Burnaby target for architects' challenge

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

UBC Architecture and Landscape Architecture students and top local and international architects and landscape architects will join forces on an urban design task that will provide a legacy of ideas and inspiration for urban planners across North America.

Spurred on by the success of its first design workshop in 1995, which focused on Surrey, the UBC School of Landscape Architecture has selected Burnaby's Brentwood Town Centre as the subject of the second International Design Charrette for Sustainable Urban Landscapes, Aug. 19-25.

"Burnaby will gain tens of thousands of dollars worth of design expertise at no cost to the taxpayer through this charrette," said Patrick Condon, an associate professor in UBC's Landscape Architecture program.

The 160-hectare area surrounding the intersection of Lougheed Highway and Willingdon Ave. includes Brentwood Mall, several strip commercial activities and a huge tract of low density industrial land. There are some apartment buildings but very few single-family homes in the area. A large, single-family residential community is located uphill from the site.

"It's an area that is already intensely developed," said Condon. "Teams will have to deal with challenges such as site remediation and think about how a community will gradually evolve from one use to another, and about how principles of sustainability should and can apply to higher density areas."

Design teams will spend a week developing urban design alternatives with an eye to sustainable development.

The charrette is a project of the UBC James Taylor Chair for Landscape and Liveable Environments--an endowed research chair of the UBC Landscape Architecture program, established to explore practical ways to make urban landscapes more sustainable.

The Charrette Advisory Committee selected Burnaby from a number of candidate sites because it "fit to a T" a number of important criteria, Condon said.

First, a future vision for the area was recently developed in the Brentwood Town Centre plan, which supports the regional sustainability principles in the Greater Vancouver Regional District's Livable Region Strategy. Second, a new light rail line is proposed for the site. Third, a number of environmental issues exist in the study area, including relatively high pollution levels in Still Creek.

"Finally," said Condon, "the area is similar to many others in the region, and thousands of others in North America; consequently, design concepts generated for the Brentwood area may also be adapted to many other North American communities."

Condon said Burnaby Mayor Doug Drummond has welcomed the charrette as a timely opportunity to explore ways to transform the area from a car-oriented place to a redeveloped core with facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and connections to greenspaces.

Teams will look to creating a "green infrastructure" in which streets and public spaces are designed to reduce public expenditure, improve water quality, clean the air and add biological diversity to the urban landscape.

Designers will also propose ways to integrate light rail transit into the community. Integration of transit is a key issue for residents of Brentwood, and is also a concern for thousands of people in many parts of Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby and Richmond where light rail is proposed, Condon said. Designers will also explore ways to increase the options for affordable ground-oriented housing.

The finished designs will be presented publicly on the last day of the charrette and later published.

Results of the previous charrette were published as Sustainable Urban Landscapes: The Surrey Design Charrette, available from UBC Press. Many of the design features explored in the Surrey charrette are being incorporated in development in the area, Condon said.