public space

MOV’s Upcycled Urbanism: The Movie

For one day in the summer of 2013, hundreds of people came together to re-invent a Vancouver street using giant blocks of recycled polystyrene. We built castles. We built walls. We built giant games and hallucinatory landscapes. Most of all, we worked and played together to transform the street into an ephemeral social machine. The day was the culmination of months of thinking, arguing, designing and dreaming by a team led largely by volunteers. We at MOV called the project Upcycled Urbanism.

For many urbanites, the landscapes we move through can feel finished, static and beyond our control. Upcycled Urbanism was initiated to empower students, artists, designers, makers, and anyone else who cared to become part of Vancouver’s evolving design culture by reimagining—and rebuilding—part of Vancouver’s public realm.

Working together, teams of participants designed and built prototypes using modular blocks of expanded polystyrene containing material salvaged from construction sites around the Lower Mainland by Mansonville Plastics.

First, students from the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) created prototypes of building blocks. Then, at a series of workshops in the spring, teams brainstormed, sketched, and modelled how to use these blocks for wild new public design ideas. They got plenty of help from design experts from partner organizations, which included SALA, the Vancouver Public Space Network and Spacing Magazine.

Then, on July 13, we hit Granville Street. There were dozens of volunteer builders, and nearly six hundred giant blocks to play with. Our team leaders thought it would be hard to convince the public  to join the build effort. Not so! Often led by their children, passers-by leapt into the design+build fray. Because the work was temporary, people took all kinds of chances with their design, using the I-beam and 3X3 blocks to make tables, pyramids, thrones, forts and surreal sculptures.

During the day, more than 1,500 people stopped to play, build, critique or take pictures. My favourite moment came during the heat of mid-afternoon. A fire alarm sounded in a nearby building, and dozens impromptu builders jumped into action, clearing the street of building blocks within seconds. It was a moment of destruction, but also of wonderful, organic teamwork by people, many of whom had begun the day as strangers. And it prepared us to start building all over again.

It all felt like play. In fact what we were doing was learning how to design and build together. We were testing the bubble-bursting potential of new forms. We were teaching ourselves not just styro-engineering, but new techniques for working together with strangers. And with every new structure, we claimed a little bit more ownership of the street. 

After all the building was done, volunteers packed the polystyrene into our rented cube truck and hauled it back to Mansonville Plastics, where it was ground down and used to make new building products. The cycle was complete.

Thank you to our amazing  partners and team leaders. Thank you to the members of the public who helped build a new street for a day. Thank you to the Vancouver Foundation, whose generous support helped get the project going. Thank you to MOV staff and volunteers. And thank you to Mansonville  Plastics, whose recycling efforts inspired us, and whose blocks helped turn our dreams into design.

Upcycled Urbanism was a Museum of Vancouver initiative in partnership with the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Public Space Network, Maker Faire Vancouver, and Spacing Magazine, with generous additional support from SALA, Mansonville Plastics and the Vancouver Foundation.

MOVments: Turning Over a New Leaf

Summer's not officially over but change is in the air (for the record, we're keeping summer alive just a little longer by visiting Kits Pool rain or shine and refusing to put sweaters on during evening picnics). Whether we're starting new projects or thinking about the city in new ways, fall is the season for some major shifts across Vancouver. 
A New Way Forward. September 22 marks what will be Canada's first "Walk for Reconciliation" in Vancouver. As the wrap up to Reconciliation Week, and as part of the programming around the BC national hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the walk highlights the need for more just relationships for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. As Chief Robert Joseph explains, "It is symbolic of our intent to walk together, to find a new way forward."
Architects Wanted. The VAG is getting even closer to their big move with their recent call for architects to design the new gallery space. Words being used to describe the ideal design are "visionary" and "influential" with the goal of becoming one of the most environmentally sustainable museums in the country. As it stands, the new gallery will begin construction in 2017 and open in 2020. Can't wait.
Re-Envisioning Public Space. While Mount Pleasant's Guelph Park has not officially been renamed "Dude Chilling Park" the memory lingers on. The now infamous sign has found a permanent home in the Brewery Creek Community Garden located inside the park. It's a nice compromise (and perhaps an indication of a more whimsical, playful approach to public space in the future). And finally, a shout out to our buds at the Vancouver Public Space Network, their PS I Love You photo hunt gets under way September 21st. Register now!
At the MOVeum:

