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First Person: Eldon Beck

The architect of Whistler Village looks back at the principles behind the design and how the village must continue to evolve


He is a soft-spoken, down-to-earth American. And as he sits in a meeting room at municipal hall he can’t help but ponder the intricacies of the village beyond the windows – a village he helped create.

His musing takes him back more than 25 years, to a time when the view outside was the forested valley and the imposing dark head of Fissile Mountain staring down Singing Pass. It has been a long, wonderful journey, he says, from that pristine scene to today’s bustling ski mecca, a journey dear to his heart.

This is Eldon Beck – the mastermind behind Whistler Village.

It is his design, his vision, which is brought to life in the vibrant village streets.

When the news leaks out that Beck is back people want to stop and say hello. Former mayor Drew Meredith pops in to shake his hand. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly comes in next to pay his respects and welcome him back to Whistler.

Beck is an unassuming landscape architect based out of California, but since the mid-70s, when he was asked to design a ski resort in the midst of a forested valley, he has been forever linked to Whistler. Of all the mountain villages Beck has designed, and it’s a prestigious list including Vail and Mont Tremblant, he considers Whistler special and unique.

On a recent three-day visit, where he took part in discussions with municipal staff about the future of the village, Eldon Beck sat down with Pique Newsmagazine’s Alison Taylor for a trip down memory lane and took time to mull over the future of this award-winning village creation.

Q: You had a blank slate in the mid-70s to design a village from scratch. Tell me about some of the design principles behind Whistler Village.

A: The starting point is invariably looking at the land and dealing with a lot of curiosity about what grows here, what the views are like and, it’s a nebulous term, but what is the "spirit of place," what's the feeling that it has. And always the question is: is it possible to take a beautiful natural site and rearrange it with a lot of structures but still keep the sense that it’s the place that it should be?

So the very first thing to do was to understand the drama of the view of Singing Pass and the whole relationship to that wonderful valley. And so I stood on Village Gate, which was a little road, and walked in and I climbed a tree to look up and see what I could see and that kind of set the early structure of the village.