Technology, Politics, Innovation

Architects reimagine future of Vancouver in exhibit

Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver is a timely and provocative exploration of the future of Vancouver as a response to the mounting concern on the changes taking place in the region, shifting the dialogue  from real estate  to the future state of the city. Thus, Urbanarium Society in partnership with the Museum of Vancouver (MOV)  will bring  an exhibition that will feature 20 different scenarios of Vancouver’s future landscape, while engaging the public to discuss four exceptionally pressing issues:  housing affordability, residential density, ease of transportation and quality of public space. The exhibition will take place from Jan. 21 through May 16, 2016 at the MOV. Organizers at the museum expect to welcome a few thousands attending Your Future Home throughout its duration. Urbanarium is a non-for-profit educational organization, created 30 years ago by architect and planner, Ray Spaxman, who was  inspired by  a then-newly opened planetarium in Toronto. He  envisioned  a place where people can  gather and have discussions about the future of the city and the region, as well as  exhibitions, lectures and workshops,  where visitors can learn about design and urban planning. After some inactivity, in 2013 Spaxman and  a group of architects,  planners and volunteers —  including, renowned Vancouver-based architect  Richard Henriquez, chairman of the board of directors–  revived Urbanarium.  Still a virtual space, Urbanarium’s website was launched a year later. “This  is by far, one of our  most ambitious programs yet, along with the debate series,” says  Jamaican-born Henriquez in a phone interview. He arrived first in Manitoba as a teenager  in the late 1950s, but has called Vancouver home since 1967. This exhibition aims  to expose the city’s  issues and “get people thinking about the choices that might have to make in the future as time goes on”. Henriquez  is the founding partner of Henriquez Partners Architects, recipient of numerous accolades, and the creative force behind iconic estructures, such as the Gaslight Square, the New Westminster’s Justice Institute of BC and the Sinclair Centre.

Exhibition

Your future home exhibition will feature  a 1,400-square-foot model, a sort of a real estate “sales centre,” advertising new condominiums. “Except that instead of showing off one building, we are showing off the whole city. (…) It’s a miniature model of Vancouver, ” Henriquez explained. This model will include photographs, infographics, animations, dramatic models, panoramic images relating to Vancouver’s downtown and suburban neighbourhoods. Visitors will have the opportunity to discuss the future scenarios, offer feedback and propose new solutions.
 Image courtesy of Richard Henriquez.

Image courtesy of Richard Henriquez.

The second part introduces about 20 different scenarios focused on ideas  about ways to improves  the city in the future. “They have to do with  affordability, public open space, transportation  and increasing density, which is a big concern for a lot of people.” Some of the case studies will also include the Arbutus Lands redevelopment, the  expansion of the CPR line to Marpole, possible changes in  Granville Island, and new ways of  heating buildings in the Downtown area and sustainability issues. One of the future scenarios will feature a 2,500-foot vertical city as a three-dimensional model, a representation of Granville Street turned on end to run vertically, to be displayed in the “Urban Grid.’ It’s a lesson about  scale and people’s  changing notions of scale over time. Among the various topics, high sky home prices is certainly the most urgent issue in Vancouver. “There  is a lot of pressure from outside people to get housing,”  says  Henriquez.  A foreign investor can buy six or eight apartments at a time  – most likely to remain empty. “Vancouver is like a bank (…)  It’s a safe place to park money.”  Henriquez says he thinks it’s the federal government’s responsibility to look into this matter. On a municipal level,  the City of Vancouver and developers are working together to create affordable  housing in the benefit of low-income individuals.  Developers are allowed to build condominiums at a higher density than usual, in exchange the City will get 20% of the suites for free. From an architectural point of view — although Henriquez doesn’t advocate for it — miniaturization of suites is another option. “In designs with very small spaces, everything is multiuse, so you can shrink the space and still live in.” Debates During the exhibition, members of the public will have the chance to participate in six Oxford-style  debates  among architectural, real estate and urban planning experts, by casting their votes with mobile devices. The debates  will take place at the Robson Square, except for first one to be held at  the MOV  on January 20th (Free admission by donation –currently sold out), which will focus on densification of neighbourhoods.  The debates will be a yearly affair, depending on their success. For more information visit: MOV’s website.