Taking the 5th

15 November 2022 – Not “the 5th” as in a self-shielding legal manoeuvre in a US courtroom. Instead, “the 5th” as in bouncing down Vancouver’s West 5th Avenue, wide open to the cultural/commercial fizz erupting on all sides.

Fizz indeed. I’m in the Quebec-to-Alberta stretch running through Mount Pleasant, known (well, in real-estate circles) as “Vancouver’s most desirable mixed-used neighbourhood.”

I am all in favour of mixed-use, aka diversity; I grow either nervous or bored when faced with homogeneity. No fear of that around here! While this cityscape has lost any trace of the millennia-old indigenous use of the land, it bears remaining evidence of early working-class settlers, who used their muscle-power either in their own small enterprises or in service of the industrial needs of the CPR. You still see a few auto-body shops, for e.g., but by now the transition from strong arms to strong brains is well underway.

Emphasis on creative/digital brain power.. all wrapped up in green. Proclaiming eco-sensitivity along with floor space. (Cf. my recent Into The City post.)

This brand new “slats” building between Quebec & Ontario…

offers “a superior location” and boasts its high ratings for walking/transit/biking criteria.

→An aside to explain the cross streets: I’m in a stretch named for the provinces in Confederation at the time of naming. They are slightly out of geographical order and include a territory, but let’s not quibble.

At the intersection of 5th and Ontario, older & newer versions of creativity shimmer at each other from every corner.

North-east corner = PureBread café, one of a handful of Vancouver & Squamish outlets for an artisanal bakery based in Whistler; north-west corner = Catalyze Solutions, a real estate project planning firm; south-west corner = Martha Sturdy Studios. It is the home furnishings/decor outlet for this octogenarian artist/ceramist/jeweller/sculptor who is still active, and whose works have been featured everywhere from Italian Vogue to Architectural Digest.

The aesthetic rust sensibility of her studio…

ricochets midway down the next block, to nature’s own rust on this chain. It locks the courtyard gate beside the heritage brick home of Image Engine (“world-class visual effects for film”).

More nature near the corner of 5th & Manitoba, this time yellow flowers that survived the snow and are still perky as all-get-out.

They sit in front of another artisanal bakery, Terra Breads. Together, they play compare/contrast with high-tech parking and the shiny-new neon-green “2131” building kitty-corner.

Completed last year, says the online promo, it provides office and light industrial space for a number of tenants, including AbCellular Biologics.

All very fancy and brainy and new… but with older art styles as the streetscape context.

Right across the street, this 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival wall…

back on 5th and just west of Manitoba, some grotty-old, unapologetic-old, roof-top graffiti…

and a tad farther west again, two doorways plastered with stickers.

I am not a stickers fan. Don’t get it. Grumble, grumble. But I read these, and… oh all right… some are mildly bemusing. “Scrub out racism not stickers” says one; “dump your porn addicted boyfriend” urges another; and another proclaims “timbit taliban,” which I suspect would confuse the Taliban as much as Tim Hortons.

More mixed-use, as I make my way from Manitoba to Columbia: Maison d’Etre Design Build (surely the world’s best bilingual marketing pun, but I wish they’d kept the accents), and two beauty-devoted outlets, focused respectively on hair salon supplies, and high-end residential flooring.

Almost at Columbia, I’m stopped flat by the elegant, but enigmatic, signage on an otherwise entirely anonymous building:

It only makes sense much later, when some online scuffling around shows me this used to be a Canadian Tire customer pick-up centre.

5th & Columbia is like a case study in past-present-future.

The south-west corner lot is for sale, with this tidy but older home surely doomed. (Note the home immediately beyond — beautifully painted, its owners raking leaves and very much not for sale.)

Facing the for-sale, an already-sold: something new rising up from the ground on the north-west corner, bearing the name Renditions Developments and promising “a new chapter.”

Beyond that, continuing west on 5th, wonderful names for what I fondly hope are wonderfully creative little boutiques — Rad Power Bikes; Hot Sauce Digital Marketing; Adventure Technology; Black & White Zebra. (And somewhere in here, I forget exactly where, the offices for the newspaper Vancouver Is Awesome.)

Corner of 5th & Alberta, a very empty, very space-y, space, announcing “This must be the space.” Tenants yet to arrive.

Kitty-corner, a space already full of tenants: Beaumont Studios — outdoor courtyard; indoor venues available for events; and an artists’ collective of rental studios.

I cross over, walk along the mural, contemplate the humanoid at the end.

Pop-eyed in amazement, as seems fitting, and with hands raised either in horror at recent developments…

or to warm them at the flame of all this new creative energy.

Take your pick.

… And Into the City

30 September 2022 – All those mountains/lakes/canyons/trails/fields/elk/sheep/cows.

And now, some pavement.

