Vancouver's Hapa Collaborative draws upon civic history

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      Think landscape architecture and it’s likely that images of tree-lined walkways, pristine white-picketed lawns, and immaculately groomed gardens come to mind. But the well-practised discipline goes beyond the confines of residential spaces and into public sites that many citizens inhabit every day.

      “It’s anything that is in between buildings and actually implicated by buildings or on buildings,” explains Joseph Fry, principal of local landscape-architecture and urban-design firm Hapa Collaborative, by phone. “It’s everything that you experience when you walk out your front door.”

      Hapa has directed several recent projects aimed at optimizing public engagement, from the redevelopment of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s north plaza to Robson Square to the bend of Main Street that marks the transition from Mount Pleasant to Riley Park. “We really try to advocate for the life between buildings and encourage our clients and the public to understand the importance of that,” says Fry.

      Since 2011, Hapa Collaborative—its name a nod to Fry’s mixed Japanese-Canadian heritage and what he calls Vancouver’s “hybridized” nature—has been developing public and private outdoor sites that excite and inspire. The heart of Hapa’s practice, however, lies in its work on streetscapes, parks, and civic spots, where community consultation is key to creating beautiful, welcoming spaces that citizens can call their own.

      Once complete, the Vancouver Art Gallery's new north plaza will play host to large events such as the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
      Hapa Collaborative

      “It’s really important for us to observe and listen, and bring a bit of that thinking forward,” says Fry. “In that way, the people who actually use the spaces afterward feel like it’s their site, it’s their design.”

      Consider Sun Hop Park, a public space situated at Main Street and East 18th Avenue completed by Hapa and the Vancouver park board in 2012. To ensure that the project would successfully serve its users, Fry and his team met with residents of the surrounding neighbourhoods before, during, and after the design process.

      Keeping in mind the community’s requests for a public-art installation and the site’s past life as a milk bar operated by the now-defunct Palm Dairy, Hapa dreamed up a bright red-orange trellis that mimics the shape of a giant bendy straw. Portable seating, ample greenspace, and permeable paving, meanwhile, offer residents a place to gather, play, and take in the sights.

      The original plan even included a milkshake bar that would occupy the retail building behind the park. “It’s a bit of a playful take on the history of the location,” says Fry.

      Formerly known as Mid-Main Park, Sun Hop Park was recently renamed by the Vancouver Park Board as an ode to a Chinese grocer that operated at Main Street and East 18th Avenue in 1923.
      Hapa Collaborative

      History is also considered in Hapa’s work on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s north plaza and the 800 block of Robson, the latter of which will be closed to all vehicle traffic upon completion. With the removal of the gallery’s water fountain, Hapa is outfitting the new plaza with plenty of seating options, lighting, and handy provisions such as power outlets and restrooms to encourage public congregation. (Fry is hopeful that the space will open in time to host this year’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival.)

      At Robson Square, where construction is expected to begin in the fall, curbs will be removed and gutters relocated to create a level, accessible space for downtown dwellers to hang. “For me, it’s about fulfilling an ambition that Arthur Erickson’s firm had when Robson Square was built in the ’70s,” notes Fry, “to have it open to the public and as this fully vernacular space.”

      Vancouverites interested in learning more about these projects and others can visit Hapa Collaborative’s studio (403–375 West 5th Avenue) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday (May 13) as part of Vancouver Design Week(end). There, attendees will be able to view mockups and drawings, ask questions about the practice’s ongoing work, and enjoy beer and snacks. Free Sun Hop Park T-shirts and DIY paper models of the megaphone at Jim Deva Plaza—another one of Hapa’s projects—will also be available.

      By offering the public a behind-the-curtain look at how a design firm operates, Fry also hopes to further the significance of community sites and the role they play in helping to build a vibrant, livable city. “When we invest in public space, we invest across all aspects of social good, health and wellness, education, and arts and culture,” he stresses.

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.