January 27th, 2011 Walking Home Projects Woodward’s walk + special screening at NFB

WHPender January 27th 2011 Walking Home Projects Explores the Woodward’s Development Part II
Review By Sam Knopp

The meeting spot for this week’s Walking Home Projects walk was a little unusual, as instead of the typical street corner, the instructions given to all the participants were to meet at the top of the strange spiralling staircase in the central atrium of the Woodward’s Development.

The stairs in the Woodward’s Development atrium – our meeting point was at the top! (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

For me, this mysterious meeting location set the stage for a day that would be full of strange and unexpected discoveries! With all the guests finding their way up to the last shaky steps (as the uniquely designed staircase is only supported at its base) Catherine Pulkinghorn, Walking Home Projects’ Director, introduced the group of young adults to the development and got us to take vantage of our “viewpoint”, the word which was to the theme of today’s walk.

One possible view from the top of the stairs in the atrium of the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Looking out into the atrium, we discussed the evolution of the building from its past to current usage and took note of some of the present features. The Woodward’s Development is understood by many to be the largest mixed use project in North America, featuring market and non-market social housing, office space, retail services, a daycare, and a university campus, all within one city block! Whether or not the project will be successful is still long to be determined but as we looked out into the atrium, we could all appreciate the various amenities this sheltered public space offered: a place to host events, like the current installation, Iqaluit, with the PuSh Festival; a venue to display Stan Douglas’s powerful public art piece Abbott and Cordova; and a gathering place for all, safe from Vancouver’s elements.

The overpass between the Woodward’s Development and parkade offers a spectacular view of Vancouver’s Cordova Street (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Making our way down to the second floor, Catherine led the group through the building to a pedestrian overpass that connects the Woodward’s Development to a 6 story parkade. Stopping in the elevated glass tunnel we were given a new viewpoint of Vancouver and specifically Cordova Street, which was directly below us. It was a unique perspective as we found ourselves somewhat at par with the buildings around us, allowing us to more fully recognize and appreciate the historic structures that dominate this neighbourhood but also become more poignantly aware of the rising condo towers, pushing their way east.

A great viewpoint to see buildings in Vancouver: at the top of a parkade (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Continuing through the tunnel, and up to the roof of the parkade, we found another unexpected and even more spectacular viewpoint of the city. It was exciting to remember that one can take advantage of all sorts of public spaces, not just the ones on the maps. After surveying the rooftop and its various views we looked back towards the Woodward’s Development and its enormous beacon, the glowing red “W.” Like last week’s walk with a group of elementary school kids, I once again took a shot at presenting and shared some of my knowledge of the history of Woodward’s. Now in a new location and with a more mature group, the vocabulary became a little larger, information a little more detailed and the content focused largely on the history of “W,” which was first put atop the department store in 1944. Prior to this, the store had a large spotlight which could be seen as far away as Mission and Abbotsford, but at the beginning of WWII it was removed due to fears that is could be a target for an enemy attack! Near the end of the war, Woodward’s decided to reinstate its presence in Vancouver’s skyline, but replaced the bright white light for some red neon, appropriate consider Vancouver’s multitude of neon at the time. The sign quickly became a landmark of the city, as it stood out amongst Vancouver’s much shorter skyline (at the time). Placed on a replica of the Eiffel Tower – that stood on the one man peanut butter factory on top of the Woodward’s store – the “W” and the Woodward’s Department Store stood out as something different and uniquely Vancouver.

Presenter Sam Knopp letting us know that the classic “W” stands on what used to be a one-man peanutbutter factory! (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Taking in one last view, we then headed back to the Woodward’s Development where we were given a private tour of the National Film Board’s (NFB) offices by Production Supervisor Kathryn Lynch, and then treated to three short animated films in the NFB’s private screening room. The selection of films, curated by Catherine, gave us a unique look into the work of one of Canada’s most important illustrators, Ryan Larkin, and his struggles with drug addiction.

NFB Production Supervisor Kathryn Lynch shows our group an editing suite (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The first film was of Ryan Larkin’s groundbreaking short, Walking, which was produced in 1969 and its colourful vignettes, explore how we walk, had us hypnotized and amazed at the potential power animated films can have. The second film, Ryan, by Chris Landreth was actually a biopic of Ryan Larkin’s life after his rise to fame, where succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse he was left homeless. Again many of us were surprised at the potential an animated film could have to evoke such a strong emotional response but now also deal with very serious and real issues. And finally the last film, Spare Change, was again a Ryan Larkin creation, made in the final years of his life after he got clean and off the streets. Together the three films provided a very powerful portrait that left all of us deeply moved. Thankfully these amazing works are not just viewable in the NFB’s private screening room but can be watched, along with hundreds of other independent films, on the NFB’s website.