[Image: Autumn leaves, VanDusen Botanical Garden. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 1502-2873]

MOVments: Flirting, Getting Good Grades, and Hitching a Ride

This week brings some new takes on common Vancouver themes like public space interventions, cycling, and transit. You'll learn where to track down a mobile park, what people want in a bike route (and how to flirt while riding), and about a potential downside to our new transit fare system.
Park-A-Park. So the parklet at East 1st and Commercial has been around for a while (since the end of July) but by now many of us have had a chance to experience its unique and diminutive charms. As Julien Thomas, the urban interventionist who created the mobile Park-a-Park in collaboration with Emily Carr explains, the space is meant to encourage connection: “Sometimes conversations with strangers are very surface level, but I think if you add a twist, say, in a disposal bin on the corner of a busy street, really interesting conversations can happen.”
Cycling Report Card. The Vancouver Sun recently spoke to Kay Teschke about what Vancouver is doing right, and what it needs to work on in terms of cycling safety and infrastructure. According to Teschke, a UBC professor and cycling advocate, separated bike lanes are the way to go, hands down, for reasons of accessibility, comfort, and safety. Another possible benefit? Facilitating bicycle flirtations
Transitional Transit. We've all heard about the controversy around the Skytrain no longer accepting bus transfers with the implementation of the Compass card system. But the Georgia Straight brings up another valid point: the $6 price tag attached to Compass cards could make it very difficult for social service agencies to provide transit support to people living below the poverty line
Happy Birthday, Stanley Park. And lastly in honour of Stanley Park's 125th anniversary, an article exploring its influence on the city. (Oh, but wait, there's a bit of a dark side). 
At the MOVeum:
[Image: The Narrows, Stanley Park, ca. 1900. Photo courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 677-487]

MOVments: Writing on the Wall & Keys to the Streets

Summer's finally here and we at MOV have been spending more and more time outside (which reminds us, we're going to be out on Granville all day for this on July 13). Stepping out your door this week could mean encountering a number of issues, sights, and sounds: from getting free and easy with patio protocol in the city, to the politics of graffiti, to tickling some ivory on the city streets.
Late Night Patios. Mayor Gregor Robertson is pushing for extended hours and expanded seating for the city's restaurant and cafe patios. Currently, patios close promptly at 11pm across Vancouver. At least according to Facebook, it looks like we're overwhelmingly on board with the change.
Mo'Hinder, Mo' Problems. Michael Mann of the Georgia Straight tackles the wave of Mohinder tags sweeping the city. Depending on who you are this scribbly graffiti is either a hilarious postmodern take on an urban artform or property crime, plain and simple. One person who's definitely not laughing about graffiti in the city is artist Jeannie Kamins who just had her blue heron rookery mural vandalized
Urban Orchard in Bloom. If you're like us, you're delighted by the proliferation of urban gardens in the city. That's why we couldn't be happier about the largest urban orchard in North American opening right here in Vancouver. The orchard at Main and Terminal will be leased by SOLEfood for a dollar a year from the city. 
Public Pianos. Vancouver public spaces just got a little more musical with pianos installed at three different locations across town. It's all happening as part of the 'Keys to the Street' program implemented by CityStudio, the City of Vancouver, and Vancouver's post-secondary schools. Learn more about the program here
Rainbows on Davie. And lastly, we're also feeling pretty excited about the permanent rainbow crosswalk in the West End. Just in time for Pride Week. 
At the MOVeum:
August 15 - Redacted Readings
[Image: Piano player outside the VAG. Photo courtesy of Stephen Rees via Flickr]

Disrupting Granville Street


For months, teams of designers, students and regular folks have been hard at work re-imagining, re-configuring and re-designing Granville Street. Finally, on Saturday, July 13, their design dreams will be revealed as MOV and our partners invite the public downtown to participate in the transformation of the 700 Block of Granville.

