A new kind of public space that re-engages Vancouver’s water.
There’s a seeming paradox in Vancouver—it’s a highly-livable city surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty, yet sometimes described as “no fun” by disengaged and unhappy residents. HCMA Architecture + Design is exploring opportunities to combat this through their TILT Curiosity Labs by introducing North America’s first Harbour Deck, an innovative new type of engaging public space on and in the water.
Proposed for Coal Harbour—a dense residential area intermixed with luxury hotels and commercial office space in Vancouver’s downtown core—HCMA hopes to create an inviting urban harbour landscape that rekindles human connection with water in one of Canada’s most densely-populated and expensive cities.
“HCMA’s focus is serving communities. We want to use our design potential to create healthy, delightful and sustainable environments that strengthen relationships of people who live shoulder-to-shoulder. We want to encourage activity and human connection,” explains Darryl Condon, the firm’s managing partner.
Harbour Deck is about starting a conversation about what’s possible for Vancouver’s social spaces and re-establishing our connection with the marine environment. It’s only in recent years that Vancouver has lost touch with the water that surrounds us—opting to walk, bike and run around the Seawall rather than jump neck-deep into a resource that gives us life and vitality. Vancouverites are intrinsically water people.
“From the indigenous peoples who called Coal Harbour home before Canada’s conception, to crowded swimming platforms in Burrard Inlet and English Bay in the early 1900s, to the logging, fishing and modern port and tourism industries—water has always played an essential role in the livelihood of the city. It’s about time Vancouverites began benefitting from its full potential again,” says Condon.˙
Close to transit and functioning as an extension of Bute Street, the proposed design for Harbour Deck is striking—it includes an oval wooden boardwalk, wind-shielded seating, swim lanes and wading areas, water hammocks, a raised bridge, and a four-metre high platform. It also features space for picnicking and live performances and festivals, with stunning views of Stanley Park, the North Shore mountains and city skyline.
Experts in designing aquatic and community spaces, such as Hillcrest Centre and West Vancouver Community Centre, building a public space on the water seemed obvious to HCMA—from a health, historical and financial perspective. With downtown land prices hitting all-time highs and density approaching 5,300 people per square kilometre, public spaces often lose out to more profitable developments. Yet it’s been proven these places are crucial to the sustainability, health and happiness of successful cities around the world.
Not a pool, pier or park, Harbour Deck builds on successful precedential waterfront public squares in Northern European cities like Copenhagen and Oslo which have similar climates and urban environments. In the years since the introduction of these so-called “harbour baths”, water quality around ports has improved as relationship between industry, the public and the marine environment is strengthened. Connection with the water fosters environmental stewardship and responsibility.
“Harbour Deck takes what was a poorly-used dock and turns it into something really fabulous. Make your fireworks reservations now. Plan a live concert, or start your own. This is not just a public space, it’s a public stage with the best backdrop in Vancouver.” says Gordon Price, urban planner and former City of Vancouver Councillor.
There are no fixed plans yet to move ahead with construction, but HCMA hopes to kickstart a conversation around effective public spaces that redefine residents’ relationship with the water. While HCMA’s feasibility study specifically addresses a Harbour Deck located downtown in Coal Harbour, the firm envisions vibrant public spaces on the water in many more communities in and around the Lower Mainland.
Harbour Deck is part of a new Museum of Vancouver and Urbanarium exhibition called Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver, running from January 21 to May 15, 2016. The exhibition spotlights 20 visions relating to issues that most concern residents: affordable housing, residential density, ease of transportation, and quality of public space.