I head north-west in my own Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, a community just off-centre from downtown. It’s an early community (as settler history here in Vancouver goes), more worker than boss in its demographics, with an industrial phase built around servicing the railway, subsequent decline, subsequent admixture of artists (of all types) & small-scale entrepreneurs (ditto), and now — though interrupted by COVID — a push to make this the heart of the city’s high-tech, sustainable, innovative future.

I don’t have all this consciously in mind as I set out. I just set out. And I immediately begin to see past & future piling up all over each other. Literally on top of each other, here on the N/W corner of East 7th & Main.

Fact is, I’m not terribly drawn to these murals, but I am fascinated by what they represent.

Each fabric panel, tacked to existing backboards, is a work created in the Murals Without Walls workshops run by Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture as part of the Low Barrier Arts Program of the 2022 Vancouver Mural Festival. These new panels sit atop now-fading 2017 murals, painted onto parking spaces in what was then a municipal parking lot, as part of that year’s Mural Festival. (Oddly, not shown in the VMF photo gallery, but still alive in my personal photos.)

So I do have past/present in mind as my feet decide to turn right onto Quebec Street and lead me down-down-down, north-north-north, toward False Creek.

You want future? I’ll give you future — 2025, to be precise. Right at the next corner.

I read the signage and decide to include the whole thing in this post. While the language is PR-bravura, it is instructive to notice what companies want to boast about, these days. Starting on the left…

and sweeping to the right.

T3, I later discover online, stands for Timber/Transit/Tech. This will be Western Canada’s largest, tallest mass-timber office building: “transit-connected, tech & amenity-rich”; “one of the most environmentally-friendly, sustainable and wellness-focused developments in Vancouver”; “in one of Vancouver’s most dynamic and creative technology hubs.” The project will include the renovation of the now-delapidated building whose peaked roof juts above the signage, and its use as an arts centre, run by the City.

No, I have not turned into a company shill. But yes, I’m glad that these are now project ideals, however imperfectly they may be carried out. (And indeed, however imperfect time may show them to be, even as ideals.)

Pre-COVID, another complex had already led the way. Here at Quebec & East 4th: “Canada’s first completely net-zero work environment.”

It is one structure in the 5-building, 4-city-block Main Alley Campus that consists of three new buildings, one addition to an existing building and one renovation. I don’t know, nobody yet knows, where high-tech workers will end up working, this side of the COVID watershed. From home? Back in an office? Hybrid?

Main Alley perforce gambles that they will return to the office — those structures have already been built. It’s interesting to see that T3 is going ahead, an expensive vote of confidence that the future will be significantly physical, as well as virtual.

I confess that I like the broad-strokes vision, the idea that some environmentally & culturally responsible complexes will nurture a sustainable, inclusive and creative tech economy here in Mount Pleasant.

Even so, I don’t want new complexes, however admirable, to steamroller everything else out of existence. I want continued space, a continued welcome, for the little guys of every type and gender.

Just walking on down Quebec, I see examples of what I mean.

There’s the multi-generation John & Murray Motors Ltd., near East 3rd…

there’s the relatively new Fife Bakery, just around the corner on East 3rd…

which leads me a few more steps, to the mural wall right next door for JFS The Kitchen.

Later I discover this is the hub for the Jewish Food Bank, a partnership of JFS with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. (Not all is shiny-beautiful, either in Mount Pleasant or in the City as a whole.)

Another automotive shop, complete with this stunning old Chevy, as I angle through the alley between 3rd and 2nd…

and then the 1912 brick majesty of the Quigley Building at 2nd, which houses Earnest (“seriously good”) Ice Cream.

I want all of it. The big new, the small new, the old.

New builds on Main, fine — but I want still to peek through the courtyard to the alley, for a glimpse of Carson Ting’s contribution to the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival.

[

We need it all. If nature has shown us anything, over all these millennia, it is that diversity is the robust option, not mono-culture.

Downtown

15 August 2022 — We’re downtown, giving ourselves an architecture tour-by-ricochet — i.e., loosely inspired by one of the City’s self-guiding tour maps, but then wildly divergent, following our own curiosity as we go.

It’s almost a reintroduction to downtown as well, because neither of us has been down here much since COVID hit town. We see a lot that’s either new, or had slipped from memory. And on top of all that, we’re of a mind to gawk, and to appreciate.

Look! TELUS Garden! Completed in 2016 (Gregory Henriquez, design architect), and belonging (I say this approvingly) to what I think of as the school of Twisted Cereal Box.

Basically rectilinear, like any well-behaved cereal box — but then twisted here, thrust there, and finished with a swoop. Which then offers us all this lovely energy & play, still with simple lines.

(Need I add I know nothing about architecture? Pure personal opinion.)

We continue along West Georgia, and stop flat to stare at what now greets us at Homer Street. Definitely new, not forgotten. Once again rectilinear, once again with a twist. But very different from TELUS Garden.

Meet the Deloitte Summit office tower, open early this year, with Merrick Architecture as Executive Architect. My mind jumps back more than half a century to early Moshe Safdie, and the stacked-box design of his Habitat ’67.

