Vancouver's new laneways win International Olympic Committee's design award

Nov 7 2019, 1:47 pm

The last time Vancouver was awarded with something by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the city ended up with a weeks-long global party celebrating sports and culture.

The latest award from the IOC to Vancouver recognizes two laneway redesign projects in downtown Vancouver, designed and completed by Vancouver-based firm HCMA Architecture & Design and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA).

Their partnership for the More Awesome Now laneway activation projects — Alley-Oop and Ackery’s Alley — won the 2019 IOC International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities’ (IAKS) bronze award, which is jointly presented by the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee.

Ackery's Alley

The newly completed Ackery’s Alley next to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Vancouver. (Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association)

IAKS is considered one of the world’s top international prizes for sports, leisure, and recreational facilities. This year’s IOC competition, highlighting distinct sport facilities with accessible features, saw 98 entries submitted from 14 countries.

“Laneways emerged as a top priority for the DVBIA after our 2015 ‘Re-Imagine Downtown Vancouver’ engagement process,” said Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the DVBIA, in a statement.

“When we learned that alleys could add 30% more space to Downtown Vancouver’s public realm, we knew we had a tremendous opportunity on our hands. Seeing the incredible success of Alley-Oop has only served to strengthen our vision to transform underutilized public spaces, which is why the DVBIA has committed to revitalizing one laneway each year as part of our placemaking program.”

Alley-Oop laneway south of West Hastings Street in 2016. (Mark Busse)

Alley-Oop, distinctively known for its bright pink and yellow colours, was the project’s first laneway activation — opening in 2016. It is located south of West Hastings Street, between Granville Street and Seymour Street, and features basketball hoops and hopscotch courts.

This initial fun and quirky laneway has won other international design awards and was even prominently featured in the “Likey” viral music video by K-pop group Twice, which currently has over 400 million views on YouTube.

The second activation, Ackery’s Alley, opened last year within the laneway that crosses through the Orpheum Theatre complex in the Granville Entertainment District, between Robson Street and Smithe Street. This design features a red ground surface, walls painted with an “S” pattern, gold panels, and a permanent interactive light art installation.

Ackery's Alley

The newly completed Ackery’s Alley next to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Vancouver. (Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association)

Both pedestrian-friendly public spaces are now active spaces frequented by people from all walks of life, including commuters, students, and tourists. Previously a grey corridor, the hourly traffic within Alley-Oop has more than doubled, with female users increasing by 50%.

“This award recognizes the profound impact that the re-imagined laneways can have on the City of Vancouver,” said HCMA architect Paul Fast, principal-in-charge of More Awesome Now. “These are spaces that will change the way in which we move, live, and work. They provide an opportunity to reconnect neglected urban spaces to the fabric of the city and to create environments that are inviting to all.”