A local architectural firm is seeking to engage Vancouverites more directly with the water through the creation of a new multi-purpose public space on the Coal Harbour waterfront in downtown Vancouver.
HCMA Architecture + Design is responsible for a number of aquatic centre facilities in the region, including Vancouver’s Hillcrest Centre, but its latest project aims to turn the city’s existing water body into a dedicated swimming area and unique gathering space.
“There are a lot of spaces in Vancouver like the seawall that propel you around the water but don’t really connect you to it,” HCMA architect Paul Fast told Vancity Buzz. “There really is a lack of public space in downtown Vancouver, so what we’re proposing is a new way for a model of public space.”
The plan, dubbed Harbour Deck, would replace the existing public boat dock with an oval-shaped deck with a wooden boardwalk, wind-shielded seating, shallow wading areas and 25-metre swim lanes, hammocks suspended over water, a raised bridge that allows kayaks and canoes to enter the centre of the structure, and a four-metre high platform. There is even a large deck that could be used as a performance area, a type of public space that Vancouver desperately lacks and needs more of.
“Harbour Deck takes what was a poorly-used dock and turns it into something really fabulous,” said Gordon Price, the Director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University. “Plan a live concert, or start your own. This is not just a public space, it’s a public stage with the best backdrop in Vancouver.”
While it might seem like an appealing addition to the city’s public spaces, the project is currently only a vision as part of the Museum of Vancouver’s new exhibition, Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver, which runs until mid-May. There is no client or funding to back the project, but the team at HCMA hopes it will not only generate public interest on Harbour Deck but also start a wider discussion on how the waterfront can be better utilized.
“What this project is for us as architects is to use our skill set and raise important discussions in our community on how to make our city more livable and a better place for people,” said Fast. “This project is sort of our way of starting discussions.”
A number of shoreline locations around the downtown peninsula were considered, including Second Beach, English Bay, Kitsilano Beach, False Creek, and Crab Park. The team determined Coal Harbour as the best site given its proximity to public transit, location adjacent to the seawall, highly urbanized setting, and historical narrative. As well, the Coal Harbour location would effectively create a new swimming area, in waters that are safe to swim according to data from Vancouver Coastal Health’s regular water quality reports – even with all the marine traffic generated by the marinas found in the area and the port.
The firm believes that such a public amenity could further improve water quality as a greater connection with the water will foster environmental stewardship and responsibility. The concept takes inspiration from precedents set in cities like Copenhagen and Oslo, where “harbour baths” near ports have improved in part due to the introduction of such unique public spaces.
If the plan is picked up by the municipal government, it would be a nod to Vancouver’s past as similar bathing and swimming platforms were found in English Bay over a century ago. Only a modernized slide in the middle of the water remains as a relic of that era in English Bay’s past.