Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Barry Downs' North Vancouver Civic Centre

Downs/Archambault's 1975 North Vancouver Civic Centre has been in transition for some time and the recent redesign by Mcfarlane Green Biggar is close to completion.

The original complex of City Hall and the library, designed by Barry Downs, was a remarkable if under-recognized work of West Coast Modernism that was diluted through incremental change and evolving civic priorities.

Downs conceived the Civic Centre as an unassuming, functional pair of buildings that inspired a more inclusive idea of politics and civic interaction.

Material choices spoke to this: raw cedar, concrete and an emphasis on landscaping of native plantings. Downs designed a pronounced planted berm and water feature that softened the connection between buildings and the urban surroundings.

It was a vision of politics that embraced integration and subtlety - hallmarks of Downs' work. The civic centre was so deeply connected to place, it felt as if it literally rose out of the fecund North Shore landscape.

Sadly this vision has largely been dismantled. The berm and water feature are long gone. The library building was demolished last year. Across the street is Diamond & Schmitt's new library – a sign of a changing urban mandate that is now transforming North Vancouver's Civic Centre and community buildings in general.

Meanwhile, Downs' lone remaining City Hall structure sits as a testament to the ingenuity, understatement and priorities of a different time and a master of the site.

B+W Photos: John Fulker

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