A jaunt on London’s tourist trail would not be complete without the prerequisite outing to Betty’s Buck’ Palace, an expedition to the Tower to gape at the crown jewels, and a trip to Trafalgar Square to marvel at the size of Nelson’s Column. But how many tourists (or Londoners for that matter) can boast having been to Canada House – the grand old Greek Revival building towering over Trafalgar Square?
Not many, I’m sure. And why would they? Unless you’re Canadian (of which I’m not), there’s probably not a lot of reason to rejoice in some dated mammoth of a structure dedicated to the country that spawned Celine Dion and Bryan Adams. In fact, quite the opposite.
Well that’s where you’re wrong. Canada House is actually something of a cultural hub: a centre promoting Canadian film and visual arts (and err…music), and they have a continuous programme in the gallery that includes contemporary painting, sculpture, crafts, photography, drawings and new media.
The latest exhibition: Vancouverism: West Coast Architecture + City-Building, is part of the London Festival of Architecture, and it offers the perfect opportunity to check out this historic building hosted by the Canadian High Commission.
Vancouverism? You ask. Well, without getting lost in architectural jargon, Vancouverism is the ‘high-rise, high-amenity, high-sustainability, high-design style that’s come to symbolize the newer parts of Vancouver’s downtown’.
In short, it’s all about making the most of space, and using sustainable products; something Canadians have become quite adept at. The exhibit, curated by architects and critics Trevor Boddy and Dennis Sharp, features the work of some of the major players in bringing the Vancouver skyline to the world: renowned architects Arthur Erickson and Bing Thom, as well as James KM Cheng and innovative engineers Fast + Epp.
Inside there are some unique features including architectural drawings, detailed models, photographs and video installations. There’s the world premiere of a model of the 2012 Winter Olympic speed-skating building (not even the Vancouverites have seen that one), and a giant light fitting made from recycled wood chip that has been taken from trees that are dying because of climate change.
But by far the event’s most visible attribute is a massive wooden wall on the building’s exterior made from red cedar blocks and rope that has wrapped itself around the north corner of Canada House like some kind of giant snake.
Vancouver-based architect Gerry Epp, one of its creators, was inspired by the way birds’ nests support themselves: “We had a very narrow construction zone between the grade two listed, Canada House’s walls (which we could not touch) and its perimeter wrought-iron fence. This form was chosen to rise high, while maintaining stability in all directions.”
The construction certainly draws attention to Canada House, giving an otherwise tired and traditional old building something of a contemporary twist. Even Bryan Adams got in on the act in 2005 when he exhibited some of his own photographs inside (which consisted of 30 individual portraits of Canadian women). Whatever next: watercolours by Celine Dion?
Vancouverism: West Coast Architecture + City-Building
June 24 to September 10
Trafalgar Square SW1W 5BJ
Monday to Friday 10.00am to 6.00pm