Art and architecture merge on Vancouver’s towers—but is the cultural outreach more than illusion?

Two public projects launching this week highlight the Canadian city’s booming developments, in which only a select few can afford to live

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Lyse Lemieux’s works, Personnages, feature nine figural silhouettes embedded in black mosaic which clad the columns on the ground level of the Grosvenor Pacific tower's southern façade

Lyse Lemieux’s works, Personnages, feature nine figural silhouettes embedded in black mosaic which clad the columns on the ground level of the Grosvenor Pacific tower's southern façade

In Vancouver this week, art meets architecture on the façades of two downtown buildings. On Thursday, the new Grosvenor Pacific tower on Hornby Street, designed by ACDF Architecture and IBI Group Inc will be officially unveiled, with new mosaic works by the Vancouver artist Lyse Lemieux adorning its ground floor entries. And later that day, Arthur Erickson’s 1969 Macmillan Bloedel office tower (designed with his then partner Geoffrey Massey), will become a screen for artful projections designed by go2productions focussing on the life and masterworks of Canada’s internationally celebrated architect.

Both projects follow the city’s penchant for developer-driven public art. In the case of the Pacific, Grosvenor Americas commissioned the works by Lemieux, while the after dark projections on the MacMillan Bloedel building are organised by Colliers International, the leasing agents for a triumvirate of new owners who acquired the famous tower in 2019 and are renaming it Arthur Erickson Place.

Lemieux’s works, called Personnages, feature nine figural silhouettes embedded in black mosaic which clad five columns on the ground level of the South facing frontage, complementing the tower’s white and grey stone façade with its geometrically articulated balconies. Fittingly, they are inspired, the artist says, by ancient columns made in the form of standing female figures, the best-known examples of which can be seen at the Erechtheion Temple on the Acropolis, in Athens. Lemieux says her works are “modern Caryatids”, which she hopes will be “connected, and in conversation as much with the activity in the Pacific building’s lobby as with the activity on the street”. The figures, she adds, “have no specific role other than to bear witness to and observe the activity that defines and surrounds them”.

The new Grosvenor Pacific tower on Hornby Street

They certainly have much to observe in a neighbourhood in transition. The Grosvenor Pacific complex, whose sub-penthouse recently sold for a mere $7m, also comprises an original Victorian yellow house now moved to the laneway. “Leslie House is one of the oldest remaining houses in Downtown Vancouver and is a reminder that this neighbourhood was once filled with many other homes such as this,” says Michael Ward, the senior vice president and general manager in Vancouver for Grosvenor Americas. The area is now largely full of luxury towers.

Arthur Erickson’s 1969 MacMillan Bloedel office building

Meanwhile, several blocks northwest at the MacMillan Bloedel building—named for a national forestry company when the region’s biggest industry was in trees, not real estate—the public can watch a six-night digital light show featuring the work of Arthur Erickson projected onto his Brutalist beauty.

The visionary architect’s 1957 sketch of Vancouver—then a small working class port town—as a city of towers by the sea has now become a reality, albeit one that the publicly minded Erickson might also find too far out of reach for most citizens. The show, dubbed Erickson Revealed, boasts “bold and bright optical illusions”. If they could reanimate the city as a place where young artists and architects could afford to live, that would certainly be a neat hat trick.

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