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Vancouver’s new convention centre: “Better than we expected.”

November 19th, 2009 · 29 Comments

This just out in Canadian Architect, my look at the convention centre expansion along with assessments from various architects and people who care about buildings around town.

Please excuse the paucity of posts on other issues. I’ve been off this week for personal reasons. Feel free to take the threads where you want in order to keep up with current events.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • “West” (sic) Vancouver’s CC . . . “Better than we expected.” Huh who’s we?

    The one I visited the other day is still messing up Vancouver’s waterfront!

    VCC is just another chunk of corporate anonymity: scale-less, void of personality an architectural semiotic that says, “who the hell cares”?

    The interlock-sliding section is © Zahir Hadid: this version doesn’t work!

    Exterior: inarticulate, a mindless chunk, out of context.

    Interior: cavernous, bleak: speaks to no one.

    I contributed to CA for 20 years . . I know of what I speak . . . you do not!

    As an architectural critic you get F-

    Bummer lady bummer . . . stick to your day job . . .

  • Wow, Urbanismo is a total dick.

    Sweet website, dude. I am a Graphic Designer! I know of what I speak!

  • PS Okay, Okay . . . Vancouver CC West, I get it.

    Now about ZH’s interlock-sliding section: it is, I suspect, the pièce de résistance for the architects. The international press and conventioneers even wont notice.

    Running up the cavernous escalator, reflective surfaces drumming my sensibilities, sort of killed it for me.

    From east to west the area is so void of definition, cold, hard stuff numbing the senses, that I supposed will be rationalised by the mass of thronging conventioneers so busy with their . . . errrr . . . drinks . . . I suppose . . . they will not notice!

    And then there will be the inter-press telling the world about “thu games”: so busy they wont even see The Lions . . .

  • Sweet web site NOT Phil . . .

    You ain’t much of a graphic designer.

    CA website: crowded, over intense, no definition . . . loose font choice . . . need I go on?

    Watch your mouth!

  • oof, burn.

    Sorry Francis, I shouldn’t be feeding trolls on your site.

  • PS Sorry about your prostate cancer Phil.

    I’m a survivor of some fifteen years.

    Eat carefully and ignore it: you’ll be okay.

    Ojala . . . .

  • Peter G

    I usually enjoy Urbanismo, but lately he has taken over from AGT as the “rabid foamer” on this blog. Urbanismo… do what Alex did, froth away on your own blog. You are better when you are educating and entertaining instead of castigating.

  • jimmy olson

    @Urbanismo : You should get 5yrs of hard labour in tuktoyaktuk for the pain your web pages inflicted on my sensibilities. …and you flamed FB? For shame. As for the CC and CA and FB’s article… all good. night all

  • Phil, Peter, Jimmy O . . .

    For heaven’s sake stop the childish invective.

    I’m talking about the building, not the web page.

    The building is an over-sized re-tread of what may have been a good idea in the right context: a very ineffective Zahir Hadid retread, a cliché!

    I am certain not talking about you.

  • MB

    I was hoping that we’d get more than a big glass box (with a green roof) for our skinny billion.

    The new convention centre represents the triumph of function over form. Maximize the hell outta the revenue-generating interior boxes (meeting rooms), then enclose them in yet another box. Perform pitifully minor adjustments to surface materials to get it through city hall …. barely.

    Does anyone recall a design competition for this major public asset? What could Erickson, Henriquez, Bakker, Busby, Foster, Geary or Calatrava have done with the same program and budget?

    One important historic reference that has been completely subsumed by this development and its neighbours is the original site for the CPR terminal on the original shoreline, now buried under the grey concrete viaduct at Cordova x Thurlow. Completely lost. The City is losing touch with its own history, and the importance of historical referencing, except for a meaningless brass plaque or text panel here & there.

    I feel the convention centre will be redeemed only slightly if management would allow the poorly articulated and cheaply detailed west plaza to become animated over the years as a primary outdoor concert venue. The east plaza is too steeply sloped to act as such, and it is therein a lost opportunity. A couple of terraces would work wonders there, otherwise its only a roof for the indoor walkways below.

    Disappointing is the gentleless word I can think of to describe this massive misadventure in public spending. The value for the public dollars invested will be realized primarily by private corporate interests. Perhaps its most appropriate fate would be to collect all the crappy kitsch dotting the streets in the form of eagles, salmon and bears and stuff them inside one of the boxes. They are one and the same.

