Then and Now: What We Think of Vancouver’s Most Iconic Buildings

Industry experts scrutinize Vancouver's successes and failures after five decades of architectural overhaul.

August 22, 2017

By Neal McLennan / Photo: Josué Menjivar

The last five decades have seen a near complete overhaul of Vancouver’s architectural landscape. Here’s what we thought of some of the memorable buildings at the time—and some professional sober second thoughts.

BC Place

Architect Studio Philips Barratt
Date Opened June 1983

Our First Impression “It’s Canada’s first, North America’s largest, the world’s most beautiful air-supported dome.”

A Sober Second Thought “I like to think of the stadium’s awkward roof as a bit of misplaced 19th-century industrial infrastructure: views to its steel roof pylons (looking east down Georgia Street, for example) providing a large-scale antidote to the relentless living-unit-sized module of the surrounding condo towers.” —Matt McLeod, McLeod Bovell Modern Houses

Canada Place

Architect Eberhard Zeidler
Date Opened May 1986

Our First Impression “But this is an ocean liner. It has that 1930s streamline-moderne look, when the greatest of the multi-funnel liners were built. The hotel’s lobby has the feel of a Cunard-White Star ballroom.”

A Sober Second Thought “Love it or hate it, it welcomes us quietly, proudly. Acontextual, yet surprisingly familiar, it reminds us that we can take architectural risks that impart a sense of place.”—Marianne Amodio, MAAStudio

Science World/Expo Centre

Architect Bruno Freschi
Date Opened May 1985

Our First Impression “Expo Centre, will be accessible to anyone with $4.50 [with] such fave fare as trains roaring through tunnels, and hot air balloons drifting over a vertiginous world.”

A Sober Second Thought “Caught between the sparse, post-industrial flats of False Creek and the newly developed density of Olympic Village, Science World stands out as an optimistic assertion of a future that has yet to arrive.”—Piers Cunnington, Measured Architecture

The Central Library

Architect Moshe Safdie
Date Opened May 1995

Our First Impression “[Moshe Safdie] says, you’ve got me all wrong. The library was never even supposed to be the Colosseum. He has said this to reporters with a straight face.”

A Sober Second Thought “Much maligned by West Coast purists, the Colosseum-esque Library is Safdie’s post-modern rebuttal to our city of glass—it’s warm, jokingly classical, and unabashedly out-of-place.”—Michael Harris, design writer


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