Vancouver has diverse cultural potential mired in homogenous urban form. John Patkau laments, “the city is being shaped almost entirely by private development in its most reductive (and profitable) form - condos. There really are very few other city building enterprises operational in Vancouver at the moment.”
Vancity, City of Glass, Terminal City, Hollywood North, Lotus Land, No Fun City; there are multiple lenses through which the city of Vancouver can be read. If this is the case, why is the urbanity of Vancouver’s downtown core doggedly uniform?
This question is exemplified by the heated controversy surrounding moving the Vancouver Art Gallery. The gallery currently serves to anchor the only central and provocative public space within the city. The institution will be displaced from its bustling central location and will have to share the new premises with a development tower. Many prominent voices are concerned that the galleries’ capacity for challenging the wanting urban condition may be diminished by this change.
Considering that the move is all but certain, can this controversy have an alternative perspective? Can the new site provide hidden potential unavailable to the current one? Can the intractable hand of development be subverted in this new gallery and to what limits? Can a non-central site with low pedestrian traffic become a condenser of artistic and urban thought? Can this new form become a cultural icon even more potent than its predecessor?
These questions are examined in a design project for the new site at Larwill Park.
Completed in partnership with Pierson Browne, B.A. and Gina Haraszti, Intermedia MA Film Production MF. Background photograph by Alex Barrera.
SHAPE VANCOUVER would be an interactive installation designed to explore and evolve the existing urban and social condition. By inviting passers-by of all ages to playfully engage in the spontaneous creation of themed street art, the shapes – themselves representing the changing ideas which shape our urban environment – would illustrate our citizens’ hopes and dreams.
Although it would only be physically present at Robson Square, SHAPE VANCOUVER would connect with Vancouverites through an aggressive social media campaign, to encourage discussion about the inscriptions on the shapes, new potential topics or prompts, and the potential impact of the results.
Akin to Gumhead meets Dancing Traffic Light, SHAPE VANCOUVER aspires to become a poignant example of Vancouver's optimistic and forward-thinking urbanism. By allowing Vancouverites to share, explore, express themselves, and get inspired by both fellow citizens and the city itself, the installation would act as a catalyst for further discussion, expression, and civic engagement.
The Vancouver Art Gallery by Alvar Aalto
The project sought to distil meaning and cultural value into a Vancouver institution through the design thesis of modernist architect Alvar Aalto. The trajectory of this thought was that by creating a form in honour of its location, the current urban homogeneity and formal logics could be challenged and improved. Topophilia, Genus Loci, Place Attachment, Phenomenology - these were some of the words at the crux of this constellation of thought. The philosophies posited by those such as Heiddeger, Latour, Jameson, Norberg-Schulz, Altman & Low, and Baird were ameliorated into this process. With respect and in particular to form-making, the work of Alvar Aalto inspired how to achieve this desire.
Aalto was a master at unpacking his native context of Finland and formally representing it through the nuance available in modern eclecticism. The result of Aalto’s work is form which can truly be described as Finlandian. His work both represents and resonates with the culture of his country. If Aalto was capable of this feat in Finland, would it be possible to reverse engineer his methodology and recreate it in a new context? Could one, through Aalto, create architecture of Vancouverism? Would this yield the form which responds to the homogenous blight of contemporary Vancouver urbanity?
A site was chosen to test this hypothesis. In a highly contested move, the Vancouver Art Gallery will be rebuilt on a new site. This reconstruction of a massive Vancouver institution was used as an opportunity to test the resonance of an Aalto-driven scheme.
Based on the logics of Aalto, the form-making began with a system of classical orders, which were subverted with eclecticism (not dissimilar to Hadrian’s villa, or Finlandia Hall). This created a seductive flow of unique spaces, which in their totality read as Vancouver architecture. Materiality was designed to be tactile, having classical origins with a local influence. Native andesite clad the base while the crown roofs were clad with copper, reminiscent of Vancouver’s most significant heritage properties. The model was constructed of real hand-cut stone to reinforce the historic sensuousness that the physical construction would be capable of embodying.
Inspired by leftover space and rising urban density. Completed in partnership with Jeffrey Ianni, EIT B.ASc.
Welcome to the Infill Era: a time where density is increasing and land is at a premium. The only un-built sites are leftover spaces or half empty properties - infill. These areas are an opportunity, despite their challenges of ageing infrastructure and size. The house of the future will be self-sufficient: a house off the grid may allow for rezoning on infill where otherwise precluded by inadequate infrastructure. The house of the future will address global trends: mounting energy costs, economic uncertainties, population, and pollution.
The house of the future is not at least 2500 square feet, rather it will be sized to fit and for people to live within their means. The house of the future starts at 300 square feet.
INFILL HOUSE is more than a tiny home. It uses innovative technologies including NASA-inspired water purification and recovery, natural air cleansing, and clever use of renewable energy. Further, INFILL HOUSE challenges the way we interact with our homes. As our lives become busier and more economically demanding, our dwellings should respond. Yet, our lifestyles are shockingly limited by the size and inefficiencies of current homes. INFILL HOUSE has been specifically designed in anticipation of the future urban landscape.
Inspired by the Four Sacred Directions, Wayndanimuk unpacks the culture of Hiawatha Nation and provides a fresh and sensitive perspective of the Serpent Mounds from an architectural lens.
Wayndanimuk is a procession designed to prepare visitors for the emotional and spiritual experience of viewing the Serpent mounds. Just as all journeys including life itself begin in the East, Wayndanimuk draws visitors through a place of birth and innocence, using the raw and visceral material of rammed earth to create a communal learning space. Next is to the South, locally framed on the site by the shining water, where visitors can leave the land on a sunken bridge and experience the warmth and passion of this stage. Onwards to the West; introspection and darkness overcome the visitors in an underground sweat lodge with burnt cedar interior. This is a time for deep reflection and personal thought. Finally, visitors emerge in the North; bright white wood-formed concrete and a slit of sky create the last impressive procession to the mounds.
Visitors are deposited below the mounds, where they appear the largest and most powerful, primed to experience their sacredness. This project received high praise from leaders in the field of Architecture (including Donald Chong and Hilary Sample), as well as members of the First Nations community, for its tasteful and respectful approach to a sensitive site.
Riverdale Park Community Centre
A proposed community centre for Toronto's Riverdale Park. The proposal accelerates visitors from a condensed entry sequence to an open plan perched atop one of Toronto's most spectacular views.
Rosenthal CAC Diagrams and Animations
Video done in partnership with Wai Ming Lo, B.E.S.
A study of the Rosenthal Contemporary Art Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects. The clear plexiglass model betrays the complex outer form by illustrating a standardized floor plate system within.
Photo credit Brent Calis Photography.
For his sister's wedding, James constructed an arbor out of rhododendron branches grown by their grandfather. The structure has no fasteners, and holds itself in place by its own weight.
The structure stood for over one year before it was dismantled.
James digitized his handwriting to create this font. James sought to imbue modern standardized typeface with the personality and meaning of hand-crafts.
Photo credit Brent Calis Photography.
A wedding gift, this personalized wax stamp represents the couple through their favourite creatures and love for animals.
Completed in partnership with Minichiello Jewellers.
James' happiest client remains Errin Pfeiffer, who received this personally-designed custom engagement ring as part of his proposal for marriage.
(She said yes)