In December of 1968, the residents of one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods, Strathcona, were faced with losing their neighbourhood. Whole city blocks were razed to make room for public housing and the first phase of a massive freeway project, but the residents of Strathcona were not prepared to simply watch as their neighbourhood was destroyed around them. After losing several blocks, the community rallied together and took a stand against further demolition by forming the ‘Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association’ or SPOTA. As an organized community group, SPOTA took on the City planners, catching the attention of Robert Andras, the federal minister in charge of housing. After meeting with SPOTA, Andras put an immediate halt to the City’s development plan. From that point on SPOTA was included in the planning process and Strathcona saw a resident-approved rehabilitation with new parks, buildings, streets, sidewalks and a community centre.
Part of that major rehabilitation involved rebuilding the demolished blocks with replacement housing. The Strathcona Area Housing Society, SAHS, was created and a development plan of infill housing was adopted to be completed in four phases between 1974 and 1982. Architect Joe Wai, then of Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners, was responsible for 51 units in the first three phases as well as 120 units at the Mau Dan Cooperative Housing Project.
The homes that Joe Wai created have been dubbed the ‘Joe Wai Special’. Similar to its namesake, the Vancouver Special, Wai’s homes were built quickly in response to housing demand. The pitched roof and flat façade gives it a similar outward appearance to that of the typical Special. However the Joe Wai’s profile is slightly taller and more narrow, to better fit in with the Strathcona streetscapes. While the interior is similar to that of the traditional Special, the narrow profile of the homes meant for a slightly different floor plan that often included a central kitchen with hallways on either side. While Vancouver Specials can be found all over the Lower Mainland, Joe Wai’s Specials are unique to Strathcona.
The Joe Wai Special has become a popular commodity in Vancouver’s real estate market, and the few that have come up for sale, don’t typically take long to sell. Their important link to Vancouver’s history, coupled with an adaptable design makes them prime for sympathetic renovations that retain their original intent and character while updating to a modern family home.
Learn more about Joe Wai’s Specials!
‘Special’ Insight: Two Distinct Perspectives on the Vancouver Special
April 16th 7:30pm – 9pm $12
Joe Wai speaks about the Strathcona Story and the unique homes he designed to rebuild the community.
Vancouver Special House Tour
April 26th 1pm – 5pm $30
Tour inside 5 renovated Vancouver Specials including the renovated Joe Wai in Strathcona (pictured above).
Yuri Artibase on the Joe Wai Special (2012)
VHF’s pdf on the history of SPOTA
The story of Mary Lee Chan
The BC Real Estate Convention is a unique tradeshow in Western Canada created for the public and professionals alike who are interested or engaged in investing in residential or commercial real estate.
This annual event brings together a range of different enterprises such as, developers, realtors, municipalities, financial institutions, insurance agencies, associations and many other sources involved in the real estate industry.
Exhibitors ranging from city, residential and commercial developers, realtors, banks, home staging & home security companies, and many others from the BC Real Estate industry; seminars from prominent world-class speakers the BC Real Estate Convention had all the right ingredients for another successful year.
Vancouver Convention Centre : Ballroom A, B & C
April 9 : 11AM - 7PM
April 10 : 10AM - 6PM
For more information visit : www.bcrealestateconvention.com
KEVIN GRIFFIN (VANCOUVER SUN) - A new 52-storey, curving, cantilevered residential tower near the Granville Street Bridge is intended to be much more than a landmark building for the city, according to developer Ian Gillespie.
The president of Westbank Projects says Vancouver House will not only be a distinctive addition to the city’s skyline, it will also engage people closer to the ground.
The underside of the north end of the Granville Street Bridge will be used as a surface for lightboxes with still photographs, to help animate the forgotten space under the bridge. On special occasions, the area under the span will be cordoned off and used as a covered plaza for public events.
Because of several unique design and architectural elements in Vancouver House, Gillespie is doing something unusual next month. He is producing an exhibition about the building’s evolution and how it fits in with the history of urban development in Vancouver.
“This was my way of opening the kimono and asking people to come on inside and see how one of the most transformative buildings in the history of the city has evolved, and how it ended up where it ended up,” he said. “I hope people walk out inspired.”
The exhibition is called Gesamtkunstwerk. Pronounced Geh-ZAHMPT-kunst-verk, it is a German word that means a total work of art where all the parts work together in a harmonious design.
Advertising for the exhibition started early. Last month, neon signs spelling out the word went up on two sides of the building where the exhibition will take place by the Howe Street on-ramp to the Granville bridge. That was followed by a media campaign about the word Gesamtkunstwerk that included videos of various celebrities humorously trying to define and pronounce what can be an intimidating word.
The exhibition is being curated by Bjarke Ingels, the New York/Copenhagen architect designing Vancouver House, and urbanism expert Trevor Boddy. A central idea of the exhibition is “Vancouverism,” a word first used in the media in 2005 by the New York Times. It describes the distinctive vertical towers and horizontal podium buildings that have been built in downtown and throughout the region.
One of the works in the exhibition is an early drawing by architect Arthur Erickson from 1955. Known as the Project 56 sketch, the drawing depicts a sleeker version of the podium and tower building.
Gillespie said the exhibition is about placing Vancouver House in the context of city building and how its design has evolved over seven years. “I could go knock off a highrise like the 150 other highrises that have been built in the last 15 years,” he said. “I can do that in my sleep.
“But to do something like Vancouver House, it takes hundreds of people the better part of a decade just to design.”
Vancouver House’s unique shape is due to the way it rises from a triangular base and gradually changes into a rectangle by the time it reaches the top. With additional residential units as well as retail and office space in the low-rise buildings, the area is designed to create an urban village that echoes Granville Island on the other side of False Creek.
Although Gillespie fits the definition of a developer, he breaks the mould with architecturally distinctive buildings.
They include the dramatic 41-storey green and blue LED lightpipe on the north side of the Shaw Tower by Diana Thater, the text-based work lyingontopofabuilding ... by Liam Gillick on the outside of the Fairmont Pacific Rim, and Abbott & Cordova, 7 August, 1971 by Stan Douglas in the Woodward’s atrium. Douglas’ dramatic photomural is a re-staging of the historic Gastown Riot.
Gillespie said he stumbled on the word gesamkunstwerk at a show on the influential B.C.-born architect Ron Thom curated by Adele Weder at the West Vancouver Museum. He became fascinated with the word and how it related to his own work. “I realized that that’s really how my practice has evolved,” Gillespie said. “At the end of the day, gesamkunstwerk is our manifesto.”
Gesamtkunstwerk opens March 22, at 1460 Howe between Pacific and Beach.
Read more: Vancouver Sun
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