April 30, 2021

Design Theme for the Broadway SkyTrain Stations: Ultra-Bland

The Daily Hive has posted renderings of the proposed SkyTrain stations along the Broadway line.  What a disappointment for such highly public infrastructure that will be with us for generations – especially compared to its predecessors along the Millennium Line (right), whether exterior or interior.

Budgets?  Surely if there’s a place to spend money on bold design, it’s for such public places.  Especially when compared to other cities of similar size like Stockholm that aspire to high urban quality.

The stations on the whole aspire to nothing more than the mediocrity of the Canada Line – another disappointment that was rationalized by budgetary limitations and an urgent deadline.


Seriously?  This looks more like a rendering to illustrate the volume into which the actual building must fit.*

The Urinal School of Interior Design.  (At least there will be public restrooms in the stations.)

Not sure what the red boxes are for – but that is literally the only colour in any of the renderings other than the signage.

This is surely the greatest disappointment: the station that will serve one of the pre-eminent art and design schools in Canada.

We can only hope the students will rebel against the blandness and use the spaces for some guerilla artistic urbanism:

Yes, there is art to come in all the stations – but that is no excuse to treat the architecture itself as a blank palette.


*Update: Andy Coupland in the Comments below notes that, indeed, that is pretty much just a volume rendering, representing the building that will rise above.  The station, however, seems fittingly mediocre.

Update: A friend noted that this is not just about aesthetics.

Are all the stations going to be the same design with an identical colour/material palette? Not only will that be banal but it will also make for an orientation challenge with six identical-looking stations in sequence, and possibly 10 to 12 when it gets to UBC.

A commenter mentioned Toronto’s original stations as a negative example but at least they varied the tile colours to assist in station recognition and orientation. Are we going to start off not having even learned the importance of that? Canada Line is repetitive but at least it has a variety of side, centre and stacked-platform stations, so that helps orientation, even subconsciously, despite the bland materials and poor signage.


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  1. BC will continue to be behind other regions in Canada and in the World. Civil Servants that are not progressive enough have trim the budget to the bare minimum and the CoV does not want to raise the alarm.( City contributed $100 M toward the Broadway Subway without any say about anything!! )
    It is almost too late now, we will have inferior stations.

  2. You’re so correct. Comparison with the Canada Line and with public washrooms/toilets is entirely appropriate. As a former Torontonian, it reminds me much of the Yonge and Bloor Street lines, always such a disappointment in comparison with what our brothers and sisters did with the 1967 era stations in Montreal. And Nathan is correct that the CoV needs to stand up for something better. Maybe the need for a larger contribution on their part is holding them back.

  3. yikes – looks like they regurgitated the Canada Line station template.

    The Public Procurement Process has gotten so complex, conservative , and risk-averse that decent design firms are locked out. For public projects today the only firms that make the cut are ones that can prove they’ve done 5 similar projects (in this case stations for a major transit line) in the last 5 years – doesn’t matter if it was Boston or Dubai.

    The Broadway Line is a bit different as it’s a consortium led by the builder and financier – but their design architects were chosen with the above in mind.

  4. Unfortunately not surprising given the lack of creativity seen on our residential and commercial architecture. How do we get to a level of design enthusiasm experienced in Auckland, Melbourne, Brisbane, etc. Commonwealth cities with similar urban evolution and immigration flows/patterns.

  5. Two relevant tweets by Globe Architecture Critic Alex Bozikovic @alexbozikovic:

    “How public procurement is toxic to great architecture. In Toronto, one of the country’s best design firms
    loses a reno job because they are not “technically qualified” (??) and two big old firms offer a bargain-basement fee. http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2021.BA132.8

    “These should be towers. It’s disappointing to see the BC gov’t make the same mistake as Ontario did with the Eglinton Crosstown in Toronto.”

    1. A profound failure of foresight and imagination. These remorseless bunkers beggar us all. Nothing remotely close to “world class”.

  6. I take your point about the stripped down aesthetic of the stations, although I think they’re a bit better than the Canada Line. The South Granville illustration is really only showing the station element. The building on top won’t really look quite like that. It’s illustrated here https://changingcitybook.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/1465-west-broadway/ – and even that’s a bit misleading. The building currently under construction is intended to provide the station space, and offices in the podium of a future tower. How big the tower might be, and whether it’s condo, rental or more office will depend on the outcome of the Broadway Corridor Plan, still underway.

    Some of the other stations are designed to have buildings on top – you can see the shading on the Emily Carr station for example. Obviously that won’t change the appearance of the station itself.

  7. It’s pretty sad, but so predictable. The South Granville Station at Broadway and Granville is particularly egregious, as this will be one of the highest volume pedestrian traffic interchanges with the street level transit system (i.e. buses) and the minuscule entrance plaza cut-out at the corner is woefully under-sized and utterly uninspiring as a public space. With our client the South Granville BIA, we tried to get this revisited recently but in vain. What a wasted opportunity. Sadly it’s entirely in line with the City’s risk-averse conservatism and lack of vision (no pun intended).

  8. The simpler they are, the easier they are to repair and maintain over time (or the short term too).
    Whenever you have anything that’s “bespoke” they will be a lot more expensive to repair and maintain.
    The “kit of parts” approach has worked well for the Expo Line (though many are being expanded).
    The last thing you want is a cry that a station looks “dated” and needs to be renovated for aesthetic reasons.

    If you go to the Daily Hive story, you’ll see the areas marked in yellow where the public art will be located. Those areas include entire walls and areas above escalators (like the flying sailor at Surrey Central).


  9. Yes, pretty plain. They’ll be functional and pleasant enough but what a waste of opportunity to make something nice.
    For example, the stations should reflect the area or name. Arbutus Station should have arbutus trees planted around it, the walls should have an arbutus bark pattern, as a nod to the former rail line there, maybe it could look like an old timey train station.
    South Granville station could look like a Shaughnessy mansion. Oak VGH should have oak trees planted around it. Maybe something vaguely medical. Broadway-City Hall being part of the existing station probably has to be similar. Mount Pleasant should be as tall as the Lee Building and maybe even have similar architecture, columns, etc. Emily Carr station should have her paintings all over.
    Just ideas here. Something to tell visitors, get off at such and such station, you’ll know it because it’s the only one with whatever.

  10. Everybody is missing the point. These stations have to be functional. Not architect design award winners. There are so many much more needed places to put provincial tax dollars. We can’t have everything. People will always argue. We have a spiralling upward tax base for both business and residential and until we get a government capable of balancing it better without continual tax hikes, discussions like this are just totally irrelevant and nothing more then noise. If they make the stations design award winner quality and our taxes go way up because of it, there will be another article about whether our extra tax dollars were worth it and all the other places the money could have been better spent. Nice the media have something to talk about though!

    1. Exactly – it’s the Vancouver syndrome of having expensive taste creeping into opinions on public works.

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