Vancouverism: Building An Idea

“Vancouverism is characterized by tall, but widely separated, slender towers interspersed with low-rise buildings, public spaces, small parks and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and facades to minimize the impact of a high density population.”
-The New York Times, December 28, 2005

The word first entered the argot of American architects and city planners over the past decade, who began speaking of “Vancouverizing” their under-populated, un-loved urban cores, seeking inspiration from Canada’s Pacific portal’s re-development successes. Our city has become first a verb, and now, an ideology promoting an urbanism of density and public amenity. Vancouverism at its best brings together a deep respect for the natural environment with high concentrations of residents. Within condominium residential towers downtown and courtyard and boulevard-edging mid-rise buildings elsewhere in the city, Vancouverites are learning to live tightly together; a healthy, engaging – even thrilling place.

Not Asia, not Europe, not even North America, but a new kind of city living with elements from all of these – a hybrid that now demands to be taken on its own terms. In the language of city-building, “Vancouverism” is fast replacing “Manhattanism” as the maximum power setting for shaping the humane mixed-use city, important ideas for a new era of scarce energy and diminished natural resources.

The architecture of Vancouverism begins with a single sketch by a young design professor whose entire built career to date consisted of but one small house for an artist. Arthur Erickson’s pencil sketch for “Plan 56” imagines a downtown Vancouver of soaring residential towers – a hyper-concentration of buildings and people imagined for this then-sleepy outpost – and unthinkable by anyone but him.

Over his next half century of architecture and civic public commentary, Arthur Erickson has constantly pushed Vancouver into its new status as Pacific metropolis, a world city in the making. Architects Bing Thom and James Cheng, plus engineers Paul Fast and Gerry Epp are longtime Erickson associates who have extended, improved and tested these ideas – with dense and lively new hearts for suburbs or multi-ethnic neighbourhoods, new configurations of housing and building uses found no-where else. New ideas, new forms, new designs: welcome to Vancouver.