2/1/09

The master of the skyline?

For a guy whose firm does not even even have a website, James Cheng's incredible influence over Vancouver's skyline is remarkable as Michael Harris points out in his latest architectural article for Vancouver magazine.

His latest building - Shangri-La - is his most distinctive, both in height and in form. The completion of this hotel/residence/many-other-uses-in-one-building is probably what occasioned the article; Cheng is the Hollywood star on a press junket. Surprisingly so, as even Harris notes:
Quietly, with less publicity and fanfare than Arthur Erickson or Bing Thom, he has laid down much of the playing field the next generation of Vancouverites will navigate.
This perhaps is the key quote from the article for me. So quiet is the official marketing around JKMC that many do not know neither that he is indeed a recipient of Governor General's medal for Willow Court and Heath Court nor that he has "contributed 31 high-rises to the downtown peninsula alone, making him an architect of the entire urban experience." Cheng's impact is deep and history of his contributions goes quite far back . Now with this article and with "the" tower, he is on a path to become a household name. In Vancouver, anyway.

Although one can walk down many a street in Vancouver containing mostly Cheng's buildings, it is hard to single out any one of his buildings - save Shangri-La and, perhaps, Shaw - like one could with Erickson's. Cheng's concern is not with architecture, it would seem but with issues and context around it:

Cheng may be responsible for a massive amount of downtown Vancouver's built environment, but he's passionately interested in the space between buildings. More specifically, he cares how people do, or do not, live their lives between those buildings. He prefers to design the public realm first, fit the buildings in after.

[] "I'm not interested in whether the building is iconic," says Cheng. "What we strive for is something holistic, an environment for all people. We should be facilitators, not dictators."
In this can be found the explanation for Cheng's particular brand of architecture, largely characterized by its anonymity and universality. Yet Cheng seems to contradict his aspirations to be a facilitator while describing his retirement plans: ' " I won't ever retire" he says. "That's the nature of any artist: you only stop when life is finished". " Such swaggering self-assessment seems to be at odds with aspiration to fulfil a humble role of a facilitator. It is reflected in the way he shapes Vancouver's architecture - conspicuously inconspicuous - excepting, perhaps, Shangri-La, the sheer scale of which assures its iconic status for some years to come.

Read full article here.

Image Source: Vancouver magazine.

888 Beach - Cheng's hit.

Shaw tower

Massive development in Hainan

Cheng's own house

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