It’s only later I appreciate my Safdie moment. At the time, all I see, as I draw closer, is a dramatic juxtaposition of forms — jutting cubes on the right, smack up against Library Square and the rounded, Roman Coliseum curves of the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch.

Later, I do my homework. I learn that the 1995 Library Square complex (VPL + Federal Office tower on the left + public plaza) was the work of… Moshe Safdie & Associates. I hope you’re as amused by this as I am.

Another juxtaposition, this time from West Pender as I eye this pair of buildings the other side of Victory Square. One is heritage; the other new-ish and an effort to combine redevelopment with both private gain and public good.

On the left, the Dominion Building: 13-storeys, steel-framed (a wonder in its day) and, when it opened in 1910, the tallest building in the British Empire. On the right, Woodward’s 43 (aka W-43): sympathetic lines & tones, considerably taller (43 storeys) and completed in 2009. The former, considered by some to be haunted (well, so they say); the latter, considered by some an example of how hard it is to do good and do well at the same time. (A Westbank Project with Henriquez Partners, it is a mixed-use tower, with both market and non-market residential units, and part of the larger redevelopment and repurposing of the old Woodward’s footprint.)

We continue north to West Hastings, to 601 West Hastings to be precise, where we run our eyes up this newly-completed 25-storey office tower and then slide ourselves in under its welcoming street-level canopy.

No tower name that I can find, apart from the street address, but online recognition that it is the work of B+H Architects, and that it offers commercial mixed-use facilities while retaining (says the B+H website) “a useable community plaza.”

I wouldn’t quite call this a community plaza…

but it is at least open to the street, and very peaceful once you tuck yourself inside. A wall of light & colour; a watercourse the length of that wall; and, in lieu of benches, a number of bum-friendly sitting stones.

We’re back on the street and walking away when I snag on one final, truly wonderful, touch.

This, the lettering solemnly announces, is the doorway to the 60l Grind.

“Grind”? It is a reference every Vancouverite (or visiting hiker) will immediately catch. The Grouse Grind is a 2.9 km trail straight up (very up) the face of Grouse Mountain; the 601 Grind is 549 steps straight up this building.

More West Hastings, now between Hornby and Howe streets. And more juxtapositions. On the right, the quietly ornamented but still quietly rectilinear lines of heritage architecture. On the left…

the 2011 Jameson House, where bubbles come out to dance with the world of rectilinear. In the process they stack 26 storeys of apartments over 8 storeys of office over shops. Everybody seems to be enjoying the dance.

(There is even more juxtaposition than my eye takes in at the time. The Jameson House project includes restoring the 1921 Ceperley Rounsfell Building and retaining the façade of the 1929 Royal Financial Building as well.)

We walk on west, then pause to admire a long view of one of the city’s most iconic heritage buildings.

Down there at West Hastings & Burrard , glowing in the afternoon light, still dominant though long since out-towered by many other buildings — it’s the 21-storey Marine Building, which opened in 1930 and is considered the city’s best surviving example of Art Deco style.

Leaning in from the far right, the Edwardian-era Vancouver Club, which opened in 1914. Behind it, a more recent building whose tones (like W-43) are sympathetic to its heritage neighbour.

On the left behind the Marine Building, a 35-storey twist of soaring glass, the MNP Tower, which opened in 2014.

We walk on, and eventually crane our necks upward, following the soar. (Credit here to my friend, whose camera caught it better than my own.)

Then, necks and all, it’s back to ground level — and, look at that, at West Hastings near Thurlow, it’s also back to this year’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

We climb up the steps and we climb back down the steps; we thank the VMF in general and Laura Jane Klassen (Studio LKJ) in particular for this latest addition to city art and cheer; and then…

we head home.

Outgoing, Incoming, & Just Plain Here

7 May 2021 – Well, here’s a near-generic urban redevelopment photo for you: detail-specific, in this case False Creek South, east end, but a common tide of events.

Out (R) with remnants of the Industrial Old, and in (L) with the Condo New.

I happen particularly to love that clapped-out, rusty old warehouse, or whatever it once was. I anthropomorphize it like crazy — yahh! you hang in there! love yer attitude!! — and I feel no shame.

I mean… just look. Despite weeds & chain-link fence, it really is somehow still hanging in, not yet knocked down (though a big wind might do the trick).

Yet I can’t be completely grumpy.

Because right next to it sit row upon row of neatly planted gardening boxes, all lined up behind that same chain-link fence and with a sign on the fence to make you pause, read, and puff out a happy little sigh.

Sole Food Street Farms — founded 2009, still active, here they are.

And here we all are, a poster on the utility pole next to the fence reminds me, here we all are, all us human beings …

messy, imperfect, and sometimes quite glorious. It’s just who we are.

So I walk on down to the Creek …

and enjoy myself.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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