  • Denis

    I’m no architect or builder, but anything that costs almost twice as much as bugeted for in my little world is something that the folks running the project should be hanging their coolective heads in shame But then, it’s the tax payers footing the bill and the Campbell Liberals doing the cheque signing for us. Another non item connected to the olympics. What fools we all are.

  • MB

    The problem was that this project was initially managed by the premier’s office. Experienced project managers were not brought in until the cost estimates doubled.

    Having said that, this and every project (large and small) was subject to steep labour and materials cost escalations in the range of 15%-35% a year over five years, a period when the economy was very hot until the collapse of the financial sector (attributed by some to oil price spikes) chilled everything.

  • bill from the southside

    Ubanismo, so much blah blah blah blah lately. Yes you contributed to CA for 20 years…20 years ago. Times, me thinks are passing you by.

  • blah blah blah blah eh!

    Now go wank yourself off billy boy . . .

  • m

    The big unknown with the construction of the convention centre was the cost of building out over the water. That, I understand, was the major contributor to the cost escalation.

    I worked on the Vancouver Port Corporation’s proposal for putting a similar facility east of the cruise ship port in 1999 and we knew at that time the cost of pilings etc would be a big unknown and difficult to estimate. The other issue with all the buildings there is the cost building the viaduct structures that extend out from the downtown grade. These are top heavy viaducts that must be seismically resilient.

    Similarly, when I worked on the technical evaluation for the possible location of the new art gallery in northeast false creek, we cited the cost of building such a large structure on fill and designing the building much of the structure below the water table as also a difficult costing challenge.

    Some time ago, Norm Hotson gave Ken Greenberg, Joe Hruda and I a tour of the new convention centre and I must say we were all quite impressed. Debate on architecture and design is somewhat subjective, so debate and opinions are always interesting to follow.

    I do find the personal attacks tedious on this blog and scroll by them…but always intrigued with informed reflection on architecture and urban design.

  • bill from the southside

    Urbanismo, thanks for the link..I rest my case.

  • The city is larger than personal invective: I can take it and I can hand to out. If that is the frustrated citizen’s only means expression so be it. Really, no big deal!

    The big deal is, the planning process and the way the city responds: talking at . . . not talking with!

    Anglo-centric planning has its antecedents in hierarchical, military strategy. Numbers, numbers, numbers: in-line procedural delays, discrete zoning, strategic meetings, syndicates, statistical FSR control and, i.e. sky line profiling and view corridor studies are just not plausible.

    CD zoning was an early attempt to address mixed-use: it has been neutralized by legalistic paraphernalia. The city is redolent in talk of mixed use but “living” on the thirtieth floor with Jimmy Pattison lurking below is hardly . . . errrrr . . . living!

    We talk regulation but we are unable to respond to contemporary life: always looking to discrete elements statistically conceived.

    Agonizing over park/pop proportions is valid only in that the city, apparently, ignores it: Coal Harbour and FNC are deficient in much, much more than that!

    Whatever the proportional allocation of “park/pop”, ambience is fractured, bleak, colourless, texture less and inhumane: bereft of idiomatic humanity.

    Of course I will be flacked-upon for pointing this out. Such has our urban conversation been debased.

    Perhaps there is a future! But a stochastic, conceptual planning process is far too sophisticated for current planning education and planning departments!

    Sin embargo, we must seek to engage the city on a deeper level than pressuring recalcitrant developers to build in peoples’ interests, and, indeed, their own.

    Posters on this blog are, in my opinion, looking into the wrong end of telescope!

    Coal Harbour and FCN must not be replicated at NECF: or indeed anywhere!

    Paz . . .

  • PS

    When youngsters go postal because someone upsets their preconceived notions they bode ill for the future of the city . . .

  • “I do find the personal attacks tedious on this blog ”

    Hear, hear. Get your own blog (or post your thoughts there) if you want to rant. If one can’t articulate their ideas without belittling other people, any contribution made will be discounted into worthlessness. Thank goodness the next generation has been (mostly) raised by professional caregivers in their formative years. Their ability to disagree with each other without cruelty or bully-behaviour is a refreshing change from the atmosphere that seems to dominant adult discourse these days. Or, it could be that the Internet makes everybody a ‘tough guy’. Put people face to face and they tend to revert to some semblance of civility.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Chris I not sure if that last post was sarcastic or not but if it wasn’t it’s more disillusioned then even a GR post. Kids raised by professional caregivers ? (you mean someone with an ECEC that is easily obtained and working for ~$15/ph is going to do a better job or raising a child then their parents would of).
    I have very little hope that the next generation will be better behaved then the last one. Heck the pinnacle of behaviour would’ve happened around the leave it to beaver generation. Walk into any classroom today as an observer for a couple of days and tell me society will be entering a new golden age of civility. Sure they will enjoy technologically superior lives then we will but I have no doubt that their lives will be much less civil.

