The Larwill Park Controversy

Rather than enter directly into the discussion of whether the Vancouver Art Gallery should occupy the whole block, assuming for argument’s sake that this site is the only alternative, or whether other buildings and/or uses could be accommodated we should step back and look at the broader picture.

One of the problems in this controversy is that it is difficult to get a grip on just what is the urban environment into which the the Art Gallery would find itself on the Larwill Park site. Or more accurately what will environment be when some time in the future; 5 years, 10 years, when a new gallery would be complete.

Those traditionalists who look fondly on the present site as part of the Robson Square civic complex are comfortable with the established environment of substantial and permanent urban forms, – perhaps not the old Eatons/Sears building. They see the Vancouver Art gallery as a fitting centre point of Downtown Vancouver and they wonder what would replace it?

If we look at the general area of this current leading contender as the new Vancouver Art Gallery site we tend to see a developing area with certain characteristics and questions. To some it seems like the destination area for hordes of sports fans leaving the stadium or the arena looking for a bar. It does however have the seeds of a ” cultural precinct ” with the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse complex and the library. Although the latter has turned its’ back on the QE, probably the result of the lack a comprehensive future plan for the area. The CBC while an important cultural institution is not a significant player in the urban scene in the way that the library and the theatres are.

Two question marks arise in an attempt to understand the area. What will happen to the post office and what will be the effect of the removal of the Georgia Viaduct, a current talking point? If, instead of looking at Larwill Park as we come at it from the west where it is seen it as the edge of downtown we look at it from other perspectives. That block and the blocks north and northwest of it are the potential links to the redeveloping areas of Gastown, Hastings Street and Chinatown to the current downtown core. Cambie Street on the west links it to Victory Square and the rejuvenated Woodwards Complex. Going down Beatty Street to Pender Street we are linked to the Chinatown Gate and Downtown Eastside. The area already has a rapid transit stop and a cascade of stairs down to Abbott Street. To further complicate the discussion there are other cultural institutions looking for a significant new location: theatre, concert hall, museum and probably others who wi l l surface spontaneously. Of course there also may be educational institutions who covet a site in the area and would enhance the mix.

It seems that what is needed is a comprehensive vision for cultural institutions in the city coupled with an urban design framework for the Georgia Street, Cambie Street, Beatty Street, Pender Street, Victory Square area. With something tangible to deal with we can then evaluate what is appropriate for Larwill Park. Would the VAG be the kind of facility on that site which would enhance Vancouver and would the VAG find that location within a new vision for that area suitable?

K.G Terriss
Architect
August 1, 2010