Museum of Vancouver show stirs up real-estate debate

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      Walking into the latest Museum of Vancouver exhibition, you might think you’ve stumbled across the latest real-estate presentation centre to hit this city’s condo boom.

      Infographics invite you to “Choose YOUR Vancouver!”, architectural models depict highrises and streets, and panoramic photographs and videos show buildings and aerial shots of neighbourhoods. Visitors can even pick up a little listings sheet, as they might at the latest condo open house.

      But the new show, called Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver, actually seeks to deconstruct and engage the public in the very building boom from which it borrows those marketing techniques. Look closer, and the architectural models pose questions about how skyscrapers might look here in 30 years; blown-up aerial shots of the city reveal the lowrise sprawl that spreads beyond our downtown high-rises; and infographics unearth little-appreciated data about how the city has grown, including the fact that the vacancy rate has hovered at around one percent here since the 1930s.

      “The idea was to be inspired by the visual language of real estate, and my feeling is let’s take it from real estate to the state of Vancouver,” lead curator Gregory Dreicer explains in an interview, while a busy flurry of workers sets up signage and exhibits. “The first big room is really a presentation centre, but instead of selling you a condo, it’s about Vancouver. In the next big space, instead of choosing a home, you’re choosing your future Vancouver.”

      Your Future Home, a title that also plays on condo-marketing lingo, is the brainchild of the museum and the Vancouver Urbanarium Society, a recently formed group of architects, planners, and leading citizens who are passionate about city-building.

      HCMA Architecture + Design seeks to reconnect citizens with the waterfront through the Harbour Deck.

      Encompassing a room full of provocative multimedia scenarios and real neighbourhood case studies crafted by architects and urban planners, as well as a series of debates, workshops, and walking tours, the show couldn’t be more timely. In recent weeks, the average selling price of single-family homes in Vancouver has soared past $2.5 million, property taxes have skyrocketed, and the mayor has floated a speculation tax to dampen house-flipping.

      “It’s obvious if you ask any group of Vancouverites about their biggest anxiety, it’s going to be housing affordability,” says Dreicer, who is originally from New York and watched the same development tensions there. “And that’s related to transportation, and public space, and what planners call density.”

      The exhibit opens with a wall full of photographs depicting Vancouver’s different housing types—floating homes, East Van heritage houses, West Side Tudor mansions, downtown steel-and-glass condos, Vancouver Specials, and more. Visitors are invited to draw their own favourite home, pictures that will be hung up alongside them.

      It’s the first in a series of displays where the public can interact with what they’re seeing. And that’s a strong goal of Dreicer and his team—to engage the public directly in a subject that affects them so dramatically.

      “There’s always a certain group that are very vocal, but are they really representing everyone? Our idea is we need to engage more people,” Dreicer stresses.

      That interaction includes giving instant feedback on the architectural concepts on display in one big room of the gallery: viewers’ comments are projected instantly from their smartphones onto digital screens. Placed on white plinths of various heights—giving the room the look of a city of miniature high-rises—are models like Henriquez Partners Architects’ Vertical City. It’s a tiny version of a 2,500-foot-tall structure made up, essentially, of a 15-block area of the city, with existing buildings and even bridge ramps somehow upended and enclosed in the skyscraper, which is topped by a rooftop “sky-park” of trees.

      Elsewhere, other installations propose tiny mobile parks that can be rolled into parking lots and empty lots, and a large “BargePark” that can be floated to different waterfront locales. Steicher Architecture proposes highrises that sit above ground level, with lush greenery underneath them, while Clayton Blackman, Colin Harper, and Shane Oleksiuk have created a model of different high-rises with public spaces in them—accompanied by diagrams where people can pen in possible uses or improve on the designs.

      Amid the eight case studies, one on the Arbutus Lands uses a Plexiglas model to envision multiple uses for the spot—including a recycling depot, performance space, and biking hub.

      Interspersed is a collection of historic pieces from the neighbourhoods being examined.

      “There’s not a lot of text in the exhibit, and that was a conscious effort,” Dreicer points out.

      Your Future Home lets you visualize how this city’s future might look, instead of just reading about it. In fact, the exhibit looks like it might be so aesthetically pleasing, interactive, and entertaining that you might stop worrying—for an hour or two, anyway—about how you’re ever going to afford a home in this town.

      Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver is at the Museum of Vancouver from Thursday (January 21) to May 15.