  • I believe ECE workers for the most part are better equipped to teach children conflict resolution skills than the average parent who is thrust into the role without any training whatsoever. If you’re using the hourly wage as an indicator, then they’re 15 times more equipped than an average parent (joke).

    Anyway, that’s a big derail and if you want to discuss it further, feel free to email me. I’m easy to find.

  • Mira

    To JJJ,
    By GR you meant Gregor Robertson? Is he posting here? Just asking.
    To ALL posters,
    Urbanismo raised some good points here, that some of you cannot look in the face or maybe possibly comprehend. The man is passionate about his trade because he cares, and he got the knowledge too to back up his passion. What have you got? If it’s hurting too much, take a relaxant.

  • bill from the southside

    anyway…Francis good article. I think your point regarding how this project will be subject to debate in the city for some time is dead on – and it should raise debate. As a building in Vancouver this has taken some significant steps forward into some new territory.

    Is it perfect, no… could it be, no…will it be? That remains to be seen – I think it has the potential to be an amazing addition to this city. I am less concerned about the “au currant” Zaha Hadid-ness and more interested in seeing its success and limits over time. Like a new shirt and tie lets wear it for a bit before we pass final judgement.

    As a machine through which many visitors will initially/partially experience the City – drinks in hand- its good.

  • John

    Urbanismo is only one person with a single opinion. Most of the people I’ve spoken to like the new convention center. I happen to think it’s very, very nice, world class, in fact. Then again, many Vancouverites wouldn’t know world class if it came up and bit them on the ass.

  • MB

    The new CC is indicative of what’s wrong about Vancouver and it’s collective idea of what makes a fine city. Bigness is seen as its main asset. There is even a parallel between this and the criticism of NEFC. Everyone wants more (park space, building space …), but then place little value on quality.

    Bigger is NOT better. It’s only a novelty, and given its montrous porportions to the street and to human beings I can only hope the street trees grow fast and hide parts of the facade, though that’s doubtful given that they are suspended 15 metres above the ground in concrete boxes hanging below the viaduct.

    So much money went into its bigness and site challenges that there was little left for the human scale, finely crafted articulation, quality materials, public art and perhaps even a study of its potential non-convention uses when high energy costs make jet travel and cruising (therefore international conventions and tourism) unaffordable. This will surely occur before the CC warranty expires. I’m amazed at how many politicians and their lobbyists do not factor peak oil into their supposedly iron clad economic projections on projects obviously reliant in the long term on cheap transportation costs.

    It’s a good thing the CC is relatively transparent; imagine if its huge walls were wrought in blank concrete panels or dull grey sheet metal instead of glass. I now have a new found appreciation for Zeidler’s five sails.

    This building played it safe, and that contradicts its steep price. It’s apparent that avoiding risk was a primary design program element, therein we get blandness. Perhaps it could be made home to local artists once the conventions drop away beyond the next decade. At least they’d make it far more exciting than it is now, and they could have their own farm on the roof.

  • Ron

    Well, in this case, I think form follows function.
    If you have a low ceiling over a vast convention floor – you’d end up with all the ambiance of a parking garage (plus you would lose flexibility in housing your exhibits).

    Although – the structure could have been put underground at Larwill Park and the current Spectrum/Costco site as was proposed by Bing Thom during the competition for the first round of proposals. Concord Pacifc enventually withdrew its bid, as did Marathon Properties (current site) and Concert Properties won with its hotel hotel/convention centre east of Canada Place (which fell through beacuse of contract negotaitions – doubt that Concert wanted to take the risk of proceeding – so the Province had to go it alone – and hey – I guess there was some risk (in building over the water) because the cost blew up!) Anyways, it was Tourism Vancouver and others who wanted the iconic views and objected to having a split conevention centre – half at Canada Place and the other half linked by rapid transit near GM Place. Hence the big box on the waterfront.

