February 22, 2021

Urban design challenge: Georgia and Granville

It’s the No. 1 intersection in Vancouver: Granville and Georgia.  Canada Line, SkyTrain and major bus routes, department stores, banks and office blocks, a major mall with high-profile stores, and some pretty good food carts.

Plus history: it’s been the No. 1 corner for a long time, notably when the anchors were (in addition to the Bay) the Birk’s Building (right) and, across Granville, the second hotel Vancouver.  The 60s and 70s were not kind to this corner.

A good case can be made for tearing out the London Drugs block as part of Scotia Centre and replacing it with something that addresses the corner, hides the party wall of the adjacent Vancouver Block, and provides some architectural interest.  (Could anything be more mediocre than the existing facade?)

Urban designer Frank Ducote starts the  ball:

Something that respects the height and scale of both the neoclassic Hudson’s Bay and the Art Deco Smith Block would be about the right fit here, IMO. (The floor-to-floor heights of the HBC are very high.)A bit of a space adjacent to the windows of the Smith Block above the second floor would be nice.


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  1. Assuming that Londons Drugs has a long term lease, there was a missed opportunity to redevelop / add-on to the former theatre/ESL now Tom Lee space above London Drugs.
    A mid-sized retailer like Uniqlo could have built a multistorey glass box on top of the podium to good effect (highly prominent location, etc.), but maybe the footings coldn’t take the load.
    The existing plaza outside London Drugs is very active (much more so than it ever was with the previous tennts where London Drugs is (Birks/Bollums’ Books/Duthie Books). I think the corner would suffer without the plaza. There are a couple of food vendors there as well – those would disappear without the beathing space provided by the plaza.

  2. It’s way more than a design/massing problem. It’s also a pedestrian nightmare, similar to Winnipeg’s Portage/Main or Toronto’s Yonge/Dundas. And it’s a mass transit nightmare – doesn’t work below ground either. Needs loads of $s.

  3. The plaza is public space, the work of previous urban designers. The massing above and behind dominates the intersection, that is true. In my view this condition suggests a work in progress, perhaps another element is needed that truly addresses this very important corner. An iconic place marker would do nicely. Maybe screens above the property line to the corner and as high as HB. giant video screens as in and around Times Square with a glass covered plaza behind.

  4. A strange missed opportunity was the Canada Line station. The plaza on the west side of Granville is a big valuable piece of downtown but totally wasted because the TD building and the Eaton’s block do not open up to it enough at grade. If there were continuous retail frontage along the plaza, it would be hugely improved. And the station entrance to the Canada Line actually made the situation worse by further walling off the back of the plaza from the street activity. Instead of a walled in building over the station, it would have been better with a large glass canopy over the escalators and part of the plaza as well with just railings around the opening. Actually, in my more fevered imaginings, I see a large glass and steel sculpture over the square of say an perched eagle with the glass panes of its back intersecting like shingles to shed the rain off. Beak would face north over the Granville Georgia intersection and feet either side of the opening to the Canada Line.

    I agree that the plaza in front of London Drugs doesn’t win any urban design awards, but it is full of people. Hard to imagine where they would go unless Granville were completely closed to vehicles.

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