When landscape architect Eldon Beck first started putting together his new master plan for the proposed Whistler village complex back in 1978, the last thing he expected was to be still involved with this community 30 years later. “It seldom happens that way in my line of work,” he tells me with a kid’s glint in his eye. “But it’s been an amazing affair.”
A late addition to the original project team, Beck’s involvement smacks of near-divine intervention. Hard up against a near-impossible deadline, his task was formidable by any standard: to create a pedestrian-only village that would creatively link the newly-cut ski slopes on the north side of Whistler to the newly-cut slopes on Blackcomb. He had less than three months to do it. And a whole flock of folk looking over his shoulder. But he didn’t panic.
Au contraire. Instead of worrying about buildings and codes and rooflines and gutters, Eldon first focused on how the village could positively affect the people it was going to serve. And in this, he was ultimately successful. But before we can even start on this discussion, he wants to make one thing perfectly clear.
“I don’t want you to make me out to be a superior being or anything,” he laughs. “Whistler has been a product of many, many people with lots of input. I would rather be seen as being an educator with a particular vision rather than being the ‘creator’.”
Point taken. “One of my favourite words is ‘connections’,” continues the quietly feisty Californian. “And that’s what I consider my job to be all about. When you can find a way to slow people down and become conscious of their surroundings, you allow them to connect again — with the environment and with other people. So that’s what I really focused on with the Whistler plan.” He pauses. “You see, my dream from the very beginning was to develop a mountain town model that could be applied to urban situations too.”
Intriguing. But isn’t that putting conventional design strategy on its head? I mean, isn’t it the norm for city architects to come to the mountains and impose illogical urban designs there? Of course, says the longtime design iconoclast. But, he adds with a mischievous smile, sometimes truth turns out to be stranger than fiction. “Look at what’s going on with new developments now all over North America. Suddenly design people are realizing how vital it is for human beings to connect with their surroundings. The pedestrian model pioneered at Whistler is now highly relevant for urban communities as well.”