Reach for the Roof

Passing by these neon silhouettes at night, I felt I could have been in New York’s entertainment district, not Vancouver’s Gastown – the oldest part of the city characterized by brick and historic facades rather than modern silkscreen silhouettes that, from a distance, look like they belong on an iPod commercial as they raise the roof.

Silkscreen silhouettes on 60 W. Cordova, Gastown

On closer inspection, they’re actually standing on the shoulders of each other as they reach for the roof (or the sky). Gregory Henriquez, the architect of this condo project at 60 W. Cordova, explains their symbolism: “[The] silkscreen silhouettes of people standing on each other’s shoulders, holding up the building, is a metaphor for rising higher.” He has used visual art and poetry on other buildings in the Downtown Eastside:

Bruce Eriksen Place. Photo by Derek Lepper

The recently finished condo at 60 W. Cordova aims to turn renters into owners for those who have been shut out of the market. A partnership between Westbank Projects Corporation, Vancity, and Henriquez Partners Architects, the project intends to provide affordable homes to people with a Downtown Eastside connection – those who live/work here and desire to give back to their community.

Hence another metaphor for the silkscreen silhouettes – that of support, both physical and figurative. A building needs a sound structure and the support of people to come and stay into existence. It highlights the idea that architecture is a marriage between the hard city (the physical site and materials) and the soft city (the people who begin a building—architects, developers, and the the people who continue it—occupants, community members). This cycle is summarized on Henriquez Architects’ blog as people supporting people.

Even if this metaphor is lost on passersby, the silhouettes at least make great beacons at night showing 60 W. Cordova residents the way home to their stand-out condo.

Photo by Martha Perkins.

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