Posted by: VPSN | October 20, 2013

North Plaza redesign options – deadline for feedback – Tuesday, October 22

North Plaza - Bark Mulch

The deadline for providing feedback on the three design options that have been developed for the North Plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is this coming Tuesday, October 22.  We encourage VPSN members and public space enthusiasts to take a few moments to look at the three design options and let the City know your thoughts.

You can view the three concepts here:

(1) Wet

(2) Active Edge

(3) Plalo Ring

For each of the design options, the City is looking to understand

  • Your overall impressions
  • How safe you think you’d feel in the space
  • How you imagine the space might be used
  • Whether you think the concept has enough open space, green space and places to sit
  • What you like most and what you like least about the design
  • Any things you think are missing

It’s important to note that the City isn’t trying to ‘pick a winner’ at this point. Rather, the intent is to identify what works – or doesn’t – in each of the three, and then look to developing a more refined concept. Presumably this means there’s the potential to combine aspects of the designs or introduce new features that aren’t currently part of the design(s).

This latter point is, we think, pretty important. After taking the time to review the options, canvas our members, and assess the public commentary that has been circulating, we feel that there’s more work yet to be done.

First, and most importantly, we support the redesign of the North Plaza. The current bark mulch swamp is discouraging at best – an unsightly blight on one of the City’s oldest and most important public spaces. While the present redesign efforts are largely motivated by membrane issues on the site (water leaking into the VAG storage vaults), the real truth is that the site has needed a revamp for some time.

With that in mind, we think it’s critically important that the design effort ‘gets it right.’  This means starting with a clear and complete set of principles and objectives to guide the design process. You can see some of the City’s background material on these considerations via Open House boards on “What Makes a Great Public Space?” and Project Background and Objectives.  We think this background material is a good start; however one question we are asking ourselves is this:

  • Are there priorities amongst these principles and objectives?
  • Are these principles, background details and objectives complete – or are there items that have been missed?

These are questions that we’d encourage VPSN members to think about as they take the survey.

Our initial take – summarized only briefly here – is that the three designs succeed in advancing the discussion around transforming the North Plaza. They all strive towards creating a flexible, hard-surface space that can be used for a variety of purposes, and which should – with the right programming support – be able to support a variety of activities, both passive and active in nature.

North Plaza Concept - Wet

Option 1: “Wet”

North Plaza Concept - Active Edge

Option 2: “Active Edge”

But we also feel that all three designs could be more ambitious and integrated in nature.  Not necessarily ambitious in a ‘big budget’ sort of way (this project is actually pretty lean in its finances) but more ambitious in the way that they respond to the public space needs of the city. At least two of the three designs advance a design that, illustrative renderings aside, reads like too much Big Flat Space. More work needs to be done to create a balanced sense of enclosure and sufficient visual interest, so that the space doesn’t drift into the same difficulties currently faced by QE Theatre Plaza or the North Plaza of the Library.

North Plaza Concept - PLALO Ring

Option 3: “PLALO Ring”

The third option (the PLALO Ring) appears to have generated the most public enthusiasm. Its defining feature is a giant suspended ring – making it bolder than anything else currently found in a Vancouver plaza. Bold is good, we think – but is it boldness of the right kind? Does it complement the Rattenbury (Art Gallery) building or detract from it? Does it provide a sufficient response to Georgia Street? Is there enough to the design besides the ring?  And given the staging needs that come with major events, is it technically feasible – or will it get it actually reduce the flexibility of the site?

As noted above, we’re in the midst of putting together a longer response to the VAG redesign concepts. We’ll be exploring these and other questions in that document.

In the meantime, if you’ve got any ideas to share please be sure to send them our way – via robsonsquare [at]


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