Park-like convention centre plan gets warm reception

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

Frances Bula and Matthew Ramsey

Artist’s drawing details a preliminary design for an addition to the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre.

A unique preliminary design for Vancouver‘s convention-centre addition has emerged after months of quiet negotiations between the city and designers.

“We’re expecting a handsome piece of architecture and this design is evolving in the right directions,” said the city’s central-area planning director Larry Beasley, the city’s chief goal-setter when it comes to shaping the downtown’s most important buildings. “We’re optimistic about what we’re seeing.”

What has emerged is a low, terraced building that descends 40 feet from the escarpment at the edge of West Hastings down to the waterfront and out over the water, appearing to be an extension of the Harbour Green Park to the east.

The design for the half-billion-dollar Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre expansion project was quietly put on display for the public Monday, provoking approval from early passers-by.

Marilyn MacIver of Vancouver liked what she saw when she stopped by the design open-house at the Trade and Convention Centre Monday afternoon.

“I like it. It’s short. It fits in. It doesn’t overtake and it’s easy to get around,” said Vancouver resident Marilyn MacIver. “It looks like it’s visitor-friendly, people-friendly. I like the greenway part of it. It makes the city look good.”

Grant McTavish remembers the days when the Coal Harbour foreshore was dominated by industrial uses. McTavish says the convention centre design, with its sloping angular roofs, adjoining park and low profile in relation to the apartment and business towers behind will be yet another “feather” in Vancouver‘s cap.

“It fits right in, seems to me. I think it will be a really gorgeous addition [to the shoreline],” he said.

Like many of the visitors to the design open-house, Susan Fisher wondered whether the green roof in the pictures and on the model would be covered with grass in a roof-top park.

“It would be interesting to see something like that, because there’s so much concrete in the background,” she said, adding that she, like McTavish appreciates efforts to make the proposed convention centre match well with its neighbours.

“It blends. That’s the first word that comes to my mind,” she said.

The building’s project manager, Russ Anthony, and Beasley both said the building still has many modifications to go through, depending on what is doable at what cost.

“This is the starting point,” Anthony said.

But it incorporates basic principles that the city set from the beginning:

– It doesn’t compete with the sails of the main convention centre next door, icons that identify Vancouver around the world.

– It allows the public to continue walking along the waterfront as well as over the site, instead of cutting them off.

– It doesn’t look like a black box, which convention centres, often the ugliest buildings in any city, did in their first-generation models.

Architect Dave Galpin said the new design became possible once the city allowed a planned arts centre to be moved from the site. That allowed the building and walkways to flow without a break across the space.

The actual exhibit space, usually the most difficult to incorporate attractively because it’s a windowless box, will be backed up against the escarpment and invisible from the waterfront.

The building is being designed by a three-firm group that includes the lead design group LMN of Seattle, internationally recognized convention-centre experts, along with two local firms, Downs Archambault and Musson Cattell Mackey. The landscape architect is Don Wouri, who also designed the park next door.

The building will need to get both provincial and federal environmental approvals, but doesn’t require any further political approvals. It does have to go through the city’s urban design panel, however. The panel is a team of architects, engineers and designers who assess the design strengths and flaws of the city’s major buildings.

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun


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