Monday, February 11, 2013

North Vancouver's New City Hall, Nanaimo's New City Hall Annex — Let's Compare

The new North Vancouver City Hall proclaims itself to be "A Community Space". The architect talks of its innovation, "celebrating the importance of wood", the Manager of City Facilities talks of a "wow factor",  the consulting engineer explains the structural innovation, a resident talks of the building being "welcoming" and the beginning of "a whole new phase for the city".

Nanaimo has just completed construction of a City Hall Annex building. The project stemmed from an engineering report cautioning that the previous building fell well short of earthquake readiness. Previous to this report the need for a new facility had not been identified as a priority. Nevertheless, the construction of any large capital project gives rise to the opportunity to leverage progress towards urban renewal and economic development goals. The site chosen was a City owned parking lot directly across from the 1951 City Hall in what is known as the Quennell Square precinct. The project happened quickly and without consultation with stakeholders and without a long called for and badly needed master plan for this remarkable inner city site. The project could have been a catalyst for the renewal of other precincts including the Terminal Avenue ravine and the Wellcox waterfront railyards.

If the architects are proud of their work here, they've left no indication on their website: Only this rendering which barely resembles the completed building. There are also no boasts that I've been able to find coming from the local construction contractor, the consulting engineer, local newspapers, senior City Management, City Councillors or citizens.

In terms of scale and integration with its neighbours the building is, uhh... insensitive. Look at it from Franklyn St (above and below) and see how harshly it relates to its heritage craftsman and Victorian neighbours. And how the pretty little 1950s City Hall now looks kind of silly sitting in its shadow.

A building got built. That's about all. No contribution to urban renewal, to the building of community, to enhancing the neighbourhood and I really am at a loss to explain it. The inescapable conclusion seems to be that this is the result of a bankruptcy of vision and ambition. Not surprisingly no one here is speaking of celebrating this lifeless building as "A Community Space", with an innovative "wow factor",  "welcoming" and the beginning of  "a whole new phase for the city".

Post script: The original building which was essentially condemed by an engineering report and vacated by the City has been purchased for $1 by a local engineering/contracting firm. As part of the sale, the City, in addition has agreed to pay the purchasing firm $40,000, the equivalent to two years worth of property tax and the purchaser must complete upgrades to render the building 60 per cent compliant with the seismic requirements or demolish the building within the first two years of taking ownership.

In fairness, it's not true that the project makes no contribution to inner city public space. At the rear of the building (with a view of a parking lot) there's this:

1 comment:

Frank Murphy said...

An an anonymous comment received on this. I won't be publishing anonymous comments but thoughtful, civil contributions are very welcome if they state authorship.