One highlight of the walk was visiting the NFB offices in the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

With the day coming to an end we made our way down to the atrium where we made a quick stop to the original “W” before saying our goodbyes at the Audain Gallery, in the SFU building. Wrapping up our day we were all excited by the different things introduced to us during our walk – the unexpected views, knowledge and resources – and the opportunity to use them in our futures.

Sam Knopp

The Map of Where We Went – January 27th, 2011:

January 27, 2011
An Exploration of the Woodward’s Development by Alicia Wooding

Last week I was given the opportunity to explore the building where Lester’s Army is based with fresh and wide eyes. I was invited along to an exploration of the Woodward’s Development with Walking Home Projects. The idea of these walks is to share knowledge and experience with members of the community, and to give people an interesting insight into the world they encounter every day.

Another view of the fantastical stairs in the atrium of the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The group met at the top of the spiral staircase in the Woodward’s atrium. I have never actually been up there and it was unnervingly shaky, but provided a great view. When the whole group was present we were introduced to Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn, and to one another. We were invited to focus on viewpoints of the atrium and crowded the ledge to see the artwork around the building.

View of Stan Douglas’ “Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971″ from the top of the stairs in the atrium at the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

From the top we had a great view of the $1 million photography project above the main entrance. The installation by Stan Douglas represents the 1971 Gastown riots and is quite an evocative piece. The enclosed area in the atrium is public space and often hosts local events and international art work. In the centre of the floor was the strange installation from the PuSh Festival (by Berlin, a theatre company from Belgium). The documentary installation, Iqaluit, results from two months spent in the Arctic Circle. The experience involves wearing infrared headphones and watching 7 different scenes from the region. When the visuals and eeerie sounds of the Northern Lights begin then you move to the next screen. When I started working at Lester’s Army, The Woodward’s building seemed like such an interesting and arty place, it made me feel like the offices housed there were edgy and creative. Which, it turns out, they are.

Woodward’s Development low-income housing and condominiums (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The whole building has an interesting history. It is most famous for originally housing the Woodward’s department store, a family business that ran for 100 years. In the 1990’s the business collapsed and the space gradually became home to a squatter community. The Woodward’s re-development project has transformed the city block. The developer and lead architects redesigned the space into a multipurpose building combining low-income housing with condominiums, City of Vancouver and non-profit organization office space, businesses, Simon Fraser University and a public area. The open space in the atrium was designed to address the lack of plazas in Vancouver; the area is sheltered but has an outdoor feel and a basketball hoop! It also connects each of the buildings in the development to form an entire community space. Woodward’s is regarded by some as one of the most important models for mixed community use ever designed. There are television screens in the atrium that relay the story of the redevelopment in a stop motion film with audio if you are interested in finding out more.

Looking east on West Cordova Street (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Catherine next took us across to another building via an overpass above Gastown. Here we looked out onto Cordova Street from an unusual perspective that allowed a new look at the historic buildings. It was interesting to find out that Gastown is one of the oldest parts of Vancouver but is still less than 150 years old. Originating from England myself, that slice of history seems so fresh and new. Next stop was up onto the roof terrace to see the city from above. The panoramic view was great, the waterfront to the North and the clusters of tall buildings to the West. The newly erected neon ‘W’ on the Woodward’s building can be seen clearly from this angle as well as the original, heavier ‘W’ on the ground. This landmark of advertising is famous in Vancouver because of its visibility and was often used as a point of reference before the development of higher buildings. Before the ‘W’, Woodward’s originally used a beacon of light but this was removed during the war for fear of attracting attention.

You can see the side of new Woodward’s Development condos and the old “W” from this viewpoint (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

It was quite dull and brisk when we went out onto the windy parkade but the sights were worth looking at. The difference in architecture between the low-income housing and adjacent decadent condos was interesting to see. We were provided with an overview of the Woodward’s department store. The biggest in Vancouver for a long time and the food hall brought self-serve groceries to Canada (almost a shame because I love to think of giving someone behind the counter my shopping list and having them weight and wrap my groceries me…)

Sam Knopp presenting on the Woodward’s Department store with today’s iconic “W” in background (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Back inside we were shown around the western offices of the National Film Board of Canada. They are in the same building as the magazine and I hadn’t even noticed! The NFB are Canada’s public producer and distributer of socially relevant films. The group watched 3 short films in the private screening room (they can be seen online along with hundreds of artistic, cultural and thought provoking documentaries and films).

NFB Production Supervisor Kathryn Lynch talks to our group inside the NFB studios (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The experience with Walking Home Projects was a fascinating way to appreciate viewpoints of our everyday world and an opportunity to become more engaged with the culture and history immediately around us. Some of the group had always lived in Vancouver and commented about the interesting perspective they had. Being a newbie to the country I enjoyed learning about the heritage and development of the city and how one region can have such a big impact on the culture.

Before visiting the Audain Gallery we stop at the original “W” (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Please click below to hear Walking Home Projects’ Director Catherine Pulkinghorn answer a question about gentrification and Walking Home Projects Intern Sam Knopp present to our group on the Woodward’s Department Store: