If ever there was an example of Vancouverism at work, Woodward's is it. And so it seems the perfect venue for the Vancouver (and North American) premiere of Vancouverism: Architecture Builds the City.
What is Vancouverism? The exhibition's producer/curator, Vancouver architecture critic (and occasional Globe and Mail contributor) Trevor Boddy, likes the description offered by The New York Times: "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 exhibition Vancouverism had its world premiere in London in 2008, and was later shown in Paris. Boddy has updated it for the hometown crowd. In Europe, he focused on the local architects that exemplify Vancouverism. In Vancouver, the show is staged around ideas and themes.
At the centre of the exhibition is a 1955 Arthur Erickson sketch called Plan 56. At a time when Vancouver's West End consisted of little wooden houses, this drawing was revolutionary, imagining high towers connected by townhouse bases, interspersed with parks and trees: an ultra-high-density vision that ultimately came to fruition.
"There was no other scheme like this in the world at the time," says Boddy, who argues that politicians and urban planners have received far too much credit for the Vancouverism concept, and architects (in particular Erickson) have received far too little. "The deck hands are claiming to be naval architects." Boddy put the show together partly to set the record straight on this front, but also to answer questions he is asked all the time by visitors. "We have this opportunity with the world coming here to represent the city. Everyone is curious about the city. … They say, 'This city's so different. There's a feeling here. Why?' I get asked that question so often that the show is my answer."
Vancouverism: Architecture Builds the City runs from Jan. 15 to Feb. 27 in the Woodward's Atrium. A Vancouverism salon will be held Friday in the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward's ( www.sfuwoodwards.ca).