Their designs will become a reality through the use of hundreds of super-sized polystyrene building blocks salvaged from construction sites around Metro Vancouver.

The material is part of pioneering work by Langley-based Mansonville Plastics, which rescued polystyrene and ground it down for use in new blocks. After our event, materials will be returned for a third round of recycling and re-envisioning.

The entire Upcycled Urbanism project came together around just such ideas of 'upcycling.' Way back in January, the project was born from a common aspiration of UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA), the Vancouver Public Space Network, Maker Faire Vancouver, Spacing Magazine and MOV to offer people new ways to re-envision public design. As we've been reporting since then, teams of students, artists, designers, and makers have been talking about and planning public interventions that juxtapose unexpected forms and ideas against otherwise mundane spaces.

So what can you expect to see on July 13th? We don't want to give too much away, but you might see a giant living room, a super-sized game zone, or, as one team member put it, an "all-out public hallucination." As Zanny Venner of VPSN explains, the idea of disrupting expectations is intrinsic to the project: "I think people will be surprised at how much of an impact the material of polystyrene can make. You wouldn't necessarily think so, but it has inspired people to transform a street space into a unique and unexpected social landscape."

Excited? There's still time to join a build team by emailing us at And on July 13th everyone is invited to watch, encourage builders and engage with this interactive landscape between 10:00am and 8:00pm.

See you there!

[All images from our Volunteer Orientation Night on June 26, 2013]

MOVments: Making Friends in the Surly City

This week we're exploring the spaces where Vancouverites are making connections, collaborating, and becoming better acquainted. Ideas like the VPL's new public garden or an award for Vancouver's 'greenest' family are complicating the perception of Vancouver as an unfriendly city. Sure, there are still places that make us uncomfortable and standoffish (namely, public transit) but as you'll see, there are people in the city working on how to make these friendlier too.
Garden in the Sky. Chances you aren't one of the very few people who have visited the VPL's rooftop garden. But that's about to change because the original design dream team that includes architect Moshe Safdie and landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander has reassembled to work on a new public green space at the central library. In 2015, the newly renovated top floors and roof will be opened to the public, complete with a grand reading room, outdoor terraces, and new rooftop garden. Sounds like a perfect place to meet new friends to us.
A Family that Recycles Together...A very "Vancouver" competition put on by SPUD Vancouver and Vancouver Mom came to a close on Monday: the city has voted for its greenest family. The five finalists wowed voters with their collaborative environmental achievements ranging from energy efficient renovations in their homes to air drying clothes instead of using a dryer. Read all about them here and congratulations to the McEacherns for taking home the big prize!
Getting Friendly on the Bus. Buses might not be known as the friendliest places in the city but one bus driver has taken it upon himself to change that. While most people try to remain as anonymous as possible on public transit, Brian Revel sees buses as temporary "micro-communities" where people can have positive interactions. So how does he get people talking? By simply encouraging passengers to say "hi" to each other. Pretty inspirational. Check out his Facebook page here.
Special Shout Outs. The MOV's community partner (and friend) Vancouver Mini Maker Faire, i.e. the city's biggest show and tell, is holding their third annual faire at the PNE Forum on June 1 and 2. Come out and get to know over 100 Vancouver makers demonstrating skills such as puppetry, electronics, computer hacking, music-making, quilting, farming and virtual reality. Advance tickets here. 
And finally a special shout out to our own curatorial team for the new Visible City virtual exhibit and free mobile app (download it through iTunes or Google Play) that allow you to explore Vancouver's neon neighbourhoods. Check it out!
At the MOVeum:
[Image: Crowded Vancouver bus. Photo by Michael Kalus via Flickr]

Hallucinations and talkscape creations

[What is Upcycled Urbanism?]

Hallucinating in Public: Creating Environments That Are Beautiful and Disruptive, the second workshop in the Upcycled Urbanism March series,  got off to a mysterious start. Bill Pechet of  SALA and Ian Lowrie of  Spacing Vancouver gave a packed room of urban design enthusiasts an introduction to design process: a matter of creating poetry with an "immaculate corpse." They combined images of playful, practical and interactive urban realm installations with fun fur because, of course, it's  fun!


