### thetyee.ca 25 June 2010
Vancouver’s Architectural Revival
Behind the shiny surfaces there is a public logic guided by City Hall policies.
By Adele Weder, TheTyee.ca
[Editor’s note: This is excerpted from A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Vancouver, just published by Douglas and McIntyre. A second excerpt on Vancouver as ‘supermodel,’ by Matthew Soules, runs next week.]
On Aug. 7, 1971, officers on horseback charged into a crowd in Gastown, the original downtown core of Vancouver, and swung their batons at the thousand people who had gathered or wandered there to protest marijuana laws and the nefarious police tactics used to enforce them. At the intersection of Abbott and Cordova, marchers and onlookers were beaten or hauled into paddywagons and the public gathering soon transformed into what became known as the Gastown Riot, one of the most notorious brawls in the city’s history. In the years that followed, the neighbourhood withered, its zoning geared towards the tawdry tourist outlets that would long dominate it, its days as a gathering site all but over.
Making architecture is, at its core, a political action. Implicit in the design approach is the decision to encourage or thwart public gatherings, nurture or displace the poor, ignite or asphyxiate street life, rabble-rouse or calm the streets for paying visitors. At first glance, the shiny newness of central Vancouver suggests a manifesto of clarity and order, a divergence from the fiery social consciousness of decades past. (To sample that sensation, comb through the photo essay of buildings accompanying this essay.)
Underlying these images of finesse and resolve, however, are backstories of complex negotiations between public and private interests whose endgame is the greater public good. With increased density allowance as the currency, the resulting deals have spawned an unprecedented array of community centres, daycares, parks, public art and social housing.
Gastown’s current robust and widely inclusive revival owes much to City Hall — the very institution that had sanctioned the police bullying and subsequent neighbourhood stagnation in the first place.
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-Adele Weder is a Vancouver-based architectural writer and curator, and co-author of the Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Vancouver.
Post by Elizabeth Kerr
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