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Christmas present: “Vancouver Matters”

December 29th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Sorry for the three-day absence but my partner shamed me into not blogging on Christmas Day or Boxing Day by suggesting that, and I quote, “people will think something is wrong with you.” Then I got embroiled in buying post-Christmas presents for myself and going to movies.

But here I am back again, to report on my best Christmas present to myself: a little book I found at my new, favourite store, Vancouver Special, called “Vancouver Matters.” It’s a must for Vancouverophiles.

I can’t believe I haven’t heard anything about this pocket-sized book to date, which is a small, PhD-holders version of Chuck Davis’s Vancouver Book. Its 16 short essays (a couple of them just the intros to a series of photos or drawings) touch on topics like “Grass,” “Iconography,” “Heritage” and “Blackberry” — the fruit not the electronic gadget — exploring each of them in a grad-student/architecture critic kind of way, complete with interesting photos, diagrams and drawings.

If the word “discourse” makes you break out in hives, this isn’t the book for you because it’s filled with words like that. Exhibit A: The first sentence in the book. “Vancouver Matters is both an affirmation and critique of the impliciet assertions of Vancouverism — the increasingly dogmatic discourse of civic-boosterism that has proliferated within both local and global imaginations in recent years.”

But if you can get past that, the essays take you to some interesting places: the role of andesite (mined on an island near Alert Bay) in the city’s architecture; the way blackberry bushes (“uninvited organic matter”) subvert the increasingly cultivated landscape of the city; the role of the Rogers Sugary Refinery in Vancouver, the West, and the japanese internment; the typology of the Vancouver Special, that two-storey rectangular box with vaguely Italian motifs that has come to represent the city.

My favourite essay, because I’m an urban nerd and have pondered this myself, was about the way heritage density has been created and shipped around the city. For those not familiar with heritage density, it’s a surreal process by which the city creates imaginary space for the owner of a heritage building, who can then sell it to any other developer in town to add onto his/her building to make it taller. It helps pay for the cost of saving heritage buildings.

Courtney Miller, a grad of UBC’s Advanced Studies in Architecture program, has done a couple of neat maps showing where the density is being created and where it’s going to in the city, block by block in the downtown peninsula. He also has a breakdown of Jameson House, the tower now facing an uncertain future, showing through colour coding and arrows where each floor of the tower got its density imported from.

Most of the writers are affiliated with UBC’s architecture program, although a couple are not.

Anyway, a lovely little mini-bible, vol. 1, of interesting bits about Vancouver. Only $25, at Vancouver Special, this new mecca for junkies of all things architectural and design-y — little Italian notebooks and Japanese kitchen things and architecture and art books. On Main near the Flower Factory.

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