In recent years, Vancouver has experienced exponential growth in population growth and urban development. Similar to many other cities that experienced a rapid growth spurt, Vancouver buildings opted to use economical and marketable glass-tower typology. The end result of globalization is generic skylines with mundane urban experiences, concealing its rich cultural history. So, how can skyscrapers begin to express, appreciate, and restore the surrounding cultural context?
Totems often take on the form of artifacts and art to represent spiritual and cultural significance. They are often the tallest and most visible structures in the establishment. However, the traditional forms of monuments or emblems are easily dwarfed by the glass-and-concrete-based skyscrapers and traffic in today’s scale of society and urbanism.
As an attempt to change the monotonous urban characters and mundane sceneries and experiences derived from capitalistic globalization, Meme Architects proposes a new interpretation of the totem in contemporary urbanism through the manifestation of this unique iconography into the scale of architecture - specifically in the form of a highrise tower, one of the most visible and iconic man-made structures. In this case, what is the cultural heritage should we be advocating in Vancouver?
The city of Vancouver is the traditional settlement of the Pacific Northwest Coast people, including the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations. These indigenous communities have a long-established history of settlement and control over the lands. Over the years, they have developed complex and distinct visual languages that fascinate the world to this day.
Despite having these rich cultural resources, the urban environments of Vancouver fail to establish a unique identity. Instead, it is well known as one of the most ‘generic cities’ to the film industry - the kind of city that can be dressed to look like any city.
Returning to the initial question. How can skyscrapers begin to express, appreciate, and restore the surrounding cultural context? Situated in the southern end of downtown Vancouver, the Totem Tower is a speculative project that interrogates the relationship between urbanism and heritage in a contemporary context and in an ever-so-common development scenario.
As Vancouver's latest landmark building, the Totem Tower will be the tallest wooden structure in the city's skyline, bringing unique iconography to the otherwise ignorant urban landscape.
The tower’s openness to traditional activities is reflected in its public programming. The lower floors of the tower are designed to welcome and encourage active community engagement while accommodating various open activities for the Vancouverites.
Sculptural geometries and artisanal details are hallmarks of the Totem Tower experience, reflected in the curvaceous designs of walls and ceilings. The spaces and services for the residents are no exception.
No rocks are unturned when it comes to applying native North American aesthetics. The Totem Tower’s spatial compositions - visible in plans and sections - are designed and arranged to mimic traditional and vernacular artistic approaches of the region.