The pools and water sprays at the Palais Georgia.

Story & Photos by Dianne Maguire
(click photos to enlarge)

I wasn’t too sure what I would find when I set out down the steep slope toward the pleasure-boat filled harbour.

The first tale-tell sound of splashing water drew me to the front of a 26-storey building with a couple of sprays of water spouting high above the river rock-filled rectilinear pool to the right of the front door.

There is a touch of old world charm to this residential building, the Palais Georgia on the corner of West Georgia Street and Broughton. It has the distinction of being the first purpose built high-rise condominium in downtown Vancouver.

A Lake Como native of Italy, Oberto Oberti came to Vancouver to visit family friends and decided he had fallen in love with the city. He added to his Italian training degrees in architecture from UBC and stayed to build splendid residential properties and ski resorts.

The Palais Georgia was his 1991-92 project.

An eye-catching sculpture at West Pender Place.

A closer look.

Just a block down the street is a splendid group of three modern buildings referred to as West Pender Place. On the corner of Pender and Broughton, the complex is dominated by a prism-like glass covered 36-storey structure. You hardly notice this from below it on the sidewalk.

No. 1409 is eye-catching because of the bright red sculpture next to the east entrance on Broughton, and the swish of the cascade of water that flows, level after level, under two walkways. Then the water spills into troughs set terrace-like to follow the downward slope of the sidewalk.

The Light Shed.

The red sculpture, which brings to mind an ampersand, is by Californian artist Brad Howe. There is another water feature and sculpture on the west side of the complex that I plan to include in a piece about sculptures on Nicola Street. Built in 2011, the West Pender Place group of buildings offered a combination of residential, commercial and retail units as part of the rapidly developing Coal Harbour neighbourhood.

If you keep on walking down the slope, you reach the roundabout that leads to the carpark for the Coal Harbour Community Centre. Beyond is a harbour full of large motor and sailboats that bob beside the walkway.

Where the path reaches the sea there is a shiny structure on stilts: “The Light Shed”. The sculpture is based on a freight shed, like those on the Vancouver City Wharf in Coal Harbour a century ago. This is a half scale version of the simple wooden buildings that were part of the industrial activity of bygone days.

Manhole cover by Susan Point.

Look for the seaweed, mussels and barnacles on the pilings that suggest a low tide line. The overall image is brought up to date with aluminum casting and paint. Designed by sculptor Liz Magor, and commissioned by Grosvenor Canada Ltd. through Vancouver’s Public Art program, this sculpture was donated to the City when it was completed in 2004.

You may choose to walk back up to West Georgia or to Robson to catch a bus home. Watch where you put your feet and soon you will notice the magnificent craftsmanship and design of the manhole covers set into the sidewalk.

These particular manhole covers were designed by Musqueam/Coast Salish carver, Susan Point. The decorative fish design reflects the influence of spindle whorls carved by her First Nations people.

She began to “get into the wood” in 1990, when few women were carving regularly or on a large scale. By 2010, she earned an invitation to take part in the Carving Pavilion during the Olympics in Vancouver. She says, “I love working in cedar because it’s meditative – and I love the smell.”

The manhole covers were developed as a way to bring traditional indigenous designs to the Public Art Program and Engineering Department. They were installed in downtown sidewalks in 2007.