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The Future of Landscape Architecture: Celebrating Risk-Taking with Sitelines

Last month, Hapa was invited by Symmetry Lighting to participate in a conversation for this February’s edition of Sitelines, exploring the theme of celebrating risk-taking. We sat down with guest editor Robin Rosebrugh (Symmetry Lighting), landscape designer Vanessa Goldgrub (ETA Landscape Architecture) and Derek Lee (PWL Partnership) to discuss why celebration may not commonly be the initial response to risk, and how pushing boundaries can be healthy. Or perhaps necessary.

As Robin prefaces in the issue, “landscape architects play a role in community cohesion, restoration and resilience, and personal well-being” and we certainly agree these are everyday considerations  in the business and the profession. A glimpse of the conversation from this month’s newsletter can be found online on the Sitelines publication archive here.

The topics that Vanessa, Derek and Joe covered with Robin brings to mind a couple excerpts from the 50th anniversary edition of Sitelines (June 2014):

“We need what I call “VIM”—namely Vision, Imagination, and Motivation in order to accomplish these goals. The challenges of climate change, worldwide hyper-urbanized growth,  resulting  in the loss of open space, especially agricultural lands—essential for our food security, and resource scarcity such as water, are expanding the scale, methods, and demands for our profession. We can no longer solve these problems alone but must collaborate with other professionals. While practicing what I call the three R’s: Research, shouldering Responsibility, and Risk-taking.” – Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, LMBCSLA, FCSLA, FASLA, OC

“A radical rethinking of how our cities have been built is required, and this rethinking will necessitate a reassertion of the public
realm as a multifunctional, adaptable, dynamic, absorptive, responsive, relational, democratic space.” – Kelty McKinnon, MBCSLA

Almost three years later, Cornelia and Kelty’s call for memorable acronyms and multivalent places continue to be part of our advocacy today. Collaboration and an educated society are continuously important, so we can find more solutions together and integrate, rather than work within our own silos.

Thank you all for your company and to Robin and Lilian for hosting us on that Monday evening. Cover image by Vanessa.

Bing Thom & The Future of Our City

As winter is officially upon us and one more week of 2016 remains, it is certainly the perfect time for us to reflect on lessons learned, remember those who are not with us, and look forward to the future. Many tout 2016 was a tough year for loss of notable folks, and that will continue to ring true with a larger, aging population among us.

At this time, we would like to acknowledge & remember Mr. Bing Thom, who was an innovative, visionary leader in the architecture & design community both locally and globally. It was a pleasure to attend Bing Thom and The Future of Our City, a tribute and dialogue event in honour of the late founder of the architectural and urban design practice based in Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Washington, DC. Westbank is a continuous collaborative partner with Bing Thom Architects (BTA), and they hosted the evening earlier this month at the Rio Theatre, stemming from their salon series, Gwerk.

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Dedicated “to city building and the creation of beautiful buildings”, Westbank references Gwerk as a short form of Gesamtkunstwerk to describe their philosophy behind their body of work. Pronounced “get-zahmt-KOONST-VAIRK”, the German phrase was popularized by Richard Wagner in the mid-19th century and translates to “life as a total work of art”. Rather than a traditional sale office / presentation centre, the Beach & Howe development with Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Vancouver House, also programmed the space as a contemporary building exhibition in 2014.

Westbank’s President and CEO, Ian Gillespie, opened up our evening at the Rio Theatre with a personal reflection of his relationship with Bing. From sailing trips to the drawing board, he noted Mr. Thom was always one to challenge misconceptions, challenge the status quo, and did not present the same old, same old. In the same vein, Helen, who is BTA’s Director of Marketing & Communications, shared her insight of their everyday office culture, working alongside Bing, her observations of his genuine connection and those that were affected by his daily kindness.

