Unbuilt Vancouver: Prescribe Mountains


Following on the heels of the recent Vancouver Sun article outlining the effect of rising sea levels on downtown Vancouver, we look back at the RISE Competition held in 2014 by SFU Public Square and Vancouver Foundation.

From the competition website: SFU Public Square, in partnership with Vancouver Foundation, created the RISE ideas competition to raise awareness about the issue of sea level rise in Metro Vancouver, and provide the space for innovative ideas to emerge. During the six-week competition period, over 45 teams registered to take part and 30 teams completed their submission. Teams were asked to provide an answer to the challenge: “How can we design Metro Vancouver communities to adapt and thrive in the context of a 1 metre rise in sea level?”

Ian William Robertson, a Senior Designer at ABBARCH Architecture Inc., designed one of the entries, titled Prescribe Mountains. Ian describes the project below:

IR: False Creek in Vancouver once extended all the way to Clark, and some of the properties which are most iconically ‘Vancouver’ – Kits Point, Museum of Vancouver, Granville Island, and the Olympic Village are all low enough to cause concern, especially at king tides and when storms cause surge, or a combination of the two.

Protecting the city from climate change in principle seems easy, at a certain point, a cost-benefit analysis will drive the decision of whether to build protection in some form, or abandon the land altogether. Jokes are often made that Richmond will either liquefy in an earthquake, or flood because one of its existing dikes proves insufficient, but False Creek is often unconsidered.

Walling off False Creek at the narrowest point (Burrard Bridge), however, fails to protect any land in between Kitsilano and the bridge. There is another option, however, which takes inspiration more from the Superdikes in Tokyo than from any local example, and, and could do far more than protect existing property. If a dike is bigger, it can start serving other functions – such as creating a transportation link between the West End and Kitsilano, making the trip to UBC much easier and more accessible than the current route over Burrard. Another function is that of Housing – for which Vancouver has an urgent need. It turns out that given the number of people who could live on the bridge, one could both sell the created land and create affordable housing, and in this way, the city and its people could be protected and housed effectively free.

So: Protection from sea level rise, accessible transportation, new links to nature, and affordable housing – all in one package. (Additionally, the bridge could serve as a tidal energy generator, providing a green source of power too!)

The RISE competition and the winning entrants are showcased here.

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James is an architect and writer from Vancouver, British Columbia with a passion for affordable housing, public space, design, and the Pacific Northwest. James has worked on architecture projects across the lower mainland and has written for Canadian Architect, Objekt International, and Price Tags. He holds a Masters in Architecture from the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design and a Bachelors of Applied Science in Civil-Structural Engineering from the University of Waterloo. James has been an AIBC architectural awards jury member, has served on UBC SALA Thesis Committee, and was awarded a special mention in the Urbanarium's Missing Middle competition. He lives in Gastown with his wife Errin, a cool optometrist responsible for his maple glasses.