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Alain de Botton Gets Grumpy About Vancouver’s Skyline

Alain de Botton was briefly in town to promote his new book, The Architecture of Happiness, and had some snobby, grouchy things to say about Vancouver’s condos:

Lots has gone wrong with these condominiums. There’s just too many of them. I guess it’s just a matter of people pulling the levers. The condominium structure is never going to be all that inspiring. The best of them are done with touches that are out of the ordinary. And I haven’t found any evidence of that. I found that they are standard-issue stuff. And I think it is ruining the city. I think as an outsider it is clearly, clearly wrong. It’s a real pity.

His approach will certainly get his book more column inches, but he comes off as an elitist London fop. While I agree that the condo is never going to be the Bilbao Guggenheim, I don’t understand how we’d achieve a dense downtown core (one of Vancouver’s best qualities, if you ask me) without them.

In the comments, the decidedly left-wing Tyee audience weighs in, mostly with approving remarks and a heartfelt anti-development message. Over the last 15 years, the city of Vancouver has added 100,000 people. If not for condos, where would those people have gone?

6 Responses to “Alain de Botton Gets Grumpy About Vancouver’s Skyline”

  1. brem

    When you say the city of Vancouver, you mean just the city? not Burnaby, Delta or Surrey?

  2. Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

    Vancouver, the city, is a beautiful city in spite of its architecture. When I photographed Guido Pela (Novam Ventures)some years ago on top of a building in Gastown that he restored and re-developed he told me the problem with the tall buildings in our city was that they looked like truncated skyscrapers. As evidence he pointed out the Waterfront Hotel.

  3. Derek K. Miller

    Vancouver’s (and Surrey’s, Delta’s, Burnaby’s) tall buildings are not especially inspired. But so what? It seems to me that cities built by architects and architectural critics, or inspired by them, often end up as soulless moonscapes.

    Real cities grow properly in the hurly-burly Jane Jacobs mode, I think, with some prodding from city zoning and planning, which appears to work at least moderately well here. (Okay, Downtown Eastside, shall-we-twin-the-bridge gridlock, I get it. Not perfect.)

    Downtown Vancouver is generally a pretty nice place to walk around. So is the rest of the city, and much of the suburbs too, despite the strip malls and big boxes. And yes, we have the advantage of those amazing mountains and parks and beaches and other scenery. I think it’s okay that the city defers to its surroundings that way.

  4. darren

    Brem: I’m pretty sure I that the stat I cited was from the City of Vancouver, not from the GVRD or Lower Mainland or what have you.

  5. Renante Solivar

    Hi Darren.

    I am in full support of densification, what i have an issue with is the approach, excess and exploitation of residential developments downtown. i think the city is working through it’s next evolution as a young city. i think the next wave of building will be more commercial and service types of spaces, maybe a new metropolitan museum of vancouver is on the horizon. the aquarium expansion with draw more attention to this place as well. it’s moving in the right direction, slowly.

    Some comments about condos:

    One way we (people buying condos) is changing our expectations. A driving force of this plaque are condos are becoming a commodity of trade and profit, instead of a place of living. People are buying these condos with no desire of living there, but selling or renting it for passive income. this will change.

    As a design professional here in the city, through our clients, our challenge is to balance what will sell (marketing/demand) with great design. Design education are the first steps in creating and demanding great design and beautifying our city with the right mix of building types.

    it’s not enough to say it’s an eyesore, people need to become more involved in their community. in less than 3 years, this city will change for good or bad, with the coming of the olympics. if you don’t demand for better you get crap.

    Let’s be part of the solution, pointing out that there is a problem is a start.


    ps. also interested in meeting new people interested in design and architecture.

  6. Alice in Wonderland

    Here in Ottawa we’ve had our own housing boom. As the city stretches, uninspiring cookie cutter monster housing is licking the edges of our amalgimated city. Talk about uninspiring.

    Then there are the in-fill developments of stacked homes. The interiors are cramped, the outsides are, again, cookie cutter for this area.

    What I don’t understand is why architects can’t go to other communities (say Montreal with their wild architecuture of stair cases to second and third floor apartments, New York City with it’s classic brownstones) and draw on these previous efforts. Instead we’re getting wall and walls and wall of either glass or beige cement stucco.

    The first one was nice, the nineth, tenth and eleven one are, well, yawn.

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