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Grow: an art and urban agriculture project

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture Vancouver

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon helping facilitate a workshop for Grow: an art and urban agriculture project. The Grow project is multi-faceted participatory art project exploring themes of community development, food security and urban agriculture through a series of workshops, lectures and “creative experiments in urban agriculture.”

The main site for the Grow project is a 10,400 sq ft. plot of land on the north side of the seawall walkway in SEFC. Over the summer, this land will gradually be transformed into a community garden, through a series of sculptural installations. Dubbed “the Bulkhead Laboratory,” the plot is a transitional space, an overgrown remnant of False Creek’s industrial past sitting next to the carefully designed landscaping of SEFC and the deliberately constructed habitat island. It is space that has the power to challenge our definitions of “urban green space,” “community gardens,” “public open space.”

The workshop I attended, the second in an ongoing series, focused on exploring urban agriculture, specifically, creative solutions to growing food crops in containers and small spaces. The workshop began with a presentation from lead artist Holly Schmidt and collaborator/industrial designer Ocean Dionne of the Vancouver Design Nerds. They presented some creative container designs and art projects from around the world, and the group discussed the requirements for growing mediums, drainage, light and other considerations for container gardening.

After the presentation and discussion, we took a walk around Southeast False Creek. The discussion turned to the prescribed nature of the landscape. It was noted that despite the fact that there is lot of “green space” in Vancouver, much of it is not available to residents to use to grow food, or even to use as they see fit. The landscaping around SEFC is beautiful and it meant to be looked at. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the popularity of community gardens in recent years shows that Vancouverites are seeking out green spaces that they can participate in, green spaces that can be productive as well as decorative.

We spent some time discussing the possibilities for agricultural interventions into the existing landscape. Self-watering gardens floating in the water features? Using magnets for attaching containers to metal fixtures or furniture? Are there possibilities for creating small productive spaces within this decorative landscape? We eventually made our way over and took a quick look at the Bulkhead Lab, a completely non-prescribed space where our ideas could be given form.


The rest of the afternoon was spent sketching out, creating and planting some simple containers. Then we installed them over at the Bulkhead.


The Grow project will be going on all summer. There are upcoming tours, talks, workshops and work parties. Check out the Grow website for more information.

Monday News Roundup

Jun 20, 2011

With Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final now over (my sincerest condolences to Vancouver), let’s take a look at the urban experience surrounding the event, and how TransLink dealt with the crowds.

Last Friday, screens were set up in downtown Vancouver to allow fans to watch the games broadcast from Boston. The city estimates that over 70,000 fans turned out, filling the streets and businesses in the area. Although they lost the Boston games, those who came downtown to watch the home games, were reminded of the Olympics and the excited atmosphere that overtook the city. Vancouver is ideally set up for such gatherings/events and the mood of the people was, and is testament to this. Many businesses closed early to allow staff to go watch the games and restaurants/bars did their best to accommodate the lines which started forming well before the games were due to start. Again, much like the Olympics, which overtook the City not too long ago, people were encouraged to use transit, bike or walk.

The lessons learned from the Olympics enabled TransLink and the City to effectively manage massive crowds within a downtown environment. With anywhere between 100,000 – 150,000 expected to attend game 7, TransLink used the following methods to streamline access:

  • asked riders to buy return tickets early (avoiding long lines after the game)
  • set up portable fareboxes that required exact fare
  • increased SkyTrain service to run an hour later than usual
  • extra buses on standby, and extended hours
  • an additional third ferry
  • re-routing buses due to street closures

They also added a note on their website that there would be a “zero-tolerance policy for open liquor and rowdy, dangerous, and unsafe behaviour.” Although they were well-prepared for the crowds, they weren’t prepared for the riots, which were reported to be inflicted by only a “small group of troublemakers.”

An article from Sports Illustrated reported that Vancouverites “woke up this morning to news reports that portrayed this beautiful city in out-of-control chaos, a sharp contrast from the goodwill engendered from its successful Olympics 16 months ago.”

