Meandering down a section of Robson Street on the iconic 800 block in downtown Vancouver, passers-by can sit, relax, play, and socialize on the "Urban Reef" installation. Designed by Kaz Bremner and Jeremiah Deutscher with local furniture collective Higher Works, Urban Reef won the inaugural 2014 VIVA Vancouver: Robson Redux design-build competition out of 78 submissions worldwide.
The competition had entrants create a temporary urban installation to transform the block to a welcoming public plaza from Canada Day (July 1) to Labor Day (September 1).
"In 2011 the City of Vancouver began temporarily transforming the iconic 800 block of Robson Street into a summertime pedestrian plaza from Canada Day to Labour Day. This seasonal change along Robson Street is a part of the City of Vancouver’s popular VIVA Vancouver program, which creates public spaces by transforming streets into vibrant pedestrian spaces. In previous years, the design of the summertime plaza came from a call for submissions. For 2014, the City built on its experiences and launched Robson Redux..."
"The winning design, known as Urban Reef, stemmed from two ideas highlighted in the competition brief. First, was the concept of engaging Vancouver’s urban vibrancy. While Vancouver is frequently noted for its natural setting and scenic amenities, a rich urban fabric and culture exists that the City wanted to highlight through the Robson Redux competition. Second, was the underlying theme for the competition: connection.
The design of Urban Reef folds these two ideas together while responding to the specific qualities of the site, creating a public sculpture and armature for socializing and performance. Through the activity that Urban Reef generates, from street performance to casual chance encounters, the project’s goal was to connect people to one another and to the space in a new way."
"The 800 block of Robson Street has a unique urban character. The site hosts vendors, buskers, and all manner of street life all year round. However, through much of the year vehicular traffic on Robson Street runs through the space. Urban Reef inverts the street from separating the space to a place that condenses pedestrian activity.
The installation acts in much the same way as a reef in the ocean, as an armature that facilitates the life around it creating a vibrant new ecosystem. By the simple addition of Urban Reef to the 800 block of Robson Street the surrounding plaza is repurposed and Vancouver’s urban vibrancy has a place to come to life."
"Urban Reef’s form was generated through a series of sections that suggest different types of occupation ranging from lounging to tiered seating for watching performance and overlapping benches to enjoy friends. These sections morph into one another as the installation snakes along the site creating a dynamic form that sparks curiosity and invites exploration. While the changing sections suggest different ways of occupation, the plan responds to the existing context and organizes the surrounding space for a variety of uses."
"For example, Urban Reef curves inward and rolls up into tiered seating creating a small amphitheatre opposite the Vancouver Art Gallery steps. This frames a two-sided performance space where a large audience can enjoy street performances. Other curves suggest smaller performance spaces and overlapping and lounging sections provide places to engage with friends or a moment of calm to relax and people-watch."
"The various moments of Urban Reef’s sculptural form are comprised of 987 unique ¾ inch birch plywood sections. All of these sections were CNC cut and hand finished. A rigorous set of rules and digital tools were employed to maximize the efficiency of the plywood sheets. The sections are simply tied together with threaded rod and evenly spaced with sky-blue custom spacers.
The spacing between the changing sections reveals a lightness and note of colour weaving through the 40 meters of benching when viewed from the side. The transparency and colour from the side contrasts nicely with the all-wood solidity experienced when the benches are approached from the end."
"While the undulating form of Urban Reef may evoke Vancouver’s natural setting of coastline and mountains it is in fact an urban catalyst igniting activity and interactions in Robson Plaza. As people engage with Urban Reef they engage with one another as well as the unique urban vibrancy Vancouver has to offer."
Photos courtesy of Kaz Bremner and Jeremiah Deutscher.
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