Robson Square (May 01, 2011)

ARCHITECT Arthur Erickson
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
LOCATION Vancouver, British Columbia 

Robson Square (1973-83) is a modern landmark in the city of Vancouver, a unique civic complex of considerable scale spanning three entire city blocks. A true masterwork by Arthur Erickson, it was conceived and designed as a single entity. The contemporary Law Courts building and the Edwardian Rattenbury Courthouse–converted to the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1983–anchor and balance the low-profile park-like complex at each end. Linking justice and art is a pedestrian spine over a nearly camouflaged government office building, covered by a 280-foot-long pool, flowing down three cascading waterfalls. The public space, with unexpected pastoral and intimate areas, is interwoven throughout and heightened by its formal sunken plaza, designed for a variety of public amenities.

Zigzagged by its distinctive “stramps” designed to provide the disabled with “front-door rights,” everything about this complex is civically motivated. Not a square based on a European model, but a spirited West Coast interpretation of space and relationships–Erickson gave Vancouver a collection of piazzas, some intimate and protected, others open to skaters, performers and audiences, in a lush, terraced urban garden.

Robson Square put Vancouver on the map. It won the prestigious American Society of Landscape Architects President’s Award of Excellence in 1979, where the jury commented on the “extraordinary integration of landscape architecture with architecture–consistent and coherent.” Envisioned by Arthur Erickson and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander as a “linear urban park, importing nature into the city,” this was a bold, contemplative work of urban design. Robson Square is one of the most important, thoughtful Modernist sites in Canada, with much to offer for the future.

Jury Comments

Thanks to its splendid horizontality and its complex system of landscape terraces, pools and waterfalls, this vast urban landmark is able to embody a West Coast sense of space and relationships. Bridging between law and the arts, it epitomizes the urban monument in its highest civic aspiration. 

The jury for these awards was comprised of Martin Bressani, Natalie Bull, Michael McMordie and Yves Gosselin, AP/FRAIC, Jury Chair.