The riots are an unfortunate event that overshadowed the positive aspects of yesterday: that Vancouver has an wonderful urban environment that is conducive to large crowds filling the streets, coming together to cheer on their team. After the Winter Olympics last year, Chicago Tribune writer Philip Hersh said:

“One cannot overlook the passion and general goodwill of the people who both put on the Games and celebrated them until all hours in a city that never before had allowed itself such continuous, unrestrained fun.”

Although the riots will possibly affect events in the future, the passionate and generous atmosphere of Vancouver was still present throughout most of this past week. So instead of the images being focused on in newspapers and online, let’s remember the Stanley Cup through the following images:


flickr: dai.rong


flickr: John Biehler


flickr: Ariane Colenbrander


flickr: Mike Wu


flickr: Suraky


flickr: Suraky

flickr: Suraky


flickr: Rick Chung


flickr: patiopatio


flickr: kardboard604

Monday News Roundup

Jun 06, 2011

VIA Architecture is pleased to announce an upcoming event in conjunction with McGill University:

Community by Design: A Boomer Gift to the Next Generation

Alan Hart, AIA
VIA Architecture

Sunday May 22, 2011
12:30 – 3:00 pm
Smith Tower – Chinese Room
506 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

Refreshments will be served
No charge for admission

The Baby Boomer generation began as one of the most idealistic that engendered hope for the future and the planet. Although highly energetic and innovative, Baby Boomers have taken a lot more from the planet than we have given back.

Many of those born between the World War II and Vietnam War years only deferred thoughts of saving the world in order to make a living. Now they want to return to their roots and “make good” on early promises to themselves, and to their communities. Retirement may not be appealing either professionally or financially, but “returnment” or “encore” careers have become hugely popular as Boomers seek to spend the next chapter of their productive years doing work that is meaningful both to themselves and to the world. Embracing community, and being active agents of positive change, will be this generation’s legacy for the next generation.

This generation of 78 million now has an unprecedented opportunity to make our cities greener, healthier and happier places to live. Ideas like alternate housing choices, generational continuity, increased mobility, urban agriculture, intelligent grids, local energy/sufficiency and incremental framework for change will be explored using real world examples including some from VIA Architecture’s projects and initiatives.

Alan’s talk will be followed by a discussion of McGill University’s initiatives in campus greening, alternative energy projects, and community involvement.

The Home Depot Foundation awarded its second annual Awards of Excellence for Sustainable Community Development to Tacoma, WA; Burlington, VT, and Boston, MA. The awards recognize and celebrate cities that are incorporating real-world sustainability initiatives into their day-to-day operations, with a focus on wise use of budget dollars and increasing the livability of each community for all residents.

City of Tacoma won the “large city” award for 2010 — with the announcement stating that they have “incorporated sustainability throughout its comprehensive plan ensuring that sustainable policies and business practices are considered when making all departmental decisions”

Here are some examples of sustainability practices that they have already implemented:

  • 25 new bike racks in the public right of way
  • Public Works is using recycled road material, including chip seal oil containing 5 percent recycled rubber tires
  • Fifteen hybrid vehicles were purchased as pool vehicles this last year, encouraging the use of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles within the City of Tacoma. A fleet anti-idling policy has been established for General Government.
  • Tacoma Rail has installed idle reduction technologies on 10 of its 17 locomotives that have resulted in a 40 percent fuel savings.

Click here and here to see other posts that we’ve written about Tacoma.

To read more about their submission, click here.

Designing for Loss: The Shrinking City

by Amanda Bryan, VIA Architecture
Photo: Philipp Oswalt; Shrinking Cities Volume 1: International Research © 2005, Germany


Philipp Oswalt and Tim Rieniets; Atlas of Shrinking Cities © 2006, Germany

Whether we’re comfortable with saying out loud or not, the American Dream is based on the idea of expansion and acquisition. First exemplified by the Louisiana Purchase, then modernized by the Interstate Highway Program, and now globalized by our corporate prosperity in countries around the world, we have gotten very good at dealing with growth. If there is one thing that Americans know how to do, it is expand, expand, expand (and yes, I know the same can be said of our waist lines). But do we know how to deal with the antithesis of expansion – shrinkage? To be specific, I’m talking about The Shrinking City, a phenomenon synonymous with the words suburbanization, deindustrialization, and decentralization.

