“Vancouver has a strong character of its own, given by the drama of its location, the character of its landscape, its curious sense of floating on the edge of the known world, confronting vast oceanic space. Its mistiness is psychical as well as physical; distinct outlines, hard abstractions, clear thought are not its style. It is unlike any other Canadian city.” – Ron Thom (qtd. in Whiteson 23)

Architectural Beginnings
The Granville Townsite was incorporated as the city of Vancouver in April of 1886 with a population of just over a 1000 people. It was a colonial town whose character was shaped by the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway and whose geographic location made it a conduit between the Orient, Europe and the rest of Canada. Its architectural beginnings of tents and wooden buildings was short-lived when the Great Fire in June of 1886 burned nearly every structure to the ground in twenty minutes. The Hastings Sawmill Store was one of the few buildings to survive and was immediately used as a gathering place for bewildered colonists. It is said that Vancouver was re-built as the fires were still smoldering, some structures of the pre-fire wooden variety but others were of masonry and made to be fireproof.

Vancouver circa 1930's - Vancouver Public Library

Vancouver circa 1930's - Vancouver Public Library

Mosaic of Styles
In the late 1880’s Vancouver developed achitecturally as a late Victorian and Edwardian city. The use of wood had some of its influence from Japanese structures that used timbers and had survived going back over a thousand years. There were Romanesque warehouses in Gastown, Beaux-arts office blocks, Neo-classical railway stations, and Greek and Roman styled banks filling the city’s landscape at that time.

Recession Stunts Construction
There was a brief Art Deco building boom in the late 1920’s, the Marine Building being the most magnanimous, but the recession of 1912 had strangled the growth and economics of the city right through until after the end of World War II. This had stunted the construction of large new buildings; notably the Hotel Vancouver.

West Coast Modernism
After the war architecture was transitioning into the new modernist movement whose influence was infiltrating the big cities around the world. Frank Lloyd Wright is considered one of the most profound single influences on West Coast architecture because of how his organic style fused the formal discipline he learned from the Orient with the use of natural and non-industrial materials in his methodology of structural framing. Wright created a seamless plane of interior and exterior spaces.

Invigorated Design
Post war times in Vancouver gave rise to a flood of commissions invigorated by a younger generation of designers who had graduated from the universities of Manitoba, Toronto, McGill and by apprenticeships through BC design firms. There was an important merging of influences from those who were trained in the east, those in America, and those whose education was exclusively West Coast. Modernist buildings in Vancouver were characterized by efficiency, an economy of form, being compact, convenient, functional and contemporary.

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