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You’ve observed Westbank in Vancouver for over a decade and during that time the city has changed dramatically. What has Westbank added to Vancouver’s urban fabric?

Westbank adds value to buildings through the arts and I’m very respectful of that. Look at Shaw Tower for example with the light works, by Diana Thater. If you’re over in Stanley Park you can see the lights changing and it’s a very compelling piece. It doesn’t seem it, but it’s very intricate and it’s very tied into the lobby and all that and I’m very impressed with that.

But it doesn’t matter whether or not I agree with what Ian considers to be great art or not, what matters is the fact that he’s trying to incorporate great art into his projects. I really don’t care for the poem that’s on the Fairmont Pacific Rim for example, but I am utterly knocked out that there is poem on that building. I mean, where else do you see that kind of thing?

Do you have a favourite piece of public art in Vancouver?

My one complaint about Vancouver in the past has been that there was not one piece of public art that is controversial. I mean we used to have the upside down church, but they got rid of it and sent it to Calgary where they’re very proud of it. But now we have the Stan Douglas piece that Westbank commissioned at Woodward’s.

It’s the piece that people question and get excited about. I live at Woodward’s and I work here and I watch people come in every day and stand there and try to figure out what is going on, especially if they’re from out of town. It’s utterly refreshing. And Stan and I had a talk about this and I said to Stan, “Maybe you should put an interpretive plaque on it so people know what’s going on”. He said, “No, let them figure it out.” And I agree. It tests people.

Can you give another example of what makes Woodward’s unique?

What’s even more brilliant than the Stan Douglas piece is the basketball hoop in the middle (of the Woodward’s courtyard). There are always people playing in there; some homeless guy and a great big jock and it symbolizes people coming together. It symbolizes inclusivity. It doesn’t cost you a nickel. You can walk in there at 9 o’clock in the morning and play basketball and you can do it until 10 o’clock at night. And it’s always happening. It elevates spirits.

Then there is the architecture of Woodward’s, which could easily have been mediocre architecture like much of Vancouver, but it’s gone a lot, lot further than that. This building is very typical of the way that I’ve seen Westbank work. There’s a lot of risk in it, the exoskeleton and those lobster-coloured trellises. It’s not an easy building and even the units are weird because of their shapes and that’s great. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve never seen an apartment as beautiful as mine. I can live a very green existence here and I have a very big patio where I’m growing my own food and stuff.

What place should art hold in a cityscape?

You know, the Haida Nation have no word for art. And how could they? Everything they do is art.

I was in Italy recently and I was looking at a ditch and the workmanship of the pipes and stuff and thinking about how such craftsmanship is part of the culture. How different that is from here, where we separate art from infrastructure, etc. Or, if you go to Paris and buy a tart at a patisserie, the wrapping is as beautiful as the tart.

I think Ian has that attitude too, he really sees that his projects can influence a direction for the future of the city. So many other developers see the artistic component of a building as a drudge that they have to do, whereas Ian sees it as a great opportunity.