When Douglas Coupland – the novelist, multimedia artist, and social critic who popularized the phrase “Generation X” – turned his pen to his native Vancouver, he bestowed upon his hometown a lasting nickname: “City of Glass.” Designed to look like an underground Japanese ‘zine, City of Glass offers an inside-out take on Vancouver, a city that perennially tops “most livable cities” lists.
The book’s symbolic title – which evokes the glass condominium towers that dominate Vancouver’s skyline –suggests a city strongly rooted in design. In a series of essays, Coupland applies a finely-focused lens to different aspects of the city, from homelessness and drug addiction to cruise ships and dim sum, creating a vivid and eccentric portrait of Vancouver’s urbanism – or “Vancouverism.”
Last month, we headed west for our Vancouver Modern Home Tour, which was featured as part of the Western Living Design Week – a weeklong celebration of Canadian design and designers. A collaboration between Western Living magazine and IDSwest, the event was flooded with designers, architects, and those with an appreciation for the role of design in our lives.
We sat down with Anicka Quin, Editor-in-Chief of Western Living, to chat about the myths and realities of western living, Design Week, and the City of Glass.
All images are from homes featured on the 2013 Vancouver Modern Home Tour. Click on an image for more info on the home!
Q&A w/ Anicka Quin, Editor-in-Chief, Western Living
How long has Western Living been in circulation, and what sort of desires led to its initial publication?
We’ve been Western Living since 1971, but our predecessor, Western Homes and Living, goes back to 1950. When the latter went down, one of the editors, Liz Bryan, launched WL as a celebration of the West (one of her most well-loved columns, Backroads, traced her and her late husband’s favourite drives across the West). We’ve always had a strong architecture and design focus, but most importantly, we celebrate Western Canadians and the way we live today.
Western Living says it invites its readers to “stretch their imaginations about living in the west.” We love that. What are a few common misconceptions about western Canada that you can dispel?
There are always a few: we’re all outdoorsy skiers/hikers/runners in Vancouver (though there are plenty of those); they’re all cowboys in Calgary (and yes, you’ll see white hats at the airport); prairie folks are warm and friendly types (that one is hard to dispute). But we’ve also got some of the most livable cities in the world here—Vancouver and Calgary were recently named #4 and 5 in the world—and incredible food & dining scenes. The winners of our annual Designers of the Year awards demonstrate how revolutionary and forward-thinking our design scene is as well: Omer Arbel, for example, a past winner, was recently the star of the show at the London Design Festival (he of the ubiquitous Bocci lights—pendants that seem to be the signature lighting for modern homes!)
We were so pleased that our Vancouver Modern Home Tour could be part of your Design Week. How did Design Week come about, and what are your goals for the event?
Our Western Living Designers of the Year event often brings in designers from outside the city – Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon—and it occurred to me that those same designers often travel in for IDSwest as well. We thought it would be great to offer those folks—and those in our local community—pop-up events in between DotY and IDSwest, much in the same vein as ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) in NYC. We’re so charged up about design here at the magazine, and we felt there was an opportunity to bring more of that excitement to our readers and designers—to help people understand the role of design in their lives, and to feel excited about it as well. We hope to expand it even more next year—offer speaker series, guidebooks to the events happening around town that week—and really help both readers and designers identify with the week after Designers of the Year as being an exciting time in the city.
Earlier this year we had our Toronto Modern Home Tour, which was our first foray into Canada. How is the design scene in Vancouver and western Canada similar to or different from Toronto — or, for that matter, other cities in the western US?
Indoor-outdoor living is still a bigger part of design out here: our climate is milder, and we don’t have to worry about heat transfer from entire walls of glass the way they do in a cold-weather city like Toronto. That said, you’ll also see patio heaters in use here in the summer – our nights are cooler and damper, being on the ocean.
Vancouver really led the way for the kind of needle-tower condo developments we have downtown, that Toronto is now following: tall, cylindrical buildings with narrow footprints and glass exteriors (Douglas Coupland famously named our city, “City of Glass”) that capture the view. Our development came out of the need to preserve “view corridors” – it was important to keep those great views to the mountains, so though our downtown is dense, it doesn’t feel suffocating, and you can always see the mountains wherever you are. It’s a form of urban planning now called “Vancouverism” that can be seen in cities all over the world. In single-family homes, it also means a propensity for rooftop patios: as land value skyrockets, we turn whatever we can into outdoor living.
I also see less of the rustic modern look in homes in Vancouver than I do in Toronto – though I think we make up for that in our restaurant design!