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Brainstorming Vancouver
by Camille Crossman, published 2011-04-22
We know Western Canada to be dynamic, but with the Formshift competition, organised in 2009, Vancouver has shown that we can rely on architectural exploration to reflect upon the city's future. As opposed to a standard theme, the competition's organisers offered three questions to participants. The first two components consisted of fictional sites, representing standard organisational realities different from those present in Vancouver, such as primary and commercial circulation vs. secondary and residential circulation. The third component was a choice that was left to the participant.

The first component (Vancouver Primary) consisted in creating a project located on the main artery of an urban city block, with its goal to rethink urban diversity. As well as having access to a metro station, participants were free to include multiple functions such as residential, food services, shops, etc. Over twenty projects were received and many included shared outdoor space or a walkway flowing through the site, offering intimate living spaces as opposed to the public space located on the main urban artery. We can equally identify the will to decompartmentalize, to divide built space, allowing us to see each living unit in relationship with the next (for example, a stacking of blocks, different angles, color contrasts, etc.). Finally, given that integration and exploration of new sustainable strategies is a part of the concept in this competition (thus not relying on the feasible nature of the project) participants seized the opportunity to create impressive and innovative green systems.

The second component (Vancouver Secondary) was projected toward a higher density residential neighbourhood. The participants were invited to rethink traditional city block configuration while conserving the individual homes that occupy them. Within the 24 submissions, many projects proposed a lifestyle based on sharing green space, and developed “interior densification”, consisting in creating small individual homes which occupy part of the large backyards belonging to existing homes. One of the projects even imagined an underground densification! With housing proximity in mind, many submissions planned for intergenerational housing, developing projects capable of evolving with families, permitting long term growth of the single family home.

The third component (Vancouver Wild Cart) was an exploratory and open reflection consisting in removing the boundaries of sustainable design, both in the building envelope, and with innovative living styles. Any ideas providing advancement in environmentally friendly architecture were welcome, and over forty projects were submitted. One idea that has been growing in popularity is urban agriculture, and has been a recurring idea in this competition, while however taking on surprising shapes (green roofs permitting agriculture were present, but also systems utilising vertical building surfaces). The scale was variable and changed between projects since participants were free to choose the site. This provided participants with a unique opportunity to voice their ideas on certain sites or neighbourhoods within Vancouver. For example, one project submitted a detailed plan for a pedestrian bridge, acting as an “eco-connector” between two peninsulas, which offered a variety of cultural and agricultural spaces.

In conclusion, this competition offered an opening to innovation and exploration in the study of formal, technical, social and ethical practices. Without having to worry about the immediate feasibility of the projects, the organisers will have a great deal of innovative reflection regarding Vancouver's future on their hands. With a total of 84 submissions, this large scale brainstorming probably involved a few hundred designers which, thanks to public viewing of the projects, will have planted a seed in a big part of Canada's architectural community, if not internationally.
(Translated by David Grenier)
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