Who built it, when, why, and what’s good about it? ‘Exploring Vancouver’ tells its story through architecture

Vancouver may not be in the top tier of great architectural cities of the world, but its buildings do tell a story of how this once rough frontier town has become, for good or ill, a world-class urban centre. Now, a new book is telling that story once again – well, a new old book actually.

Exploring Vancouver: 10 Tours of The City and Its Buildings is in its fifth edition. Harold Kalman wrote the original guidebook in 1974. Co-author Robin Ward, a former architecture critic for the Vancouver Sun, admits much has changed since the previous version was published in 2012.

“The architecture, of course, but also some social issues,” he explained. “And I’m not talking just about affordability, but serious issues that didn’t really surface in the previous edition or any of the previous editions, notably, the First Nations presence, which has always been in Vancouver, but for too long, has been ignored.”

“One of the motivations for the new book was when I heard that Vancouver declared [it] was going to be Canada’s first city of reconciliation. And I thought, ‘Wow, well, that’s a good idea.’  And I’m sure a lot of people agree that is long overdue.”

Exploring Vancouver also looks at how contemporary pressures like sustainability, climate anxiety, and social inequality influence architects and city planners.

“We felt it’s really important to address these new issues and make the book more relevant to the world we live in today,” Ward added.

Related Article: Becoming Vancouver: A History


Then there are the buildings themselves. Many new ones have popped up in the decade since the last edition of the book appeared. Two that come to mind are The Post, the reimagining of the former Canada Post building downtown and the Deloitte Summit building, both of which are not far from each other on Georgia Street. Ward says they represent a flair and swagger that didn’t exist during the development of the former Expo Lands and Coal Harbour in the 1980s and `90s.

“What’s happened now is two things. Vancouver, as you say, is now a global city. And developers are competing with other cities around the world when they’re looking at their projects. And what they do now is commission what are called star architects to compete with each other and sell their projects to global investors and so on.

“Now, we can talk about whether that’s a good thing or not – foreign money coming into Vancouver and the effects that it’s had. But architecturally it’s produced some really exciting new buildings.”

The book is designed for self-guided walking tours, but also works as a handy desk reference, whether you’ve lived in Vancouver for years or are visiting for the first time.

“Well, there’s a bit of history, planning, and that kind of thing,” said Ward. “But it’s really about just the pleasure of, like, you turn a corner, and you find, ‘Wow, what is that?’ What this book will do is tell you who built it, why they built it, when it was built, and what’s good about it.”

Exploring Vancouver: 10 Tours of The City and Its Buildings is available from Harbour Publishing.

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