direction imposed by the Province, had the Vancouver art Council to commission Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey, to develop a counter-proposal [1], what they will do in 1966:

Robson square and the provincial court as originally envisioned by Erickson/Massey in their 1966 proposal

The Erickson/Massey proposal was redefining an area much larger than block 51 and 61. It was including also block 71 and 42, among other:

The Massey/Erickson’s proposal for block 61 and the downtown core

One will eventually draw some parallels with the Le Corbusier‘s plan Voisin for Paris. While the cold reception of the plan Voisin had contributed to make Le Corbusier person non grata in Paris…Vancouver gave a much warmer reception to the Erickson modernist ideas! [2]

In detail, this plan, extend the government activities on block 71, reserving the block 51 to civic activities. Erickson was considering that:

“If the downtown is to survive as a shopping center street, it must compete on equal term with the suburban shopping center, it must provides adjacent parking, free pedestrian traffic flow without crossing traffic lanes and some degree of shelter and pleasant surrounding for the shopper.”

Accordingly, the traffic movement was addressed in a multi-layered system, in which car and pedestrian were atop, while bus and truck, considered as service, were put underground:

1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: traffic organization, notice that most of car traffic crossing is done using under/over pass, like suggested for the Burrard/Georgia intersection

His rationals for the segregation of traffic per mode -also promoted by Le Corbusier then for different reasons- lead him to design Robson street and Granville street, the identified main retail Malls (by Erickson, as by the city), on at least 3 levels:

1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: Granville Mall is multi level, transit at lower level, pedestrian-called “shopper”, above

  • atop, a covered pedestrian mall on one to 2 levels
  • below, a bus tunnel, where the bus, in the Erickson view, are understood as parking shuttle
  • and at lower level, a service lane for truck traffic

Robson
A case of more interest to us in the context of the current city plan

1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: Section along Robson street, showing the transit tunnel, the truck tunnel, and 2 level of covered shopping level above.

The Strasse becomes a Shopping arcade

The Robson Strasse, transformed into a shopping arcade. there is some opening -for light and ventilation- allowing you to see the buses at lower level

The access to Robson square is done thru the second level of the Shopping arcade – to not impede car traffic on Hornby street.

The Square

1966 Erickson/Massey proposal: Georgia cross Burrard thru an overpass. Robson square is connected to Robson street on the West via a passerelle…on the East the connection is unclear. It seems the pedestrian is expected to go/from Eatons and pacific shopping centre.

How to get there?

Of course, all that had to be serviced by an appropriate network of freeway, and Erickson was also calling for a ring road:

A ring road was proposed to connect all of the then envisioned extensive freeway network including , Brockton, a third crossing of the Burrard inlet

Some comments

Eventually there is a rational to believe that Erickson was better architect than urbanist, thought some will probably explain that the Erickson mastery is not enough understood:

The general development form, with strict separation of movement according to transportation mode, implicitly negating the social function of the street, was a staple of the time, and is usually concomitant to a general organization of the space on multi-level. Such schemes have almost universally proven to be a failure

That said this proposal is important, because it lays down many concept which will be applied in the design of the existing provincial court house complex. One of the most important is not to consider an extension of the Provincial court (from block 51 to block 61), but a relocation of it ( from block 51 to blocks 61/71), freeing block 51 to civic usage. The concept of the sunken plaza, is also introduced in this proposal.

Some other concepts will appear in a different form in the Vancouver urban landscape…like the covered mall of the proposal, which will later translates into the rain-screen above sidewalk- in fact more inline with what was envisioned by Eugène Hénard in its vision of the Parisian street of the future…in 1900.

The street of the future, as seen by Eugène Hénard, shares significant commonalities with the Erickson vision. The main difference being that Henard keeps the transit and all human activities on the surface. he eventually didn’t fathom the space required by the automobile

It also states some important analysis:

  • bring the people as close as they want to go

While the car was considered as the mean of choice. Tansit was considered as an important complementary component to the accessibility, and was brought right into the high street of the town, including of course Robson street and square.

Analysis/critics and concern expressed on the Eatons centre; can also be considered as prescient for the time:

“Cemp-Eaton development could very well help the surrounding commercial areas instead of showing a blank face to them. We see the Cemp_eaton project as a vital catalyst to the downtown but are anxious that it not to be inward-looking and self-cenetred, threathening the existing shopping of Granville Street by creating its own subtarrean shopping centre, divorced from the existing shopping pattern.”

As well, a good analysis of why the downtown Vancouver didn’t follow the path of other downtown in North America:

“The downtown Vancouver has strong characteristics, principally from the uniqueness of its site, the surrounding sea, the beaches, the harbour, Stanley Park, and the crossing to the mountains.Largely because of this, the West End has emerged as one of the unique residential precincts in the world”

Cities downtown will eventually learn later, that to be thriving, they don’t have to compete on equal term with the suburban shopping center, but have to offer what they can do the best: a “real” urban experience in all its complexities… which supposes a certain level of “entropy” in its spatial organization


source: A Proposal for Block 61 and the Downtown Core. Erickson/Massey architects, Vancouver, 1966


[1] Bruno Freschi was also part of the team (source, VancouverSun, May 18 1966) thought his name didn’t appear on the author list of the proposal

[2] It was of course some dissident voices. The more noticeable was the one of the jurists, and the attorney general of the time, Robert Bonner. They had commissioned the architect Vladimir Plavsic to draft a “counter-counter proposal” (I don’t have more information on it, but for the record, Plavsic was a “brutalist” architect: he has designed the 805 Broadway Medical Dental Centre known as the Frank Stanzl building).