Downtown Architecture

Downtown Architecture, Vancouver, Canada (A)

Vancouver is a city with many architectural influences and it's history surrounds our daily lives in these historic buildings and sites. This walking tour will show you a few structures that showcase Vancouver's past social, economic and cultural development. These buildings can be used as measurements of our progress and can provide a mirror which reflects the values and circumstances that shaped them.
How it works: The full article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the sights featured in this article. The app's navigation functions guide you from one sight to the next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Downtown Architecture
Guide Location: Canada » Vancouver
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: Dawn Walnoha-MacKechnie
Author Bio: Dawn and Keith MacKechnie have both worked in the Film and TV business for many years. They are recent transplants from Los Angeles to Vancouver and love discovering fun things to do in their new city. They also love to travel and explore other areas with their teenage son.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Canada Place
  • Pan Pacific Hotel
  • Marine Building
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
  • Vancouver Art Gallery
  • Robson Square
  • Law Courts
  • Vancouver Public Library
Canada Place

1) Canada Place

Originally Pier BC, a Canadian Pacific Railway wharf, Canada Place was built as the Canadian Pavilion for Expo 86 in 1986. It celebrated the first hundred years of the founding of the City of Vancouver. The iconic building resembles a huge galleon with its bow jutting out into Burrard Inlet, and with its five stylized sails spread wide. The five supporting “masts” are 25 meters (82 feet) in height and allow for a huge interior area that requires no other support structures. The “sails” are actually fiberglass and Teflon and on special occasions are lit at night with multicolored lights creating fascinating and entertaining effects. This magnificent waterfront landmark completes its maritime theme by being the home of a three-berth cruise-ship terminal. The building also houses a five-star hotel, the World Trade Center, an Imax Theatre, and the Vancouver Convention Centre, which, after its 1.2 million-square-foot expansion, is now Canada's largest waterfront convention centre. The centre opened in April 2009, and in February 2010 was the main media centre for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

Two interesting and environmentally friendly aspects of Canada Place are the roof of the new Convention Centre, and the new shore-power initiative for the cruise ships. The Convention Centre roof is a huge area covered in wild flowers and grass. And since 2009, cruise ships berthed at Canada Place have been able to connect to the shore-based electrical grid, which allows them to stop billowing pollutants from their engines into the air. It was the first installation of its kind in Canada.
Image Courtesy of Uli Harder.
Pan Pacific Hotel

2) Pan Pacific Hotel

Located at Canada Place, the Pan Pacific Hotel's architecture leverages its location. The lobby is brightened by the natural light of a spectacular glass atrium which also allows for beautiful panoramic vistas across the Burrard Inlet and Stanley Park. This luxurious hotel combines structural aesthetics and modernity in its design. The 23-story building is decorated in pink marble and Maplewood. Its rooms are large and airy and have big windows that overlook the inlet and the North Shore mountains beyond. Adjoining the World Trade Centre, the hotel features gardens, two restaurants, meeting rooms, entertainment lounges and more than 500 rooms.

The lobby showcases some very impressive First Nations art. The floor artwork is a circular design by Susan Point called “Moon Journey.” It depicts the dorsal fin and tail of four whales swimming in a circle, around a full moon. The fins take the shape of raven heads and beaks and point toward the moon. In the Salish culture, the moon's cycle is of singular importance. The number four is also afforded huge significance to First Nations people. It stands for the four directions, the four elements [earth, wind, fire and water], and the four seasons. Three totem poles also depict the maritime nature of the hotel's location in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.
Image Courtesy of JamesZ_Flickr.
Marine Building

3) Marine Building

Designed by McCarter and Nairne and officially completed on October 7, 1930, the art deco Marine Building was the tallest building in the British Empire. It is also one of Vancouver's most famous. Originally built right on the waterfront (though now setback because of landfill and other development), the elegant building which climbs up to single pinnacle, was supposed to evoke in the designers words, "some great crag rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, touched with gold."

Art deco Canada Geese, a setting sun above them, still fly over intricate marine life: starfish, crabs, lobsters and prawns all crawling over each other in a tangle of seaweed. Outside, between the second and third floors, you may see seahorses and fish swimming along. On one of the greatest entrances in Canada, a 12 meter (40 foot) terracotta masterpiece, depicting the Pacific Coast's history of sailing on one side, and the story of steam power on the other boasts trains, boats, ships, biplanes and a zeppelin. One can only imagine what it looked like when the colors were vivid and new. It must have been fantastic.