While the issue of the Shrinking City is not unique to the United States, having found perch in old industrial belts like Eastern Germany and post-socialist regions of Russia, our Shrinking Cities are a little different because they are not the products of war, natural disaster, or governmental upheaval. The American Shrinking City is a once vibrant urban center, formerly dependent upon a highly industrialized local economy, which finds itself subject to a rapid population decline within its city boundaries and bloated with an excess of abandoned spaces and buildings.

If we look at the poster child of our nation’s car manufacturing industry, Detroit, we can see that its population has decreased more than 50% over the course of the last 60 years. According to the newest census report, this declining trend is still continuing with a population loss of 25% over just the last decade. The physical reality of this drastic population means that The City of Detroit is now facing the demolition of 10,000 empty residential buildings, 3,000 of which are slotted for demolition by the year’s end. The economic reality is an eroding tax base while the cultural implication is a culture of resignation that pervades the psyche of those left behind.

Philipp Oswalt; Shrinking Cities Volume 2: Interventions © 2006, Germany

So how can a city like Detroit move forward from its shrinking urban form? There have been many ideas proposed over the years, all of which focus on the reclamation of excess space and concentration of existing residents. One such proposal came from the Community Development Advocates of Detroit, a nonprofit trade group of local development organizations, which suggested that Detroit could be classified into 11 neighborhood zones like homestead sectors, village hubs, and traditional residential sectors.

The vision for one of these urban homesteads involves instituting rural living conditions geared toward agricultural uses in exchange for disconnecting from city services like water. Another community group, Detroit Declaration, has suggested creating urban farms in areas deemed as “weedy wastelands” and consolidating smaller parcels to promote urban infill. These ideas represent just two groups’ efforts out of the half dozen who are turning the notion of the city on its head in order to rethink the possibilities of a shrinking city.


http://www.takeabite.cc/category/blog/•urban-agriculture-community-gardening/

However, one thing that these groups have not done is specify which areas should be demolished and which should be preserved because there is a strong belief that this decision belongs to the city. While some skeptics are worried about placing this decision in the hands of government out of fear of a huge land grab, the general belief is that the doing nothing is only a recipe for continued shrinkage and misery. According to Richard Florida, the key to reimagining The Shrinking City is not to hand over whole sections of the city to the government or developers but instead to enable residents to spearhead the revitalization and build quality places they can identify with.

I would dare to suggest that maybe the City of Detroit ought to be the facilitators of a large-scale collaboration between the developers and residents because as Jane Jacobs put it, “The key is to engage the residents of the area, the business owners, the shopkeepers, the workers and the commuters. They’re the ones that can show the way to rebuild.”

Why not use our best asset, a culture based on growth, and harness it within a framework that can be held accountable by the people?

Canada Line featured in Canadian Architect Magazine

“Eighteen months have now passed since the inaugural run of the new Canada Line, which connects the cities of Vancouver and Richmond with the Vancouver International Airport, and has already reached the capacity ridership anticipated for five years hence.”

— Sean Ruthen, writer for Canadian Architect

The Canada Line was featured in Canadian Architect‘s March magazine, and covers five of our stations, along with stations designed by other architecture firms. To read the article, you either need an online subscription, or need to request a copy of the magazine.

Our firm provided master planning for the line, and completed prototypical work for all 17 stations, including each station’s schematic design. Here is a feature of the inspiration and ideas behind the three underground stations: Yaletown, Vancouver City Centre, and Waterfront, and the two elevated stations: Marine Drive and Bridgeport.

