On Borrowed Time: False Creek Flats, Vancouver, British Columbia

Vintage brochure image, Finning Tractor Equipment

Is the sun setting on Canada’s industrial vernacular architecture? It’s a question now swirling across the country as big cities transition their local economies from manufacturing into real estate arbritrage. In Vancouver, an area known as the False Creek Flats is shaping up as the site of the city’s next heritage-versus-development squabbling. Here, where the new Emily Carr University of Art + Design lords over the land, neighbouring warehouses have evolved into artists’ studios and galleries — and may be on the verge of further evolution, if not outright extinction. 

A few dozen metres from the huge new art school’s main foyer is a 1964 building once owned by Finning Tractor Ltd, which serviced the workhorse machinery of British Columbia’s forestry, mining and construction sectors. A monolith of masonry, it used to be a paint and welding shop, and, years after decommissioning, was transformed between 2011 and 2013 by Measured Architecture (the Equinox Gallery) and D’Arcy Jones Architecture (the adjacent Monte Clarke Gallery). These days, the building showcases artists who are both international names and local heroes, including Fred Herzog, Gordon Smith, Kim Dorland, Roy Arden and Stephen Waddell. Its public openings are socio-demographic mixers, where threadbare students and artists commingle with critics, curators, patrons and buyers, along with lay citizens who just come to see the art and have a good time. 

False Creek Flats
Exterior of the Equinox and Monte Clark galleries. Photo by Andrew Latrielle Photography

But the building happens to sit on the very spot that government and transportation officials have decided to carve out a station for their proposed new Broadway subway line extension. The gallery owners have been put on notice that by 2019, the Finning building might transform once again, to a crater in the ground. The pushback has begun in earnest by supporters who feel that that the very presence of this industrial architecture has helped make the neighbourhood newly liveable and desirable. 

False Creek Flats
Interior of Equinox Gallery. Photo by Andrew Latrielle Photography

In the March 2014 edition of Canadian Architect, reviewer Steve DiPasquale described the Equinox as “a series of white cubic volumes, carefully placed to float within the existing masonry shell.” Of the Monte Clark Gallery, DiPasquale enthused about the robust glory of the gallery’s ground floor: “Gouged, pocked and stained by years of maintenance on heavy machines, the building’s original concrete is a delightfully varied terrain excavated from beneath several inches of industrial paint.” 

False Creek Flats
Exhibition area at Monte Clark Gallery. Photo by Sama Jim Canzian

DiPasquale concluded his review with hope that the Flats would “continue to develop into a welcome complement to the city’s tyranny of the new.” Here’s hoping—for the Flats, and elsewhere.