Once inside, the lobby, though small, is designed to look like a Mayan temple in blue and aqua-green. On the east wall of the lobby is a unique clock. When the big hand is on the squid and the little hand is on the seahorse, it's almost one o'clock. (Time to run next door to the Elephant and Castle Pub for a beer.) The signs of the zodiac are beautifully inlaid into the lobby floor. The first owner/occupant was Guinness Brewing boss, A.J. Taylor.
Image Courtesy of Zhatt.
Christ Church Cathedral

4) Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral's motto is “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds.” It is based on Reverend Hobson's first sermon preached here on December 23rd, 1888.

Christ Church Cathedral is the Anglican Cathedral for the Diocese of New Westminster. It was designed and built in “Gothic Revival Style.” The building has over thirty stained glass windows from England and Canada, arches, cedar ceiling boards and fir flooring and beams. It is a wonderful mix of old world and new. The dedication service for the newly completed church was held on February 17, 1895.

The cathedral has undergone many renovations in the past hundred years. The first was in 1909 when the building was extended to the north and a balcony was constructed. The candle chandeliers were replaced with electric lights in 1920, and in the 1930s the present lanterns were installed. A new chancel was built in 1937 and a bell tower was planned, but the city by-laws changed in 1943, and church bells were restricted, so the tower was never built.

Over the years, the original fir flooring was covered by carpeting and linoleum. The cedar ceiling boards were also covered over. The cathedral was named a Heritage building in 1976, and by 1985 another renovation had added granite to some of the exterior and redesigned the northwest entrance. Additional work was started in 1995.

In April 2003, the cathedral closed for the first time in its history for major work on its interior. It reopened for services in April 2004. The most obvious change is the uncovering and refurbishing of the beautiful original cedar ceilings and Douglas fir floors. New light, sound and temperature control systems, chancel alcoves, wheelchair ramps and galleries were also added.

Several pipe organs have come and gone in the cathedral over the years. The Kenneth Jones tracker action pipe organ installed on the new floating gallery in 2004 incorporates 1700 pipes of the previous organ. The new organ dominates the church's south end.
Image Courtesy of Joe Mabel.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

5) Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

The current Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is actually the third Hotel Vancouver. The first was a brick 5 story structure built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886 a block away from the current location. The land the hotel was built on was given to the company in exchange for making Vancouver the western terminus of the trans-Canadian railroad instead of Port Moody. In 1916 the second Hotel Vancouver was built. It was used as a barracks for the troops during the Second World War, and was torn down in 1949.

In 1929, the Canadian National Railway began construction of this new neogothic chateau-style Hotel Vancouver, but the Great Depression stopped construction cold for five years. It was designed by John Schofield and John S. Archibald, and is 17 stories and 111 meters (364 feet) tall. The hotel wasn't finally opened until 1939, in time for a royal visit from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The hotel has a distinctive oxidized copper green roof, and its exterior is adorned with many mythical figures, including flying horses, griffins and gargoyles. (The gargoyles are copies of those found on many medieval French cathedrals.) Inside the hotel, crystal chandeliers, lots of brass and resplendent mahogany are everywhere. On the ground floor, there used to be a large art-deco sound stage for musical broadcasts for the CBC, whose offices were located in the mezzanine until the 1970s.

In 1988 the Hotel Vancouver became part of the Fairmont chain of hotels (originally the Canadian Pacific Hotel chain). It has been renovated twice since then. The hotel is a favorite of film and TV stars when shooting in Vancouver.
Image Courtesy of Flying Penguin.
Vancouver Art Gallery

6) Vancouver Art Gallery

In 1983, the Vancouver Art Gallery moved to its current location on Hornby Street from its original location a few blocks west on Georgia Street where it resided since its founding in 1931. Its current home was the former main courthouse for the City of Vancouver, designed by Francis Rattenbury, who also designed the British Columbia Parliament buildings and Victoria's Empress Hotel. The building was finished in 1906 and includes ionic columns, ornate stonework, formal porticos, a central dome and originally contained 18 courtrooms. The building now has 41,400 square feet of exhibition space, and houses a permanent collection of over 10,000 pieces of art, and the collection is noted for its abundance of work by regional artists. The gallery is open daily and regular public tours are available. There's also a cafe and a small gallery store on site.

In 1912, an annex was added to the original building on its western side. That building is not part of the art gallery. It has been declared a heritage site and has the original judges' benches and walls.

