Vancouver: A Walking Tour

August 23, 2011

Convention Centre West The 2010 Olympics wrought several changes to the face of Vancouver, none larger than the new convention centre, which is far more approachable—and transparent—than most. Designed to rise out of the adjacent seawall and park, this one’s a friendly giant, and boasts a striking garden roof (though you’ll need to move further toward Stanley Park to really appreciate it).

Digital Orca Author and artist Douglas Coupland designed a pixilated orca whale that plays dramatically with one’s sense of resolution. Walk toward the 25-foot sculpture and the whale increasingly abstracts into illegible cubes of black, white, and grey aluminum. (Bonus: it twinkles at night!)

       

                                                                                                                                                                                                       The Drop / Martin Tessler

The Drop A 20-metre raindrop (at once humorous and cataclysmic) was designed by the Berlin collective Inges Idee and installed this year at the new Convention Centre. A constant photo-op for camera-happy tourists from nearby cruise-ship docks.

Offsite At the base of the city’s tallest building, the 62-storey Shangri-La, a rotating program of massive art installations is managed by the Vancouver Art Gallery. To January 8, 2012, Elspeth Pratt’s work subtly changes the open-air gallery with unexpected materials and uncommon wall angles to shake perceptions of architecture, public space, and their various uses.

Marine Building Vancouver is young (just 125 this year) so we largely missed out on the glorious Art Deco movement. One significant exception, though, is the 1930 Marine Building—the closest we get to Gotham (and a welcome relief from Vancouver’s forest of glass).

The Electra This 1957 headquarters for the BC Electric Company (now a condo tower) has a base decked in charming blue-and-green tilework by the great modernist artist B.C. Binning. Optimistic and iconic, the Electra  hremains a much-loved landmark.

Provincial Law Courts In 1973, legendary architect Arthur Erickson took an office tower and laid it on its side to create this wonder of glass and concrete. Next door you’ll discover the western equivalent to Rockefeller Plaza—Robson Square (also by Erickson). Hint: the best aerial view of the Law Courts is actually from the second floor of the Scotiabank movie theatre across the street.

Central Library Completed in 1995, the city’s Library Square is a point of constant contention. Local architects sneer at its inability to fit into the landscape. The rest of us love it for exactly that reason: Moshe Safdie’s ostentatious, circular design calls up the Colosseum and makes this a point of bold punctuation in an otherwise integrated cityscape.

Riot Act Stan Douglas’s mural depicting the 1971 Gastown riots is suspended in the atrium of the Woodwards building (steps from the site of the actual conflict). Douglas spent six months researching historical details, then six weeks in pre-production (building the elaborate street set), three days shooting, and two months in post-production.

Everything Is Going to Be Alright A couple of blocks from the trauma of Main and Hastings, a 23-metre-long neon sign, an iconic work by Britain’s Martin Creed, is now the city’s most literal beacon of hop

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