Ought Not

TEXT Tanya Southcott
PHOTO Rachel Topham

The Vancouver Art Gallery has been transformed, its rotunda occupied by a six-storey apartment tower until the end of summer. Each level represents a decade in the evolution of apartment living from the 1950s to present day.

As part of the gallery’s exhibition series NEXT: A Series of Artist Projects from the Pacific Rim, Ought Apartment is the work of Vancouver-based artist Reece Terris, whose portfolio draws heavily from his alternate career as a general contractor and home renovator.

The sculpture recalls the condominium tower under construction, a phenomenom present in Vancouver’s downtown core over the past decade. The installation is built largely of aluminum scaffolding supporting six individual residential units that together climb over 60 feet to the domed ceiling. Each level is designed to reflect each decade’s interior design and domestic living space trends, furnished by pieces carefully salvaged from Terris’s job sites. Otherwise destined for demolition, his collection of reclaimed, recycled and used material has been accumulating in his studio warehouse where it is inventoried according to decade. The nuances of style that distinguish each floor of this tower of design speak to the economy of obsolescence driving the process of home renovation.

Conceived at the height of Vancouver’s condo market boom, the installation is perhaps more timely now in the wake of economic downturn. Since the 1980s, intensive high-rise, high-density development in downtown Vancouver has turned the city into a model of liveability, with large tracts of commercial and industrial land rezoned to support rapid residential growth. Major speculative developments have been responsible for much of the city’s urban evolution, as well as the evolution of its urban domestic tradition. Constrained site potential, limited access and high amenity costs put space on the downtown peninsula at a premium, and tower living yields the highest return. However, abandoned construction sites and recent proposals to cap residential development in downtown Vancouver suggest changes ahead to ensure land value remains reasonable for commercial development in the downtown.

From an architectural perspective, what is interesting about Terris’s sculpture is not only the content but the containers that house it. Each floor plate is based on accurate dimensions and layouts specific to that decade and reflect shifting values within the domestic tradition. Closely linked to our average area of personal living space is our sense of entitlement to that space, which is increasingly in conflict with what is available and what we can afford.

Ought Apartment leaves its audience at the top of the tower rather than at the bottom, ending with the first decade of a new century characterized by a growing awareness of the environmental impact of our daily decisions and lifestyle choices. Charged with a strong sense of duty and moral obligation, the exhibit challenges viewers to look forward to the next decade of development to speculate what form the next storey will take. As architects, we tend to have little decision-making power in a market driven by profit–yet we take great pride in our role as stewards of culture. Let this next challenge be ours. CA

Tanya Southcott is an intern architect living and working in Vancouver.