Bing Thom & the Future of our City - Panel

The night was intentionally organised in the heart of Grandview-Woodland, as Bing, Westbank, Crombie REIT and their respective teams continue to engage in the revitalization of the site at Broadway and Commercial. “We have the chance to develop a design vision that can bring the community together to create a legacy project for the city’s most diverse and creative neighbourhood. Can we rise to the challenge?,” Bing provocatively anticipated back in September. There is no doubt that Bing has left us with a great legacy in Vancouver, Canada and beyond. BTA Principal Michael Heeney closed the speaker installment of the evening with a chronicle of the firm’s past successes, from the start of his career at BTA in the early 80s to the most recent Surrey City Central projects including SFU Surrey and the City Centre Library. Other highlights included nautral light control and illuminating of the Pacific Canada Pavilion, natural amphitheatres at Vancouver’s Sunset Community Centre, historic preservation and small library renovation(s) in Washington, DC, flood mitigation for Fort Worth’s Trinity Uptown Plan, and working with Canadian Landscape Architect, Cornelia Oberlander, on the Chan Centre.

A poignant story Michael shared about Bing’s professional approach and creative genius was the North West Territories Pavilion for Expo 86. Heeney indicated that the budget was approximately $2.8M, whereas their work for Expo 92’s Canadian Pavilion in Seville, Spain was a whopping $40M. Michael believes the project with the smaller budget had greater success, as it was multi-faceted, including Bing’s incorporation of film. “He had a holistic approach. [Which reminds us all] You can’t limit yourself to architecture,” Michael notes about Bing.

A common thread in BTA’s work shown is the lessons and cues from previous projects that are obviously and not-so obviously carried over to new ones. One particular client, the City of Surrey, was so pleased that they rebranded their new identity to boast “the future lives here” with a silhouette of buildings that have a striking resemblance to BTA’s completed project.

The City Centre library proves that the contemporary library is not exclusively a silent place anymore and that a variety of spaces can (and perhaps should) be intended for a variety of activities over time. The practice of landscape architecture and urban design focuses on this area a lot – the Third Place. Derived from Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place, the third place is apart from the other two places: our home and our work places. Michael segues into the panel discussion portion of the evening reminding us that the third place will continue to have an important role in the community as more of us live in smaller spaces.

The lively panel discussion that followed acquainted us with moderator Leslie Van Duzer (SALA Professor), Charles Montgomery (Happy City author), Bruce Haden (Vancouver architect and Board Member at The Vancouver Urbanarium Society), Sonja Trauss (founder of San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation), and Michael who spoke earlier. The breadth of the discussion was the timely topic of housing affordability and designing for youth and children. “I want the most interesting people to live here,” Bruce proclaimed. “It is also a responsibility to my children to live in a place with the most interesting people.” While Ian sees Bing as a “disruptor”, Bruce’s additional thought was that Bing was an ultimate pragmatist: “he was profoundly able to understand [aspects of a project] from finances to urbanism, and that allowed him to do extraordinary things.”

In order to achieve the range of social experiences, sustainability, and longevity that is being advocated for, we certainly need leaders that think like Bing has. An approach that celebrates the past, present and future, like BTA’s team has in their work. The panel acknowledged the need for social coherence and durability in our buildings. “New residents come whether or not there are new residences to live in,” Sonja reminded us. The panel concluded that looking to other living typologies and options is a matter of proactivity and preparation to prevent crowding and circumstances that may be a threat to public health. The task is not simply city building of yesteryear, but to inspire activities, places for children, support housing and work.

Trick or Treat Count - BTA

A significant piece of the picture is the steadfast arm of urban research that BTA has, directed by Andy Yan. The firm partners with Vancouver Sun every year to do a “Trick-or-Treat count”, tallying up visitors every Halloween. The result is a rewarding visual map of Vancouver proper that highlights where it is most likely one can get a full chocolate bar. Though our North American tradition of stocking up on extra sugar may not be the healthiest, Heeney, Yan et al. may imply that neighbourhoods with more children are healthier ones.

