some groovy trees of note & character


Stanley Park, Vancouver again. One of the reasons for going round the whole seawall. One day, I will be good enough at climbing to clamber up and HUG THAT TREE!

Fairly typical of the area, and more easily huggable:

One thing–amongst many–that I like about this city is the marvellous juxtapositions. Tapestry of peoples and cultures; and the classic picture-postcards of Vancouver highlight old/new, space-age-city/mountains and water and forest. You get a lot of this sort of thing: it is after all very dramatic. Picking an emblematic classic that pulls all these elements together:

Museum of Anthropology, UBC, Vancouver (Arthur Erickson)

What makes the place above special, distinctive: distinctness, the sort of up-close detail and, indeed, individualism (thinking especially one of “our” most eminent and illustrious individuals, Bill Reid; Haida houses and poles; Musqueam land).

Other side of the building, and some of that aforementioned "detail" plus localism and individualism: Musqueam house posts, welcoming visitors. Image links to virtual tour of the MOA, by one of its guides (from 2008, before major renovations, but all that was there then is still there now).

And the bigger picture, picture-postcard, panoramic view–yet where you lose the detail:

Mountains not to scale. They're much, much bigger...

... indeed: more like this (Josh McCullough: crop from a majestic 16-frame stitched-together panorama)

But all that monumental momentous dramarama can distract from the amazing (and as dramatic) trees. Yes, there are definitely eco-political issues about that grand conflict between Man and Nature; questions remains as to how far it’s harmonious coexistence and how far it’s still good old conquest, rape, and pillage; and for such a young place–compared to where my own people are variously from–there’s settlement-, cross-cultural, and postcolonial baggage aplenty.

But there’s more to this place than a collage–however uneasy it might be, however raggedy the stitching–or even the integration of disparate elements in a complementary whole. C/o the Vancouverism touring exhibition:

“Vancouverism is characterized by tall, but widely separated, slender towers interspersed with low-rise buildings, public spaces, small parks and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and facades to minimize the impact of a high density population.”
– The New York Times, December 28, 2005

The word first entered the argot of American architects and city planners over the past decade, who began speaking of “Vancouverizing” their under-populated, un-loved urban cores, seeking inspiration from Canada’s Pacific portal’s re-development successes. Our city has become first a verb, and now, an ideology promoting an urbanism of density and public amenity. Vancouverism at its best brings together a deep respect for the natural environment with high concentrations of residents. Within condominium residential towers downtown and courtyard and boulevard-edging mid-rise buildings elsewhere in the city, Vancouverites are learning to live tightly together; a healthy, engaging – even thrilling place.

Not Asia, not Europe, not even North America, but a new kind of city living with elements from all of these – a hybrid that now demands to be taken on its own terms. In the language of city-building, “Vancouverism” is fast replacing “Manhattanism” as the maximum power setting for shaping the humane mixed-use city, important ideas for a new era of scarce energy and diminished natural resources.

The architecture of Vancouverism begins with a single sketch by a young design professor whose entire built career to date consisted of but one small house for an artist. Arthur Erickson’s pencil sketch for “Plan 56” imagines a downtown Vancouver of soaring residential towers – a hyper-concentration of buildings and people imagined for this then-sleepy outpost – and unthinkable by anyone but him.

Over his next half century of architecture and civic public commentary, Arthur Erickson has constantly pushed Vancouver into its new status as Pacific metropolis, a world city in the making. Architects Bing Thom and James Cheng, plus engineers Paul Fast and Gerry Epp are longtime Erickson associates who have extended, improved and tested these ideas – with dense and lively new hearts for suburbs or multi-ethnic neighbourhoods, new configurations of housing and building uses found no-where else. New ideas, new forms, new designs: welcome to Vancouver.

Dennis Sharp and Trevor Boddy
Vancouverism Co-Curators
June 24, 2008

Image above: c/o Gordon Brent Ingram: “Squatting in ‘Vancouverism’: Public Art and Architecture after the Winter Olympics” (March 2010), from his blog DESIGNS FOR THE TERMINAL CITY: CRITICAL THEORY FOR URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, PLANNING & DESIGN (go forth and click and read)

See also: review of the opening night in Vancouver, with more images: designKULTUR

But: I’d contend that what distinguishes “Vancouver” from “Vancouverism” is environment, local environment. Mountains and trees. Image above: the mountains frame and structure the whole; observe the tree-like forms; and there’s a woody texture to it–bark, branch, root, leaf, needle; relating to our local trees. Vancouverism has to be adapted if used anywhere else: adapted to any new location’s features, especially the trees. Which is why it would be a bit tricky to adopt in older European cities, stripped of their trees for centuries, and/or in the interesting situation where the current boscage is centuries-old artificial treescapes (thinking London and Paris: parks, bois, gardens). A delicious paradox: in tree terms, the newness of older cities and the oldness of some new ones.

Still: who cares about the age–age is just a number, after all, or all a matter of perception and other relativism, as we keep telling ourselves when confronted with the nasty depths of beautification-marketeering. What’s there is there: even if nothing’s there, that can be remedied by adding earth and planting (see: the guerrilla gardening movement: old and strong in Vancouver, first instance I believe in the Bowery, NY, early 1970s?). Work with what you’ve got… A fine example thereof: Heavy Petal: Gardening from a West Coast urban organic perspective, who just took part in harvesting 1500 sq ft of wheat with Lawns to Loaves: a collaborative city wheat farm.

Wood appears throughout the city: in buildings, interiors, furniture, design (an example pretty packaging: more of the same, larger scale). Trees and wood hold this place together. Even when they’ve washed up as driftwood. They become part of the furniture and fabric of the beach; sublime union and reunion and recycling-reunification of form and function:

Care to reply?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s