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Build it and they will come

Architects, planners gather for World Urban Forum



The girl with the ball cap sitting on a front stoop a block from Vancouver’s Westin Bayshore hotel is talking loud enough so passersby can hear as they scuttle to Super Saturday, a one-day architectural and urban planning symposium.

"Granville on Saturday is crazy," she says. "Last Saturday I was like oh-a-my-God!"

No kidding. Try doubling that number. That’s what 150 urban planners, architects, and landscape architects simulated in a six-hour design charrette in Vancouver on Saturday.

In a unique alliance that attracted 1,000 participants to a one-day collaborative of workshops and tours focused on urban sustainability, 30 four-person teams in one workshop tried to figure how the city of two million residents will accommodate another two million by 2050.

Organized by University of British Columbia professor and landscape architect Patrick Condon, the charrette teams were given neighbourhood aerial maps that linked to adjacent teams’ maps. Using pencil crayons, lots of whiteout and disregarding mitigating factors like global warming, participants from around the world mapped out a vision for a denser, pedestrian- and transit-friendly Vancouver.

"It’s about how to make neighbourhoods better places for people who already live there," Condon said.

Architect Graham Smith’s team was assigned a "Ditchmond" neighbourhood in below sea level suburban Richmond. In their plan, the two men and two women decided to transform underground culverts the width of Lion’s Gate bridge into car parks and to integrate residential development into current light industrial waterfront lands.

"It requires a certain suspension of disbelief to ignore that Richmond is liquefaction central," Smith said. "We left the basic arterial roads in place but inverted the present concept of above ground car parking to make that less visible."

Smith said it was a hands-on opportunity he rarely gets to do any more in an age of computerized drafting systems and myriads of support staff.

"It’s a chance to throw ideas out as debate," he said. "Not every idea may come to fruition, but it creates a tendency to want to reinvest the city with ideas that have been there from the outset." He said the exercise is like music that doesn’t necessarily get better with the 13 th go-round, but still needs to be heard.

Architects, urban planners and landscape architects from around the world came together for the inaugural cooperative event, planned to coincide with the World Urban Forum which runs June 19 to 23 in Vancouver. The event wrapped up a four-day Royal Architectural Institute of Canada conference at the Westin Bayshore hotel that included workshops, sustainable Vancouver tours and an urban design awards presentation.

Whistler architect Dennis Maguire passed on the six-hour design charrette, attending a contract-negotiating workshop instead. Maguire said an important aspect of the event and of the preceding three-day Architects Institute of B.C. conference is the social function, especially for a small-town architect.

"We’re quite isolated up here [in Whistler] and the social aspect lets you find out what other people are doing and helps you keep up."

Whistler municipal planners Guy Patterson and Christina Salin will attend the World Urban Forum this week. Salin has signed up for six workshops, including a design charrette for sustainable community planning and development. Salin said it’s a chance to indulge personal interests but also gather information applicable to working with Whistler’s unique challenges.

"Working in isolation is always difficult," Salin said. "For some people, they only can work by themselves, but I find that when I work in a charrette environment a lot of the ideas that come out, other people have them, and so there’s more confidence in consensus."

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