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Vancouver City Guide

Vancouver Architecture & Landmarks

©2006 Tom Ryan Check out an excellent example of Art Deco architecture at the Marine Building on Vancouver's Burrard Street.

Vancouver and Seattle are similar in history and personality, but they appear very different. That's because Seattle has retained much of its historic downtown -- mainly its better mid-size downtown brick buildings -- while Vancouver has been (some say overly) liberal with the wrecking ball.

Downtown Vancouver looks pretty modern. Then factor in a recent explosion of glitzy residential high-rise construction, and you have an inner city of unusual density (for North America, at least).



Yet, the buyers keep coming. New buildings routinely sell out before construction even begins at unconscionable prices. Outside the downtown, homeowners vigorously defend their single-family lots from encroaching developers, and so they should.

Many, particularly on the city's West Side, feature wonderful arts-and-crafts bungalows or large pseudo-Tudor houses built in the last century for the city's elite. Around the University of British Columbia and on the North Shore, glass-fronted West Coast modernist homes perch on oceanfront ledges among the trees. They're hard to spot, however, exceptional buildings in this post-Second World War style, unique to this coastal region, are found downtown and elsewhere -- including those of Canada's most famous architect (a Vancouverite) Arthur Erickson.

Important landmarks are located around the edges of Stanley Park. They include the totem poles at Brockton Oval, the 9-O'Clock Gun, the Brockton Point, and Prospect Point lighthouses and Siwash Rock.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Vancouver

One building that always tops a "best architecture" list is the Marine Building (355 Burrard St). This gorgeous Art Deco pile was built during the Depression on a "marine" theme. The exterior and interior feature superior stone, wood, and metal detailing that recalls the European explorers who sailed this coast.

The Central Library, in Library Square, is controversial and worth checking out on that basis alone. Designed by Boston-based architect Moshe Safdie, it resembles the round Roman Coliseum. While it's hugely popular with the public, architects hate it because it thumbs its nose at West Coast materials and styles.

Among local celebrity architect Arthur Erickson's best-known buildings are the low-rise Robson Square complex, with lots of glass, water (pool and waterfall), and draping vegetation. Another is the Museum of Anthropology at UBC (6393 NW Marine Dr).

Vancouver also has some fine churches, including the wood and stone Christ Church Cathedral (690 Burrard St) and St. James Anglican Church (303 Cordova St East). Built of exposed concrete, St. James unites Art Deco modernity with gothic, Byzantine, and Romanesque influences.

Coal Harbour and North False Creek (Concord Pacific Place) epitomize Vancouver's headlong rush to downtown living. Southwest of the (Art Deco) Burrard Street Bridge sprawls the trendy Kitsilano neighborhood, with street after leafy street of wooden-frame houses of every vintage.

Upscale Shaughnessy (between 16th and 41st aves, west of Granville St), Kerrisdale, and West Point Grey also boast some of the city's most attractive homes.

From hip clothes to fine arts and crafts, visitors to Vancouver won't be at a loss for shopping outlets. See our suggestions in the next section.