The Centennial Fountain is located on the Georgia Street side of the building. It was installed to commemorate the centennial of the union of British Columbia and the colonies of Vancouver Island in 1966. In March of 2007, the Olympic Countdown Clock was installed on the lawn on the Georgia Street side for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. In the front of the building, the lions are modeled on the ones in Trafalgar Square in London.

The steps on both the Georgia and Robson Street sides are popular spots for relaxing and socializing. They are also popular spots for protest rallies of all sorts.
Image Courtesy of Jason Vanderhill.
Robson Square

7) Robson Square

In Sylvia Hart Wright's Sourcebook of Contemporary North American Architecture, she states that Robson Square is “A 3-block long complex whose concrete construction and geometric lines are softened by lots of plantings—even on roofs—plus a pool, waterfalls, and intricate patterns of stairs and ramps. Included are a 7-story Law Courts Building with a tilted glass roof and exposed structural framing, a lower-rise government office building, an indoor mall, outdoor plazas, and an old courthouse transformed into the Vancouver Art Gallery."

Robson Square, which we talked about a little when discussing the art gallery and the courts building, is a pedestrian-only area and is perhaps Vancouver's most popular meeting place. It certainly was during the 2010 Winter Olympics. During those days in early 2010, hundreds of thousands filled Robson Square at all hours of the day and night. There was music and fireworks; the skating rink was always full; and the lines of people waiting to get into the art gallery were unprecedented. Not to mention the people who were adventurous enough to take the zip line run over the entire square. Regrettably, Arthur Erickson died about a year before the Olympics, so he never saw how much his creation became the hub of Vancouver for that huge celebration.

Below street level are restaurants, cafes and shops. The eateries put tables outside during the nice weather, which adds to the lively mix of the square. Domes of dark glass and metal cover part of this level, which clashes a bit with the art gallery, but blends nicely with the law courts more modern design. The upper level is a favorite lunch spot, while in the winter, it morphs into an ice skating rink.

Believe it or not, the government had planned to cover the square with a huge wooden roof – called none-too-affectionately, “the clam.” Thankfully, it never happened, because it would have ruined Erickson's design and his vision for the square.
Image Courtesy of Joe Mabel.
Law Courts

8) Law Courts

Opened in 1979 on the south side of Robson Square, the Vancouver Law Courts Building is architecturally famous. Designed by Arthur Erickson, the seven-story building slopes down toward Robson Square with water flowing in a series of chutes and steps.

Transparency was Erickson's main theme when designing the building. With its soaring glass roof (which measures over an acre) and transparent facade, it seems that sunlight pervades most areas of the building. Its versatile use of space is arranged in four major areas: courtrooms, judges' chambers, public spaces, and support and administrative facilities. Its public spaces include three galleries and a main floor Great Hall. All of them are physically and visually connected, and the glass roof of the building brings an outdoor feel to much of the indoor areas. The building houses 35 courtrooms.

The architect, Arthur Erickson, also designed Robson Square, of which the Law Courts are part. Some of his other buildings around the city include UBC's Central Library and Museum of Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, and south Vancouver's Sikh Temple.
Image Courtesy of Joe Mabel.
Vancouver Public Library

9) Vancouver Public Library

The Moshe Safdie-designed Vancouver Public Library's Central Library building was completed in 1995. It was part of the Library Square Project, which was Vancouver's largest capital project ever. Cost for the construction was over $100,000,000 – roughly one dollar per book. The Central Library's unusual round architecture has been compared to the Roman Coliseum and its striking appearance has made it very popular for filming in TV shows and movies. It has a large indoor walkway with some small stores and coffee shops. The library offers free Internet access if you want to email someone a photo of this spectacular building.

Library Square includes the Central Branch Library, the Federal Office Tower, several retail and service facilities, and underground parking. The office tower pays its own way and was part of a deal with the federal government to obtain the land.

The library itself has a nine-story centre containing book stacks and services, surrounded by a freestanding, elliptical wall that has reading and study areas that are accessed by bridges from the main building. The glass-roofed entrance serves as a foyer to the library and the ground level shops and public spaces surrounding the library form a continuous covered courtyard. The building's exterior resembles the Roman Coliseum.

Vancouver landscape designer Cornelia Oberlander created a beautiful rooftop garden, but for now it is not accessible to the public. There are plans to open it in the future.

The 6th Day, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Mr. Magoo, Battlestar Galactica and its spin-off Caprica, and Fringe are just some of the Films and TV shows that have used this photogenic building in their shows.
Image Courtesy of Dora (自行拍攝).

Walking Tours in Vancouver, Canada

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