Douglas & McIntyre

Interview Details

Harold  Kalman

Harold Kalman

March 2012

A Q&A with the authors of Exploring Vancouver, Harold Kalman and Robin Ward

The book has been updated since it was first published. Can you tell us a little about the changes and developments?

HK: The book is entirely new. It features all new colour photos, many new buildings and landscapes, mostly new texts and stories. It reflects today’s values (sustainability, inclusiveness, public access to valued places, ‘Vancouverism’ as a way to design cities). The cover symbolizes all those themes. We kept the book’s old name – and the aging contributors! – to establish continuity with a book that was first admired 40 years ago.

RW: The motivation for this 4th edition has been the extraordinary transformation of the past two decades – especially the completion of the Coal Harbour and False Creek mega projects – which have made architecture (and planning) more visible, controversial and discussed than ever before. Hal and I were keen to document those changes, which are the result of the global economy's impact on the city, and to explain how the city's architects and planners responded, creating a liveable city that is envied around the world.

What are some of your favourite buildings featured in Exploring Vancouver and why?

HK & RW: All the buildings in EV4 are our favourites! We’re attracted to them for varied reasons: their architectural excellence, their social, cultural and historical significance, their innovative environmental design, the stories they tell.

The book is divided into different neighbourhoods. Will people find a considerable difference in architecture across various parts of the city?

HK: Every neighbourhood has its own character(s), whether because of allowable land uses (offices and now condos downtown, single-family residences in Shaughnessy and West Vancouver, educational buildings at UBC), demographics (the classic East Side / West Side divide: a century ago the East Side appealed to working people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, while the former municipality of Point Grey to the West attracted professionals and businesspeople from Central Canada and Britain), and topography (the North Shore hills presented building challenges; the waterfront spawned beaches, seawalls and bridges).

RW: Each has its characteristics and styles of buildings, essential to understanding how the city looks and how it developed, which is how and why the 14 tours were chosen.

Architecture is an art that significantly affects every person every day, yet it is probably one of the least discussed forms in modern society and can feel exclusive to some. Can you talk to this? How do you think people with little knowledge of architecture can still enjoy it and learn about it?

HK: Buildings reflect who and what we are. My university professor taught me that architecture is cultural expression. Our primary audience is people who are interested in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, not those with a prior knowledge of architecture. Our objective is to tell Vancouver’s many stories through its buildings, landscapes, and neighbourhoods. Those stories touch on everything and everybody. This is a book about a city as much as it is a book about architecture.

RW: EV4s' text demystifies the art of architecture and encourages readers to understand it, and its designers' dreams and the consequences. In Vancouver, these have been generally positive. The city's splendid natural setting and human impact on it have been discussed ever since the creation of Stanley Park. The setting makes architecture in Vancouver particularly visible, often controversial, and more debated by citizens as well as architects and planners than in many other cities . . . But residents and visitors still need to look up above storefronts to see decorative delights often ignored, and to understand that when they feel comfortable in a public space – a park or building interior – that architects, engineers landscape architects or city planners have been involved in the creative process. The book reveals that activity.

Vancouver, by world standards, is a very young city. What treasures and interests do you think a city with buildings as young as Vancouver’s holds?

HK: Age, they say, is relative. A child doesn’t think of her/himself as young, a senior doesn’t consider her/himself old. Back around 1970, when we were fighting to save Christ Church Cathedral from demolishing itself, many people asked why we bother, because then it wasn’t even 100 years old. We replied that if no buildings reach their 100th birthday, then none will get to 200. We won the battle and the church is now 125 years old (and counting). Vancouver and the Lower Mainland have their older buildings and their newer buildings. Just because the timeline differs from those of Rome or Cairo doesn’t make them any less interesting.

RW: This is its fascination and delight: the multicultural mix of influences – from First Nations, through European, Eastern Canadian, American to Asian – that its architecture displays, and the global culture to which it responds.

D&M Marketing, Mar 28, 2012
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