City Briefs: On The Charming Fakery Of Frontier “Facadism”
But Vancouver’s falsest fronts also tell interesting and varied stories. Increasingly, facadism is becoming the face of downtown as planners and developers come to grips with ways to increase density while preserving at least a superficial holla! to the past.
At its worst, facadism destroys everything about a building – except for its most superficial elements – to the extent that all of its original meaning or purpose is lost. The Scotiabank Dance Centre has been criticized for just such an overbearing approach, with its tokenistic nod to the original bank (the recent integration of the YMCA-Patina on Burrard is perhaps a more successful example).
To me, the most interesting facades are the ones that eschew any sort of grand gesture, and appeal to our most unglamorous design ambitions, as in ‘hey! it’s bigger than it looks!’ The metaphors flow easily from Vancouver’s working class facades as the buildings strive to be more than the space they occupy. Did the architect advertise, “Appears 33% bigger!” or what? While not flashy, there’s something gratifying about peeking behind a boxy, cookie cutter building with no visual appeal to find a perched roof and a modest tribute to frontierishness.
Last year, Vancouver artist Reece Terris installed an additional “False Front” on the Western Front’s false front as a commentary on Vancouver’s booming real estate market. The building, and Terris’ intervention, is a throwback to the urban pioneer west where designs sought to impart a “larger-than-life appearance to…primitive cabins.”
Since these facades are no longer part of a frontier architectural vernacular, they now seem out of place. But that just adds to their charm. These imposters make fakery an art.