I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about observation towers lately.

In my peregrinations I’ve yet to meet a tower that I didn’t want to ascend. I love them all, no matter how ghastly their design may be; the Communist-era Fernsehturm in Berlin is a good example of a bad tower design that I couldn’t wait to check out:

There’s just something literally uplifting about the observation tower concept.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the wacky tower, designed by Anish Kapoor with structural engineer Cecil Balmond of Arup, for the 2010 Olympic Games in London:

Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit for London 2012

In that post I stated that my favourite tower of all time is the Space Needle in Seattle. It will be fifty years old in 2012 and I think it still looks fresh today. Perhaps that freshness has something to do with the epoch in which it was designed: the start of the Space Age (another favourite theme of mine), a time when the future itself still looked crisp.

Photo > “Copy of Century 21 Tower for Collier [Space Needle Prototype Drawing]” via Seattle Municipal Archives

Photo > “Seattle Space Needle, architectural rendering, Earle Duff, circa 1961, Seattle, Washington, USA” via Wonderlane, Flickr




This week I attended the opening of an exhibition at the Emily Carr University’s Charles H. Scott Gallery with the unwieldy name “1:26 | Au pays de la maquette d’étude de Halifax à Vancouver | In Study Model Wonderland from Halifax to Vancouver.”

And what should I find on display but Gregory Henriquez’s maquette of his doomed tower proposal for the top of Queen Elizabeth Park (at 127 metres, the City of Vancouver’s power point).

Towers everywhere!




I wasn’t overly impressed with this exhibition, organized by Maison de l’architecture du Québec, which has been making the rounds at galleries across Canada.

I love maquettes, but I suppose that I like the final, polished versions on display in presentation centres, not the initial conceptual pieces of cardboard on display at Emily Carr.

Then again, the show’s purpose is to show that in today’s digital world — one where Frank Gehry deploys software developed for military purposes to design his wondercurves — there is still room for architects to throw something together on the cheap and see where to go from there.

Henriquez Partners’ maquette didn’t look as cheap as some of the others on display. One could tell that time and consideration had gone into this production:


I see a Soviet space rocket launcher hovering over an American moonbase (the Bloedel Conservatory). That’s Space Age!

Buckminster Fuller in front of his Space-Age geodesic dome for expo 67 in the 60’s City of the Future,  Montréal.

My mashup of what could have been:

Alas, this was another concept that was doomed due to the opposition of certain elements in our city that clashed with th very need the need for such a lookout atop the Mountain.

“It will kill birds.” “A private tower in a public park?” were a couple of responses to the rigorous Vancouver planning process.

I think that, in the art of Vancouver politics these days, the fact that a private consortium (Henriquez and partner John Norton) wanted to build and operate this thing played its role in killing the tower.

Then, in late 2009 the city, in deficit-crisis-mode, announced that the Bloedel Conservatory would be closed, after spending millions on resurfacing and re-landscaping the QE Reservoir (see Related Post, below) and just after the Canada Line was finally finished and the park back to its normal self.




Vancouver, I believe rightly so, has an obsession with “view cones.” Click on the screenshot below for more information about them.

To “preserve” the view cone at Queen Elizabeth Park, the city chopped down 70 trees.

Photos > Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation


Queen Elizabeth Park

Underwood, McKinley, Cameron, Wilson, and Smith, 1969; Thorson and Thorson, structural engineers




With opponents the likes of Neal Jacobs (son of the late, great Jane) opposing the plan, this observation tower project was doomed almost from the get-go.

So, it was a treat to see this “might-have-been” proposal on display at Emily Carr. After all, there is a certain tristesse to “projets jamais réalisée.

Maquette Number 1:26 — the titular number of this show of plastic creativity — stood out amongst all the cardboard on display.

The show is up until the 18th of July 2010. Admission is free; check it out if you find yourself on Granville Island.


Photo courtesy Coupar family via The Vancouver Courier


The iconic Woodward’s ‘W’ at Henriquez Partners’ Woodward’s redevelopment. For more about the New Woodward’s:


Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation: Queen Elizabeth Park – Viewing Tower Proposal

Skyscraper City: Queen Elizabeth Park Observation Tower

Canada.com: “Park Board to Study $10-million Tower Dream

Georgia Straight: Queen Elizabeth Park Tower Causes Concern

Georgia Straight:Queen Elizabeth Tower Grows Even Taller





Charles H. Scott Gallery: 1:26 Opening Reception – Tuesday, June 8 at 7:00 pm

Galerie Monopoli: 1:26

Vancouver Sun:Architectural Models Show ‘Thinking with Fingers’

Abitare: 1:26

Design Exchange: 1: 26 – In Study Model Wonderland