Design Studio


Iterating on Placemaking Opportunities in #YYJ

Victoria is a beautiful and physically walkable city. It is also known primarily for its fantastic oceanfront downtown, but Victoria is so much more than the Inner Harbour. Areas that are rapidly developing, and well within walking distance of downtown like Rock Bay and Dockside Green, are currently disconnected from the high traffic of the downtown core. Public infrastructures such as wayfinding installations (signage, informational beacons, visual markers) and minor, community-led aesthetic upgrades to the urban environment could increase foot traffic flow as well as local community engagement.

The communal development of public infrastructure based on the immediate physical and social environment is known as “placemaking”: a philosophy and practice that creates urban spaces enjoyed by tourists and community members alike. Studio Robazzo was recently given the opportunity to participate in an exercise in placemaking; read on to find out more about our design-competition-entry-turned-build project, placemaking and “tactical urbanism.”

In a previous blog post, I wrote about our submission to the Ship Point Pop-up design competition. The challenge was to create a public installation to activate a section of mostly unused pavement at the Inner Harbour, creating a link to the David Foster Parkway. Inspired by Victoria’s diverse communal spaces, the proposed design featured nine movable pavilions, each highlighting a unique feature of the city’s public spaces. You can see the project pages in detail here. We were shortlisted for the top prize among several other talented architects and designers, including the winners from B + H Architects in Vancouver.
This competition was a great opportunity for submissions from around the world to be considered for a high-traffic display area in Victoria’s inner harbour. Although we didn’t get to physically create our vision then, it was excellent placemaking practice. For us, the strength of the design was its focus on inviting interactivity (chalkboard walls, a lending library, a small communal garden), as well as the versatility of the movable modules. 

Several weeks after the competition ended, we were approached by Joey MacDonald to collaborate on aspects of the Thinklandia festival for a second year. As always, Joey was interested in more than just re-hashing last year’s ideas, and so we introduced him to our plans for the Ship Point competition. We had soon co-created a new opportunity to adapt our plans for Thinklandia 2016 to create a sense of place on the experimental property of Dockside Beta. This festival was the perfect setting to re-imagine our designs: Thinklandia celebrates innovation, creativity and gathering to share knowledge; all qualities we are aiming to foster under our waffle-structure roofs. Although inspired by our initial design, the Thinklandia pavilion was a distinct iteration to the original plan. We focused our efforts on crafting one instead of nine installations and extended its dimensions to take over a parking spot. Following the Thinklandia festival, it may be re-used as a parklet, building on the initiative of the Fabulous Fort parklet. 

Our dabbling in placemaking led to a deeper interest, and we discovered the newly minted Visual Victoria program. Visual Victoria is a City-led initiative to expand on the Downtown Public Realm Plan and to increase beautification as well as wayfinding. This project specifically focuses on ways to increase foot traffic flow from the downtown core to other key areas of the city. With our studio located beyond the reach of the downtown buzz, this issue is of particular interest to us. How can areas such as Rock Bay, and its unique and diverse businesses, be linked to the main pedestrian zones of the downtown core?
Beautiful wayfinding is a necessary feature in pedestrian mobilization. In addition to wayfinding, “tactical urbanism” can also improve the perceived walkability of a city, drawing pedestrians to areas of town previously under-explored. Tactical urbanism sounds like Rambo running amok in a concrete jungle, but actually, it refers to the unique decor and DIY-style public structures such as parklets, urban gardens, shade and bike storage infrastructure, that create interest, character, and charm for citizens and tourists alike. A great example of this is the hanging lighting at Fernwood and Gladstone that adds ambiance and draws attention to community businesses. Tactics come into play in the placement and specific activation of the urban space in question. Space activations must be purposive and within the context of the local environment: providing shade for hot spots, lending libraries near schools and community centers, and specifically addressing the needs of the community. 

If you are interested in creating an “active space” in your neighbourhood, or in contributing to the discussion in general, check out the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network and Visual Victoria. You can attend group discussion sessions for Visual Victoria at CityStudio on Johnson street every Thursday from 3-5PM, click here for more details. Finally, check out Un:Expected Conversations 4 on Public Art and Creative Spaces at the Royal BC Museum on November 23rd to participate in a discussion on topics like placemaking and imaginative spaces.