A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

Truncated Skyscrapers & Small Monuments
Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guido & Paolo Pela



Last week I went to the main Canada Post Office building on West Georgia and Hamilton. I do not know what the building’s official name might be. This frustration was minute considering the visual aberration I was to find once I entered the building. I was there to mail a small package to my friend Mark Budgen who lives in Oliver, B.C. One of the reasons why Budgen moved to the hinterland was his eventual loss of romance for living in a city that was becoming ugly and with no memory for its past.  

I have written about my love, or at the very least, my appreciation for its architecture, which in my total ignorance of architecture terms I call Russian/Rumanian Monumental. From the outside the term might apply. Russian/Rumanian Monumental for me represents insides with soaring ceilings where you might spot a bank of nimbus clouds.The building does occupy a whole city block. But if you enter…but let me diverge for a moment.

There was a science experiment of my youth which I never found particularly interesting. You had to make a super-saturated solution of sugar and water in a deep jar. You then suspended strings. After a few hours, days you would have uneven crystals that had no particular shape or form. That experiment reminds me of the Vancouver skyline, particularly the one on the north side of False Creek. The best view is if you drive or walk northward on the Cambie Street Bridge. Few might remember that this beautiful bridge (beautiful in comparison to the somewhat uninspiring surrounding architecture) replaced the nicely named Connaught Bridge with its wooden-planked center span. It was ugly, beautifully ugly.

I cannot thus describe the ugly condos that shoot up (like half sized erections on half sized Viagra). They are not beautifully ugly. They are nondescript, uninteresting, uninspiring, cookie cutter bland. In fact they are not really all that ugly, individually. They become ugly as you gather up with your sight as they are out-competed by our splendid mountain background. There were a couple of elegant, Milan-born architect/developers that I photographed in 1991 on the roof of the Leckie Building in Gastown on Cambie almost corner with Water Street. They were Guido and Paolo Pela. Paolo looked at our skyline and said something like, “It is uninspiring and bland because the would-be skyscrapers are all truncated.” He suggested that since it was hopeless to try to compete with the North Shore Mountains why even try.

Many years later just before he died in 2010, architect Abraham Rogatnick and I faced City Hall. He told me, “Look up and if you notice carefully you will observe that City Hall is a truncated Empire State Building.”



Monumento de La Revolución Mexicana
Photo by Héctor Garcíá

In my recent trip to Mexico City in mid December of 2012 I was struck by a city (a city that I once knew well as I lived in it from 1955, off and on until 1975, that had changed and yet not changed. The same old, very old and ancient buildings were almost all there. Some had come crashing down in earthquakes of the past. The ugly Edificio de La Lotería Nacional was there, ample proof that soaring concrete does not always soar. But few would find fault with the National Cathedral on the huge centre stage of the city called the Zócalo. It listed a tad as the city is sinking but it was still beautiful.

There were many new very tall buildings on Paseo de la Reforma which thanks to planning by an Austrian, Maximilian, who became Emperor of Mexico, is one of the most beautiful boulevards of the world. He wanted his wife Carlota to gaze from the ramparts of Chapultepec Castle as he came home from his work in administering an empire. It was an empire that crumbled as soon as the American Civil War ended and the folks from the North looked down and applied their Monroe Doctrine on the Frenchie army propping up old Max. They left, as the Spaniards are want to say, “without saying goodbye”. A series of experiments in democracy ended with the powerful dictator Porfirio Díaz who was finally taken down by the revolution of 1910. Before that, like all dictators, Díaz had been thinking of what he was going to leave behind as a measure of his great reign. He was in process of building a huge palace when the uprising began. All that remains is the entrance to the palace, a huge, ugly structure now called Monumento a La Revolución Mexicana.


Photo by Héctor García
Those who took over, wisely left the gigantic portal, like a decaying usurper’s head on a pike, as a reminder of what power can do. Few of those who drive around it in cars in what are the ubiquitous glorietas or turnabouts might ponder on this. But the building is there in all its ugly glory.

Vancouver had its own portal but in a much smaller (much smaller) scale. This was the original monument to Terry Fox. Like Vancouver’s truncated skyscrapers the Terry Fox memorial was stillborn and unmonumental.

You cannot think big in a small way.






Addendum: My good friend editor Bob Mercer has weighed in with: Meanwhile, what happened inside the Post Office? Bob Mercer He is absolutely right. So here is the important addition. A building, a huge building that occupies one very large city block now has one small room with very low ceiling and with about four to five employees servicing customers. This room is a tiny room in which the ceiling is almost within reach. This, besides the still beautiful area with the postal boxes is all that is left of our post office.



     

Previous Posts
The Robe At The Gran Rex

The Voyeur

Bach's Suite For Cello In D Minor Revisited

Popular Front

My First Time

Longing For Other Latitudes

Pissing On A Pseudotsuga menziesii

My Respite From Isolation

The Accidental Activist & Me

Dianne Neufeld, Billy Wider And The Man Nobody Cou...



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1/10/16 - 1/17/16

1/31/16 - 2/7/16

2/7/16 - 2/14/16

2/14/16 - 2/21/16

2/21/16 - 2/28/16

2/28/16 - 3/6/16

3/6/16 - 3/13/16

3/13/16 - 3/20/16

3/20/16 - 3/27/16

3/27/16 - 4/3/16

4/3/16 - 4/10/16

4/10/16 - 4/17/16

4/17/16 - 4/24/16

4/24/16 - 5/1/16

5/1/16 - 5/8/16

5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

3/5/17 - 3/12/17