We were left with thoughtful reminders and questions to ask: encourage more places for children and families in the city; encourage more gathering places apart from home and work which may also fold into a place we have a right to protest — a public space, per Leslie Van Duzer. Last but not least, Charles asks: Who is the city for?

How can we participate? We hope to continue to share these stories and dialogue in the community. Thanks to BTA x Westbank for inpsiring us and helping us remember Bing. We are obliged to announce we will be working with both teams on the Commercial Broadway site, and look forward to what 2017 brings for Vancouver! Merry Holidays and a Happy New Year, from the Hapa Team!

Guest Blog: Vancouver Placemaking Week + #VivaRobson

Last week, Vancouver was bustling with great energy and enthusiasm for public spaces and urbanism. From premier conferences and leadership forums to  Vancouver Public Space Network’s 10 year Anniversary celebration, we have great insight and inspiration to carry us through the coming months of Autumn. We enjoyed one of the last summer days at #VivaRobson listening to your thoughts about the future of the 800-block of Robson. Our first activated / “reimagined laneway” also launched. Kudos to HCMA Architecture + Design for bringing more colour downtown with Alley-Oop. Even though us Hapsters couldn’t make it to most of the events, we have a guest author who did.


It is my pleasure to be the first guest author to Hapa Collaborative’s blog. I am a graduate of Landscape + Urbanism at the University of Manitoba and I am pleased to share my recent experience at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference in Vancouver.

From September 12 to 15th, Vancouver was host to the 19th Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place, one of the most notable North American active transportation conferences. Held biennially, over one thousand individuals attended this event from across the world to take a multi-sectoral gaze at the state of current active transportation issues. Hosted by Project for Public Spaces, Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place (#WalkBikePlaces) included plenary presentations by experts in various fields, over 70 breakout sessions, and a handful of mobile workshops across the greater metropolitan region. The themes of this year’s conference were: mobility; governance; health; and resilience.

This year, a host of notable speakers offered their expertise and knowledge to the conference. These speakers included The Honorable Jean-Yves Duclos (Federal Minister of Children, Families, and Social Development), Charles Montgomery (Principal of Happy Cities), Secretary Anthony Foxx (United States of America Department of Transportation), The Honorable Gregor Robertson (Mayor, City of Vancouver), and The Honorable Lisa Helps (Mayor, City of Victoria).

The City of Vancouver in particular had the privilege of promoting their active transportation opportunities as host city, and many of the new and exciting active transportation endeavours currently underway by the City were front and centre for registrants. As a Winnipegger, the connectivity of bike paths in the downtown core and surroundings that we rode during the mobile workshop were a particular point of envy. Residents of Vancouver can also appreciate the benefits of the comprehensive transportation count strategy being rolled out by the City of Vancouver, which is to become an integral component of future active transportation decisions. Engineers and advocates hoping to assist in guiding active transportation decisions with the city can also be heartened to hear that the Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads will be updated and released in 2017, with design guidelines for Active Transportation Infrastructure to be included.

Coming back to Winnipeg, I hope that our organization can take Vancouver’s willingness to embrace active transportation and inject it into our own decision-making bodies. A great step in the right direction was the attendance of two Winnipeg city councilors and the City of Winnipeg’s Active Transportation Coordinator, all of whom were keen to pursue some of the ideas presented. (If you want to help though, feel free to bump by email or twitter any of our councilors or mayor and encourage them to learn from your city’s example!)

Ultimately, the variety of subjects offered through the conference makes it impossible to cover the breadth and richness of the conversations discussed in one post. However, if you are interested in learning more of the proceedings during Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place, the detailed itinerary of each day can be found here: http://walkbikeplaces.org/#container_uiw42bc

Justin Quigley is a resident of Winnipeg, Manitoba and employee of Green Action Centre. Their program engages schools for safer active transportation environments. For more information, please visit their website here: http://greenactioncentre.ca/module/asrts/

Vancouver Placemaking Week 2016 Alley-Oop by HCMA Architecture + DesignVancouver Placemaking Week 2016

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