The proposed Nelson Commons building deserves to be seen in a context broader than its own surface treatment and individual perceptions of Nelson heritage. Some have openly expressed concern that this building does not fit here; it’s too urban, too Vancouver, and holds no Nelson heritage flavour. I see this differently.
When I look down the streets of our commercial core, what stands out is the diversity and shifting tone of the building inventory. It is like reading a journal of where we have been, seeing the economic and political alliances that have transpired and revisiting the architectural styles through time.
When we look at Touchstones, the courthouse, the Grey Building, and yes even the present City Hall, we can appreciate the substantial government confidence in a small mountain town. We can see corporate endeavors seeking to prosper, reinventing themselves to stay vibrant as exampled in the Hume and New Grand Hotels. Warehouses now hold restaurants, office buildings now hold retail outlets; for sure there are moments of confusion.
Looking at them as a whole, only a few rely on mimicry. What works best are the buildings that exist as clear identities and I see that they hold weight over the buildings that have lost their character in an attempt to be something they never were or will be.
When it comes to civic architecture, the confusion of what to look like or who to align themselves with has at best, a very short and faded outcome. But that being said, not one of them does not belong here as a contributor to our diverse community, whether or not we agree with the dress code.
Underlying the façades there exists a vital energy of commerce, organization, and innovating community… human attributes of a prosperous and dynamic city.
The Nelson Commons building reflects this intent within the street scapes of this town. It holds a solid base at street level, laced with plant life, punctuated with windows and entries to create human scale and interaction like its neighbours to the west on Vernon and south on Baker. There is a setback and highly articulated upper volume of residential layers compacting 54 living units not unlike the views to Uphill. The height relates to the Civic Centre across the street and simply extends the mass appropriately to the other side of the street. The scale is larger than we are used to, but the complexity and volumes have been addressed with care and attention.
Nothing is gained architecturally by robbing the neighbours of a particular detailed gem or grabbing the soloist from the quartette down the street all to convince someone that it belongs on the street. That trick has proven to simply undermine the value of everything.
The invitation of urban Vancouverism to inhabit our surrounds is not too different from the inclusion of other cultural elements that have successfully been built and now admired as our own. Nothing we see on our streets originated here, we have dragged it all along with us through the years, a mixture of pride and muffled dismay.
It is this writer’s opinion that what really matters is the Nelson Commons, or any like project, be true to its identity with the intention of belonging to Nelson’s growing community and willingly take its place in future heritage.