February 29, 2016

The View over Troubled Waters

James Cheng, Richard Henriquez and Joost Bakker spoke at a UDI luncheon last week about the current state of the planning process within the City of Vancouver, and stated that they saw the need to take a new look at the City’s View Corridor policy.  As reported in the Vancouver Sun by Jeff Lee, the trio of well known  architects felt that the policy deprived the city of significant opportunities and felt that further consultation  was necessary to move forward.
The view corridor policy can be viewed here. This was a significant piece of work, and has resulted in maintaining magnificent views to the mountains and to the water from downtown streets, and also takes into account shadowing from buildings.
I believe that the View Corridor Policy is one of the facets that has made downtown Vancouver so special. But is there a point where sophisticated development should trump the view policy, to allow for higher point towers in other locations? Is this part of a maturing metropolis? Or  should the policy remain?
Image by Ken Ohrn

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  1. You pose a valid question; one which the 3 architects interviewed seem to have confidently answered for themselves. Their primary issue with the viewshed policy was that it inhibited full-build development downtown and thus represented the “loss” of billions of lost dollars. Whether the policy has resulted in anything special about Vancouver seems entirely immaterial to them.

  2. I am torn on this one.
    While view corridor policies undoubtedly have had positive results, there is more to a city than a singular concern for long distant views from a handful of vantage points. James Cheng’s Shangri-La tower was literally sliced at an acute angle by the edge of a view plane, and it arguably made for a more interesting piece of architecture for it than the massive 4-cornered glass box that would have resulted without it. Cheng, Henriquez and Bakker have long, extraordinary and respectful design histories here and made some insightful comments in their talks, but their concerns seem to be unfortunately limited to isolated buildings and money.
    There is little concern about urban design in view corridors. They are more about architecture than anything else. Vancouver’s streetscapes are still as mundane as Calgary’s or Edmonton’s or Phoenix’s regardless of the presence of view corridors and tall tower sites.
    My old UBC prof once referred to the issue as ‘the Cult of the View’ that happens to ignore the city. In fact, in many site-specific instances, it turns its back to the city. Big Views are marketable as an urban policy bragging point, and there is a philosophical parallel to the private marketability of million dollar view real estate.
    Views occur around a 360 degree compass. I think we should now be calling for Next Generation urban design (in most BC cities it would be First Generation!) and rather than regulating long views, we should be creating new views down our streets at the pedestrian scale. Paris has its boulevards (created very controversially…), Barcelona has it Ramblas, Copenhagen has its Stroget.
    What does Vancouver have besides its views of nature?