It’s no secret that Vancouver public spaces could be better…now PUBLIC, a local architecture and design firm, has the means to help push that conversation forward. The Canada Council for the Arts honoured PUBLIC with the $50,000 2015 Professional Prix de Rome Award in Architecture, supporting the firm’s research mission to improve Vancouver’s public realm. The prestigious Prix de Rome dates back to a 17th century travel scholarship and has been a coveted prize in Canada since 1987. It grants PUBLIC the opportunity to research and travel to four global epicentres of exemplary public space making.
“Vancouver is often touted as a poster child of urbanity, yet when we travel to the great cities of the world and then return home, we question why Vancouver’s public spaces aren’t better,” said Brian Wakelin, Principal, PUBLIC. “We want the areas we collectively experience in our city to be more widely used, more vibrant, more fun, and more poetic. We’re thrilled that our win will enable us to contribute to that and we thank the Canada Council for the Arts for this incredible opportunity.”
Key to PUBLIC’s win was identifying how Vancouver, as a geographically constrained and rapidly urbanizing city, could still achieve compelling public spaces. PUBLIC’s winning submission pinpoints what is lacking in Vancouver’s current public realm and proposes a course of research to inform the types of gathering spaces that will best serve Vancouver in the future. With these issues in mind, PUBLIC’s team will travel across the globe, immersing themselves in the urban fabric of Rotterdam and Tokyo, with secondary stops in Singapore and Oslo. The team plans to present their findings at the 2016 Vancouver Biennale Exhibition.
PUBLIC’s choice of destination for its two base research cities is twofold. First, Rotterdam and Tokyo are contemporary metropolises with contemporary urban issues — both are port cities that were substantially rebuilt after World War II, which makes them very relevant to a young Vancouver. In addition to being world hubs of innovation and design, the cities also gave rise to the design philosophies of the Structuralists in the Netherlands, and the Metabolists in Japan. Bold and creative thinkers, the PUBLIC team draws inspiration from the way both groups viewed city design as a positive force for cultural change.
Historically, public space making has been an afterthought in Vancouver, particularly with the city’s pre-occupation with residential real estate development,” continued Wakelin. “We’re hoping our findings will impact the future of Vancouver’s city planning, and steer our collective conversation towards creating more spaces for people to gather — spaces that affect all of us.”