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Are Vancouver Architects Missing the Big Picture?

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The Vancouver architecture sector is well-known for its achievements. The city has been built to be one of the most livable in the world, and offers a mix of drastically modern designs, heritage sites, and state of the art LEED buildings.

While this would all seem like positive news, questions have arisen over the overall aesthetic and design ideals taking over the city.

According to Bob Ransford and friend and architect Gair Williamson, many architects in Vancouver are missing the big picture. In an article for the Vancouver Sun, Ransford laments the state of ‘Vancouverism’, his name for the current architectural tone of the city.

Vancouverism includes the ultra-modern, concrete and glass aesthetic that dominates a growing number of buildings throughout the city. While Williamson admits that this can often translate to attractive buildings, the functionality and uniqueness of considered design is lacking.

“The trouble with architecture in Vancouver is that many architects are failing to look at the substance of how people inhabit buildings,” says Williamson. “They’re looking at how buildings appear. It’s about style over substance.”

beautiful vancouver

This ‘style over substance’ mentality is spreading throughout the industry, with critics lamenting the lack of context and culture present in the designs of these buildings.

Williamson, who says opportunities to create influential and socially important works are being missed in favour of simply achieving aesthetics oriented goals, shares these sentiments.

“It seems to be about form and materials when it should be about architects questioning these fundamental relationships and actively influencing the changing social and cultural shifts in those relationships through their work,” he says. “All buildings have envelopes – what most people call ‘style’ – but which is simply the visual appearance of a building.”

With gazes focused directly on the ‘look’ of these new buildings, they also run the risk of becoming ‘fashion’ items according to Williamson, with the trendy nature of aesthetics drastically shortening the aesthetic lifespan of the buildings. With design serving as the primary attribute of many buildings, there is a very real risk of Vancouver being littered with White Elephant architecture pieces.

Many in the industry now believe that opportunities are being missed to develop holistically functional, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing buildings, especially considering the overall ongoing strength and success of the Canadian industry.

By Emily D’Alterio

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