It’s hard to believe, but Arthur Erickson might be proven wrong after all. The legendary West Coast architect, who passed away last year, quipped famously in 2007 that Vancouver’s skyline was getting much too “blah.”
While his frank assessment rankled some bureaucrats and local builders, Erickson was dead on. Over the past decade, Vancouver has been saddled with some mediocre highrise buildings that aspire to the design equivalent of vanilla. There have been exceptions, but not many.
So the sight of glass going up on the under-construction, 37-storey Jameson House on West Hastings Street in the downtown heritage district is not only an indicator of the improving real estate development picture for the region — it provides some welcome hope for the city aesthetic.
The sleek Jameson House was designed by British celebrity architect Norman Foster, the only individual from his profession named to the Times of London’s recently published Rich List.
As a so-called starchitect, he oversees a global collection of high-profile projects catering to culture, commerce and government. Compared to his mega-city airports and bank towers, his British Columbia project is relatively small.
But his Lower Mainland presence is something of a breakthrough, representing new possibilities for international architecture here — downtown viewcones policy and rampant NIMBYISM?notwithstanding.
According to Foster’s firm, Jameson House — which rises above two art-deco buildings — continues the architect’s work with historic structures in North America such as New York’s Hearst Tower. Here, the tower includes condominiums as well as office and retail space. It’s a mix that should appease both “downtown livability” types, as well as those economic realists who dread the resortification of the city core at the expense of businesses and jobs.
And yes, the project pays heed to green ideals — complete with eco-friendly building materials and a design that minimizes energy consumption.
Foster’s success here provides some valuable lessons amidst news that the Vancouver Art Gallery plans to relocate to an iconic new building a few blocks east of its current location.
In anticipation of debate over the VAG’s new building, the starchitecture haters are already coming out of the woodwork — raising the supposedly troubling spectre of Frank Gehry’s Art Gallery of Ontario project in Toronto.
Let’s hope Jameson House — with its respect for heritage and its West Coast environment — can quell their fears. International architecture can and should fit seamlessly with our civic values.
– Derek Moscato is a writer with a focus on urban issues, transportation, architecture and economics; firstname.lastname@example.org.