Robson Square is a modernist landmark civic centre and public plaza of concrete, located in Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. It is the site of the Provincial Law Courts, UBC Robson Square, government office buildings, and public space connecting the newer development to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The British Columbia Centre was a development proposal slated to be completed by 1975. At 208 metres (682 feet) it would have been the tallest skyscraper in the city (and taller than the Living Shangri-La, which currently holds the record). With the defeat of W.A.C. Bennett's Social Credit government in 1972, the plan was scrapped just as the construction phase was about to begin. The New Democrat government of Dave Barrett responded to fears of the dark shadow that the building would cast downtown, and commissioned a redesign from another architectural firm, Arthur Erickson Architects. The reconceptualization Erickson came up with was of a skyscraper laid on its side, the "B.C. Centre on its back."
Erickson biographer Nicholas Olsberg describes the design as follows:
Arthur came in and said 'This won't be a corporate monument. Let's turn it on its side and let people walk all over it.' And he anchored it in such a way with the courts — the law — at one end and the museum — the arts — at the other. The foundations of society. And underneath it all, the government offices quietly supporting their people. It's almost a spiritual progression.
The new development was completed between 1979 and 1983, encompassing three city blocks and providing 1,300,000 square feet (120,774 m2) of space. The main component is the glass-covered Provincial Court of British Columbia, which houses 35 courtrooms.
It is 42 metres (138 ft) in height, and the glass roof has a size of 420 by 115 feet (128 by 35 m), is supported by a steel space frame structure, covering approximately 50,000 square feet (4,645 m2) of public space. Three cascading waterfalls throughout the complex provide natural air conditioning with 850,000 US gallons (3,218 m3; 707,773 imp gal) of water.
An outdoor skating rink can be found in a lower level that extends below Robson Street and connects on the other side to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was renovated as part of the project. The University of British Columbia's downtown satellite campus, UBC Robson Square, is also housed in the lower level, along with restaurants. Typical of Erickson's designs, Robson Square is constructed primarily out of grey concrete, but softened by its environmental design. In addition to the water features are trees and numerous other plantings as well as gradually inclining stairs with integrated ramps. The open design allows for relatively unobstructed natural light and fresh air, and the waterfalls divert from the noise of downtown traffic. Landscaping on the project was designed by Cornelia Oberlander.
The complex was completed in three stages at a cost of $139 million. The provincial government offices were finished first in 1978, the Law Courts the following year, and the renovation of the old provincial court building into the new Vancouver Art Gallery was completed in 1983, a decade after the design was completed.
As of November 23, 2009, Robson Square has been reopened following a multi million dollar reconstruction project. Its reopening can be directly attributed to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler. Robson Square provides the only public outdoor skating rink in Vancouver--and is free to use.
Awards and criticism
The architecture and landscape architecture have received acclaim for excellence in design.
- In 2011 the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) awarded its Prix du XXe siècle Award to the complex, describing the concept of a "linear urban park, importing nature into the city", as "a bold, contemplative work of urban design."
- In 1982 the RAIC's awarded the Governor General's Gold Medal to the complex.
- In 1979 The American Society of Landscape Architects awarded its President's Award for Excellence, noting the project's "extraordinary integration of landscape architecture with architecture".
Tenants have complained about problems with leaks in the building. British Columbia Buildings Corporation had also discontinued icing the rink in the winter time, claiming that $250,000 was needed for repiping and that the $50,000 required to ice and operate the rink for three months was too much money for a luxury item. The rink area is still used in the milder months for Ballroom & Salsa dancing, and various other activities. It is also a major gathering spot for Vancouver's hip-hop culture, where many hip-hop dancers spend their evenings practicing. As noted above, the skating rink is now operating again; admission is free and skate rentals are $3.00.
- "British Columbia Centre". Emporis Buildings. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- Schelling, Steven. "Arthur Erickson, 1924-2009." Xtra, Friday, May 22, 2009.
- "Provincial Law Courts". Emporis Buildings. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- "Robson Square". The Great Buildings Collection. Retrieved 2007-05-13.
- "provincial law courts robson square & art gallery". Arthur Erickson. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- Robson Square 'a beautiful rink, right in the middle of the city'
- Architecture Canada, RAIC Prix du XXe siècle 2011 award. Retrieved 2011-10-01
- RAIC Honours & Awards
- Goethe journal. Retrieved 2011-10-01
- "Plan to reopen ice rink faces meltdown". Vancouver Courier. Archived from the original on 2006-10-18. Retrieved 2007-04-13.