Five Random Architectural Gems in Vancouver

Photo credit: Andreas Van Greunen

Perhaps because it doesn’t have the long, storied built history of a London, a Paris or even a New York, Vancouver is rarely acclaimed for its architectural wonders.  Yet as any architecture buff will tell you, there are plenty of fascinating buildings in the city.

For Vancouver’s 125th birthday, the Vancouver Sun’s John Mackie has been profiling a few of the more quirky and interesting structures, from recreated Maya temples to lavish private palaces.  For your sightseeing pleasure, I’ve listed some of Mackie’s picks below, as well as a few of my own.

The Marine Building (355 Burrard St.): A must-see for the architecturally inclined, this 1930 art deco masterpiece rises 21 stories and is supposed to evoke “a great marine rock rising from the sea,” according to Mackie.  A highlight is the lavish entryway, which is adorned with sculptures of sea horses and leads to the vaulted lobby, whose stained glass and tiled walls are (inexplicably) meant to evoke a Maya temple.


The HSBC Building (885 W. Georgia St.): The highlight here is the seven-storey glass atrium, which is dominated by a massive, 27-meter-long, moving pendulum that swings gracefully across the room.


The MacMillan Bloedel Building (1075 W. Georgia St.): Love it or hate it, this 27-storey structure by Vancouver’s favourite son Arthur Erickson definitely turns heads.  It’s designed in a so-called “brutalist style,” with the facade consisting entirely of thick concrete frames around recessed windows.  To me it looks a bit like an Eastern Bloc holdover from the Cold War – definitely out of place in downtown Vancouver and the more interesting for it.


The Keefer Building (133 Keefer St.): Author Mackie singles out this restored 1907 building in Chinatown on account of its distinctive penthouse suite.  The split-level unit features a full-floor 2,400-square-foot loft space, as well as a roof deck.  What makes it unique is that part of the ceiling is actually the glass bottom of a rooftop pool.


The Shangri-La (1120 W. Geogria St.): No list of the city’s architectural wonders (even as random a list as this one) would be complete without mentioning Vancouver’s newest marvel, the 61-storey Shangri-La hotel.  The city’s tallest building, the Shangri-La is built in a minimalist style – a sleek column of shiny glass and metal poking above the skyline.

This list barely scratches the surface.  If you’ve got more favourite buildings around town – whether well known or obscure – please leave comments below.


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