Underground Stations

These three downtown stations represent rail, road, and the sea, and we tried to make a reflection of each of those ideas in very subtle ways.

Yaletown — Rail

Yaletown Station pulls its inspiration from the historic Yaletown loading docks in the design of its roof canopy (as seen in the photo below):


image source

It expresses the rail by using continuous horizontal bands of colored accent tile. We knew that the architecture needed to be receptive to advertising and art, so we placed the patterning so that they would become a backdrop:

Vancouver City Centre — Road

Vancouver City Centre Station was inspired by the intersection of Georgia and Granville.  Once you get down into the station, the accent tiles on the walls were randomly spaced, like the pattern of cars on a road. And just like Yaletown, there isn’t a pattern that would be “blocked” by the ads. And like randomness, you can go any which way.

Waterfront – Sea

Waterfront Station tells the story of the water that comes into a tidal pool as seen in the arched wave feeling on the ceiling:

The tile pattern throughout the station has blocks of blue color, which represent pools of water:

Elements of Continuity:

Waterfront and VCC: both had granite frames; stone band with a window in the middle VCC and Yaletown: wood roof

Elevated Stations
The following two elevated stations addressed the industry located on either side of the Frasier River.

Marine Drive Station — Pioneer Logging Industry

Marine Drive Station took its cue from the saw mills and planing mills down at Eburne. Portrayed as a “launching pad” where the tunnel comes above ground (visualize being on a log ride at the county fair).


Actual exit to Marine Drive station


Log Ride at a County Fair 🙂

Very streamlined, dynamic, industrial-oriented form:

Bridgeport Station — Air

Inspired by the ships and the early days of airplane manufacturing, Bridgeport Station’s original design had a curved roof that was based on the mosquito warplane.

*images and renderings copyright VIA Architecture. Please do not use without permission.
*Professional photographs taken by Ed White

University of Washington Headlines Exhibit

Beginning in 2005, the UW Architecture PAC has presented Headlines each Spring: an exhibit on public view for 2 weeks at Gould Court, traveling for exhibit at other Cascadia educational and professional venues, and visible online on the UW Department of Architecture site.

By highlighting unbuilt architectural projects under development by Washington design firms and organizations, Headlines offers the public, professionals, and campus communities a glimpse of work rarely seen outside the studio.

Schedule of HEADLINES exhibition:

April 15th to April 30th – University of Washington, Gould Hall Court
TBD – Architecture Institute of British Columbia, Vancouver
TBD – Washington State University, Pullman
TBD – Washington State University, Spokane
TBD – Montana State University
TBD – Portland State University
TBD – University of Oregon

We chose to feature the following two projects:

Evergreen Line – path of possibility
The Evergreen Line is designed as a new 11km rapid transit line in Metro Vancouver. It will seamlessly connect the municipalities of Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Moody through six stations to the region’s successful SkyTrain system, local bus service and the West Coast Express commuter rail.

SR99 Tunnel Vent Buildings – urban strata
The designers were asked to develop designs for two vent buildings, located at the north and south portals of the proposed SR99 Tunnel. While the functional criteria for the two buildings are very similar, the designers were faced with drastically different infrastructures, neighborhoods and built environments.

The designers were challenged to develop a flexible material palette, which would allow each building to express an identity unique to its context, while maintaining threads of continuity that make known the connectivity and kinship of the two structures across the city.

By utilizing ideas of geology and stratification, the designers developed a simple set of materials – glass, precast concrete panels, metal panels. By incorporating minor variations in each, the designers were able to develop a rich and vibrant facade, calling to mind the urban strata of which it is a part.

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture

In my last post I addressed some of the common objections to the proposal of removing the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts and mentioned some examples of similar initiatives. In this post I’d like to discuss some of the urban design benefits that could result.

Strathcona

Traffic on the viaducts has been steadily declining over the past 15 years. Studies show that most of the traffic accessing the downtown core via the viaducts originates in East Vancouver. In other words, this route is not part of the larger freeway/commuter network.


The viaducts during morning rush hour (8:10am Tuesday)

So if there’s really not that much traffic on Prior Street, why do the residents of Strathcona care about making it into a local street? In this case it’s a matter of quality over quantity. Prior Street may not boast the traffic volume of freeway, but the traffic certainly has the quality of major artery. The viaducts were constructed as part of a never-finished freeway network, but Prior Street was essentially designed as a neighbourhood street. There are no shoulders, large street trees, and minimal front yards. The character of this street is that of a residential collector. Functionally, Prior Street is a very uncomfortable hybrid, wherein a street that is designed to be residential gets used as freeway.


Prior Street at Jackson

Despite the 50km/h speed limit drivers often use freeway speeds. They run the red lights all the time because, in the freeway mind set, they simply don’t see them. In the two years that I’ve lived in the neighbourhood I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve jumped out the way of someone tearing through a red light, or witnessed a cyclist getting hit while crossing at a green light. The road is divisive, not because of the amount of traffic, but because it acts like a freeway.


Looking North across the viaducts towards Hogan’s Alley

Chinatown

Even if only 20% of the viaducts were removed, it would open up the parcel of land south of Hogan’s Alley for redevelopment. The parcel is currently bisected by the viaducts. The remnants of land are nominally park space, but they feel more like left over land – empty and slightly dangerous. The block, which has seen a tremendous resurgence in the last few years, is bordered on three sides by residences. If the viaducts did not exist, no one in their right mind would think it was a good idea to put a piece of freeway infrastructure right in the middle of a low-scale residential neighbourhood.


Houses along Gore Street next to the Viaducts

Removing the portion east of Main Street would make a dramatic improvement in to the area in terms of safety, walkability and the aesthetics of the neighbourhood. It would also reconnect Chinatown to the newer residential developments to the south, to the Skytrain station, the seawall, and to Thornton Park, which holds the summer Farmer’s Market.


Looking west towards Main Street: the viaducts divide the neighbourhood north-south

North East False Creek

One look at the aerial image of North East False Creek reveals how much of an impact the viaducts have on development potential of the area. In the Terms of Reference for the city’s High Level Review of the area, one of the priorities is creating a “normalized” street network which is either at grade or has useful transitions to grade. Studying the potential to remove the viaducts is one of the tasks for the review. Creating a strong and flexible street grid and animating it through good urban design are crucial to the liveability of the neighbourhood. For a neighbourhood so close to the downtown core there’s simply no excuse not to design a strong pedestrian realm and make walkability a priority. The viaducts disrupt this potential pedestrian realm by eliminating the potential for frequent north-south connections, casting shadows, and creating dark “underneath” areas. Transitioning between an elevated and at-grade road network is always going to be problematic, as evidenced by the fact that pacific boulevard basically duplicates the viaducts route. The elevated roads create problems architecturally as well as in terms of urban design. There are privacy and noise issues created by having a freeway buzz past a second or third storey that are difficult, if not impossible to resolve.

The original Georgia viaduct was built between 1913 and 1915 to cross over what were then CPR rail yards. The current viaducts were built in 1972 to replace the existing structure which had long since become unsound. They were built as part of an ambitious plan to build a freeway system through downtown Vancouver that would have included a tunnel beneath Burrard inlet known as the “Third Crossing.” The plan was eventually scrapped due to overwhelming opposition from Vancouver residents, especially those in Strathcona and Chinatown where mass demolition was slated to make way for the proposed freeway. However, before the city allowed the public consultation to occur, a large swath of Hogan’s Alley, then a predominantly African neighbourhood was bulldozed and the current viaducts were built.

The viaducts are Vancouver’s most glaring anachronism; leftover remnants of an age when freeway expansion meant progress and economic growth. However, in hindsight, most people would agree that the best planning decision that Vancouver ever made was to stop the freeway through downtown. As we proceed with planning decisions regarding the fate of the viaducts, we should learn from our past successes.