Vancouver Specials 30" x 75", archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18" x 45", archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Since their first appearance in 1965, the Vancouver Special has become ubiquitous throughout the city, especially the eastern half. The only house style completely unique to Vancouver, they were initially targeted for immigrant families looking for an affordable, modern home designed to optimize use of the 33 foot wide city lot. The original plans could be purchased at City Hall for $65, permits were given out almost immediately, and they could be built in as little as three weeks. With no basement to excavate, they were quick, convenient, and inexpensive. By the mid 80's their boxy, utilitarian, stucco/wood paneling/brick or stone veneer aesthetic had become so reviled that they earned their derisive name and bylaws were passed to prevent their further construction. Over 10,000 remain today, symbols of the city's rapid growth and working class practicality.
New Vancouver Specials 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Today, a new style of house is being mass-produced, one with almost the same uniformity and pervasiveness of the classic Vancouver Special: a house design I think of as being the "New Vancouver Special". All over the city, older houses are being knocked down and replaced with this new design here. While the classic Vancouver Specials are having something of a renaissance, becoming targets for renovations that take their strengths in efficient use of space and modernizing the aesthetic for the more trendy, affluent homebuyer of today, I wonder will these brand new houses have the same nostalgia surrounding them in 40 years? Do they even have a quality of build to sustain such long-term use? Do they offer anything worth the waste created by knocking down the older houses they replace?
Strathcona Stands 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood has always been working class, multicultural, colourful, and resilient. From SPOTA opposing the proposed freeway in the 60's and 70's, to the "Militant Mothers of Raymur" forcing the city to construct a much-needed pedestrian overpass, to the foundation of the East Side Culture Crawl, Strathcona has always stood loud and proud. Today, the Victorian and Edwardian heritage houses are being restored and real estate prices are on the rise, while the median income remains amongst the lowest in the city. Amidst this growing economic disparity, no area exhibits a stronger community feeling, or boasts greater neighbourhood pride.
Vancouver Vanishes 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
It is often quite common in European cultures that homes pass down through the family, and as such structures can endure for centuries. Here, however, we seem to treat them as an infinitely replaceable commodity. In 2013, 1,082 buildings were torn down in the city of Vancouver, many of them of the heritage variety. On average, they each produce 45 tonnes of waste, and Metro Vancouver estimates that 33% of all waste going into our landfills come from demolitions and construction. Economic forces often make the teardown too attractive for property buyers and developers to deny, but with them much of the city's heritage is vanishing before our eyes.
Kings Way 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Originally known as "Westminster Road" in Vancouver, and "Vancouver Road" in New Westminster, a wagon trail was blazed in 1860 to connect the Hastings Mill townsite to BC's then-capital. Widened, paved, and renamed Kingsway, the present-day road still follows the same course, running diagonally across the grid pattern of the cities that grew around it. An East Van commercial thoroughfare, Kingsway is home to all manner of small shops and businesses. All squeezed side-by-side, you can find things like ethnic restaurants, upholstery shops, and laundromats (or "Laundry Mats"), all with some of the city's most charmingly awful typography and graphic design.
Floating Homes 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Those living downtown, working in Vancouver’s increasingly information-based contemporary business world might easily forget that this city, much like the entire country, was built on resource industries. Vancouver started as a saw mill, and other areas in the lower mainland, like Steveston and Ladner, began as fishing villages. Echoes of this can be seen in the rustic floating homes that line the Fraser River around Ladner and Westham Island. There are newer and shinier floating homes there to be sure, but in a place where real estate prices are perpetually skyrocketing I can’t help but think that a high-maintenance home without land must surely be a bad investment. These older structures, however, suggest that there must be something to the lifestyle that some of them have lasted this long and remain inhabited to this day.
Davies Orchard 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
William Davies, one of the early settlers of Bowen Island, established an orchard next to Snug Cove, in which he later offered tent sites to tourists in the early 1900's. This was carried a step further when the land was purchased by the Union Steamship Company in 1922, who built a series of cottages amongst the apple trees as part of a larger resort. By the 1960's, after passing through successive ownership groups, the resort closed down completely. The Greater Vancouver Regional District eventually bought the land and established Crippen Regional Park, which included Davies Orchard. With the GVRD planning to relocate or demolish the cottages, The Bowen Island Heritage Preservation Association was formed in 1989 and prevented the demolition of all but two of them. Today, Bowen Heritage continues in its efforts to restore both the cottages and the orchard and maintain them as part of the island's history.
Storybook West Side 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Of the prevailing narratives of any city, one of the most common is that of the “good side” of town versus the “bad side” of town, and in Vancouver’s case prosperity and picturesqueness are strongly associated with the west side. As if the mansions of First Shaughnessy and trendy shops of Kitsilano weren’t enough to reinforce this, even the more modest homes follow suit. In the post-WWI era, returning soldiers’ exposure to European architecture, combined with the exotic visuals of Hollywood movies, led to a mainstream acceptance of the picturesque, and desire to have a home reflecting historical styles. As a result, a child living in East Van couldn’t be blamed for literally believing they were stepping into a fairy tale when they visited the west side.
East Van Relics 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Although East Van has always traditionally been the more working class, more culturally diverse, more left-leaning side of the city, parts are being quickly gentrified and house prices are soaring, as the offspring of the generally more affluent west side residents move east. The notion that East Van is, or ever was, "rough and tumble" or "the wrong side of the tracks" is something that amuses me to some degree - after all, we're not talking about Sao Paulo favelas or South Central LA. Nevertheless, when you look at these houses, all built over 100 years ago, there is a certain mood that differentiates East Van from the more storybook west side. As the values of these properties soar past a million dollars, I do wonder how long these older buildings are going to be around.
Old Entertainment District 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
Prior to the 2010 Olympics, Vancouver initiated the "Granville Entertainment District" gentrification strategy, which sought to relocate and congregate nearby bars and nightclubs together on downtown Granville street, replacing the seedy convenience stores, tattoo parlours, and several adult video stores that had come to dominate the area. Although proponents of the plan felt it would only increase the value of the area, critics maintained that it would merely displace those businesses and their patrons to other parts of the city. Interestingly, today, the nightclubs are dropping in popularity and the region is seeing yet another shift as the city's state of constant change and redevelopment churns along.
Istanbul Specials 30″ x 75″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 5 18″ x 45″, archival print backmounted to aluminum, edition of 7
An addendum to The Special, here we can see that in other cities, half a world away, we find many of the same trends and concerns as we have here in Vancouver. Istanbul, for example, has its own equally unique, and equally ubiquitous wooden housing style. Wood has been the traditional home building material in Istanbul for centuries, partially due to the area’s proneness to earthquakes. During the late Ottoman period, in particular, many timber houses in this vernacular were built on both sides of the Bosphorus. Considered a key part of the city’s heritage, the loss of historic houses in the Suleymaniye district led to UNESCO at one point threatening to drop the region’s distinction as a world heritage site. The houses shown here, in the Asian-side neighbourhood of Beylerbeyi, have seen restoration in some cases, but not others.