Georgia, Dunsmuir Viaducts removed, reimagined, re-engineered by architecture students

Architect Jay Hiscox leads off a review of a dozen answers to the question: Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, should they stay or should they go?

The Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts: should they stay or should they go?

City hall staff are preparing a request for proposals from professional teams interested in probing the issue later this spring. (The RFP flows from a motion I presented to council earlier this year for reasons I outlined in this article for The Tyee.)

But a dozen students in the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada Syllabus program were given just three weeks to answer the question and had to present their conclusions today in Vancouver. The results ran the gamut, from demolition through repurposing and even to re-engineering viaducts as a 21st century freeway/art installation.

Thanks to program director Jay Hiscox, I was invited to attend the four-hour session at BCIT where the students presented their concepts to a supportive but critical audience of experienced architects and urban designers.

The remarkably rich and varied presentations (sorry, I simply couldn’t keep track of students’ names) included compelling advocates for keeping the roadways and many proponents for demolition. A sampling:

  • a concept to keep both viaducts for traffic but to transform them, with a soaring and sculptural lattice-work, into a massive but airy monument of public art;
  • several suggestions for re-engineering the viaducts to add stronger pedestrian and cycling features, including pedestrian access to parks and streets below from number of points along the sidewalks;
  • more than one proposal to destroy one viaduct — one presentation eliminated Dunsmuir, another Georgia — to open up space for park and development while keeping another to retain at least some connection for traffic;
  • several proposals to keep the viaducts, but close them to traffic and convert them to green space, exploiting the possibilities of a Vancouver answer to New York’s High Line; and
  • several explorations of life without the viaducts, including an urban forest the mentors likened to New York’s Central Park, and another that carefully re-engineering the site to restore elements of the Creek’s original shoreline and wetlands while moving traffic along a European-style boulevard.

It would be impossible to summarize all the possibilities illuminated by the studio presentations, but it seems clear the potential is almost limitless.