Vancouver's Chinatown is an area rich in history and culture currently struggling to define its character, as demographic shifts and new high-rise developments in the area signal a changing modern context. Architecture for Humanity - Vancouver has teamed with the City of Vancouver and local business and social organizations to help define opportunities for sensitive development in the area, focussing on the neighbourhood laneway network.
Chinatown's laneways are rich with history, formerly acting as the neighbourhood's social hub - food, goods, and entertainment were all on offer in their past incarnation. Currently the laneways merely provide service uses and occasionally act as sites for illicit activities. AFHv undertook a study to investigate revitalization strategies.
AFHv's project research involved hosting site visits, design workshops and coordination meetings. Volunteers invited business owners, residents, city workers, architects and designers with experience in Chinatown to share their knowledge and visions for the future. Armed with this community input, AFHv designers identified areas for design interventions. They explored a range of design possibilities in three distinct phases, from event-based interventions to long-term visions.
In exploring precedents and potential, designers identified a number of small interventions that could draw the public back to Chinatown, and to bring awareness to an untapped potential, from the simplicity of an art installation through signage, lighting, differentiated surfaces. Longer term, interventions could take the form of amending zoning regulations to allow laneway development, reducing vehicular traffic, and establishing regular events and programmings.
AFHv compiled their findings in a document (tiled 'Lanes: Shortcuts to a Vibrant Chinatown Experience') which was incorporated into a proposed Chinatown Economic Revitalization Strategy. This Strategy was recently accepted by the City of Vancouver's municipal council.
AFHv has committed itself to implementing the findings of its research document. The organization collaborated with students from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design for a One Week Design Studio, in which they were tasked with developing a place-making canopy system to be deployed in the alleyways, allowing for new events to take place beneath.
The students developed a collapsible canopy system which is easily be assembled then taken down by volunteers. Fabricated with commonly available components, the system is highly adaptable, allowing it to fit to the erratic contours of the surrounding laneway.
The canopy system was ell-received by Chinatown community organization and the City of Vancouver, and a City-sponsored functional prototype will be fabricated February 2013.