  • Glissando Remmy

    “When you have told anyone you have left him a legacy, the only decent thing to do is to die at once.”
    – Samuel Butler

    Maybe this is what Vancouver needs. Maybe we need to let the legacy makers extinguish themselves. Oh, wait; they do that in a grand ceremony every four years. But, I’m off topic.

    On topic: Vancouver people and the side effects of living in a rainy climate. Read on.

    On June 20th and 21st, 2005, Council heard from 57 speakers at the Public Hearing to consider the proposed Rezoning of the site at 86 SE Marine Drive (Wal-Mart). During one of this days (20th if I am not mistaken) a DPB meeting took place at 500 Plaza (across from city Hall). On the table was the complete DP application for the VCC West.
    Beasley Era.
    In the audience, more people sitting on the DPB and Advisory Panel than spectators or I may say in this instance, witnesses. We were talking a $500,000,000 + project (at that time) funded with public money (we now know that it approaches a total cost of $900,000 to 1 billion). Did the people of Vancouver pretend to care about this haemorrhage of public money into a Big Empty? No, the majority of civic activists and future Vancouver Vision voters were cramming the City Hall chambers debating if Busby’s future Wal-Mart building on Marine Drive is green enough for their blood. No wonder three and a half years later they voted in a bunch of green phonies. People of Vancouver had no …perspective then, but pretend to have a vision, now; vision as in “hallucination” maybe.
    Much Ado About Nothing.
    At the end of the day Wal-Mart found their way into Vancouver through an open back door policy and now it is doing just fine on the former Costco site, near Boundary and Grandview. As for the VCC West …well, half a billion dollars over budget! Big deal! “It’s our time to shine, people! It’s only money, not your left kidney” David Podmore might say. That of course would be true if you were not an organ donor…which we’ll all be, soon after the Games.

    As for my opinion on the Big “Living Roof” Empty, I’ll leave you with a dear literary passage:

    “They look like white elephants,” she said.
    “I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
    “No, you wouldn’t have.”
    “I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.”
    The girl looked at the bead curtain. “They’ve painted something on it,” she said. “What does it say?”
    “Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.”
    “Could we try it?”

    HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS is a short story by Ernest Hemingway. It was first published in the 1927 collection Men without Women.

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Robert

    First of all, let’s be honest about the “green” roof. Much of the time it is a brown roof and it is an expensive stupid pointless waste of money. It is not even environmentally responsible, really. If there is enough sunlight there to grow weeds, then there is enough to have photovoltaic panels. But instead of having an energy self sufficient building, you are paying extra to grow hidden weeds in a city that already has a lush profusion of vegetation. This makes no sense

    Secondly, there is the question of the site itself. The waterfront is fantastic in Vancouver primarily because it has not been given over to developers. Why then locate a building whose reason for being is entirely based upon the creation of vast interior spaces, in the one place where such a usage comes at the expense of public amenities?

    Thirdly there is the weak design itself. The convention center looks and feels like it was designed on a computer without anyone actually coming to grips with how this massive mess would relate to the experience of pedestrians walking down the street. Yes I know it has all these boring empty terraces, but it honestly does nothing to enliven the street. If you are walking by, it essentially is a vast no man’s land, an urban desert in the heart of the city. A better design would have elevated it and put street friendly uses at ground level, or better still, find a different place for it entirely where it did not devour a prime public location.

    Once the novelty wears out people will wonder why Vancouver could not do better.

  • Adam Fitch

    Now that a year and a half have gone by, I wonder whether Robert and others who hate the CCW still hate it. It is a big building, that’s for sure, but is it a bad big building, and the wrong location.

    Now that it is summer, 2011, the site is pretty animated, and there are lots of members of the public and tourists enjoying the plazas, etc. A lot more than there were a few years ago, when it was an off-limits-to-the-public commercial shipping depot.

    It is located in the heart of the high end hotel district, and it gets the public up close to, and nicely overlooking, the busy part of coal Harbour and the sea planes. It is very popular.

    As to the inaccessible green roof, maybe it was a mistake, an expensive one, and a momentary architectural and urban design fad – time will tell. But I think not. It will “grow” on vancouver.

    Let’s have the next stanley cup gathering at jack poole plaza, and when the hooligans get out of hand, the cops can push them off the balcony and into coal harbour to cool off. then we will see that all the expense was worth it.