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Reinventing Suburban Identity
A city hall in British Columbia aspires to urbanity.
By Don Luymes

The design for the new City Hall in Richmond, British Columbia, is a symptom of--and a goad toward--the evolution of a suburb to a place aspiring to urbanity. This story of suburban transformation is relevant to metropolitan areas around the continent, and the Richmond City Hall shows how civic design can set standards of sophistication, craft, and structure for private redevelopment to follow. In this regard, Richmond is following an example that is becoming more common in Canadian cities.

The Mississauga City Hall adjacent to Toronto is perhaps the prime example of this trend. This bombastic postmodernist essay by Jones and Kirkland (1987) also established an island of urban design within a context of low-slung regional and strip malls, cul-de-sac neighborhoods, and multilane boulevards. The Richmond City Hall, just south of Vancouver, is in comparison a more understated building that relates to its context in a more sympathetic way and employs symbols of regional identity in a more nuanced fashion. There is a careful dialogue between the site (designed by Vancouver landscape architects Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg) and the neomodernist building (designed by Vancouver architects Hotson Bakker in association with Toronto's Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg).

Two themes in the Richmond design contribute to its "urbane" posture. The first is the way the site is disposed, especially in relation to its immediate context. The second urban theme is the way local Richmond identity is interpreted and represented in the design of landscape. To appreciate these themes, one needs to know a little of Richmond's natural and cultural history.

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