Students of Bill's studios at SALA are no strangers to this nouveau-surreal approach to public place making. Those just being exposed to the approach were intrigued by and drawn into the design-making process. By playing with “hallucinatory” systems as a catalyst for more creative civic engagement and participatory place making, participants used design thinking to create potentially richer public realm projects.


They brought together the various poetic elements in conceptual drawings and scale models (constructed from modular blocks created by SALA students). Some projects explored possible public spaces which incorporated interactive permeable walls. Others provided communal sheltered spaces with moving bookshelves for an outdoor library. Others played with lighting, while others used sculptures as multi-faceted sensory vignettes to help people better connect with one another.


Images by: MOV Volunteer Linnea Zulch

Bill Pechet of SALA and Ian Lowrie of Spacing Vancouver

Participants start to layer their hallucinations onto the site.


Collaborative modular forms start to take shape rooted in previous Immaculate Corpse layering process

A week later, Block Talk: Creating Spaces That Connect People ( the third Upcycled Urbanism  workshop) brought together local design enthusiasts with town planning students from the University of Dortmund in Germany.


The sold-out workshop was  co-lead by Mari Fujita, a professor at UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Jonathan Bleakley and Zanny Venner from Vancouver Public Space Network.


The central challenge? Use a  public feast as a driver for communication and connection between friends and strangers. The concept was inspired in part by the leader’s own innovative projects. In 2005,  Fujita’s Space Agency project (2005) invited designers to reclaim Vancouver’s little-used alleyways. The winner saw giant balloons lodged in a rarely-used Gastown alley. In the summer of 2012, Vancouver Public Space Network’s Lunch Meet initiative used a half-block  long dining table to draw strangers to share their lunches together.


Workshop participants were guided to think about innovative models of public furniture and collaborative community activities using blocks designed by students in SALA’s Material Culture Studio.


The workshop produced some tremendous ideas. There were prototypes of multi-generational spaces promoting play and performance. There were clustered spaces for napping and “romantic meetings.” Teams used the modular blocks to prototype  flexible and multi-use street furniture at seated and standing scales,  as well as interactive forms which could shift to create solid or permeable structures to allow for human connection through sight and sound. The German students, amused that Vancouverites are not permitted to drink alcohol in public, proposed interesting ‘bar’ tables, sparking  conversation around policiy and cultural differences that shape public drinking.

Mar. 17 images by Kellan Higgens.


Zanny Venner of VPSN, Mari Fujita of SALA, Jonathan Bleakley of VPSN


Ready, set, charrette!


New innovative modular forms emerge to create public feast spaces

All Mar. 17: Kellan Higgins -

Don’t Miss Your Chance to Participate in the LAST Upcycled Urbanism Workshop:

Surprise and Juxtaposition in the Public Realm

with SALA, Spacing, and Maker Faire


Design forms and images seem to reappear through life--whether in architecture, nature, or even in the food we eat. How can forms from seemingly disparate realms provide inspiration for imaginative public space interventions that draw people together, hold them, and perhaps even change them?


No need to have a design background, just bring your creative and curious mind!


Upcycled Urbanism is a partnership between MOV, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Public Space Network, Maker Faire Vancouver, and Spacing Magazine. With generous support from Mansonville Plastics and Vancouver Foundation.


Location: Museum of Vancouver

Date: Sunday, March 24

Cost: By general admission | MOV members and project partners free


Twitter: #upcycledurbanism


[What is Upcycled Urbanism? Learn more here.]


Building blocks and hallucinations

[What is Upcycled Urbanism? Learn more here.]

Upcycled Urbanism is off to a roaring start on our journey to design and build new public space interventions, together!

Your block, my block

On March 3 we unveiled prototypes for the building blocks we’ll be using to create our designs. These unique prototypes were designed by Minnie Chan and Jessika Kliewer, students of UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Congratulations, Minnie and Jessika! Your work will be transformed into hundreds of big blocks of expanded polystyrene by our friends at Mansonville Plastics.

SALA students Minnie Chan (left) and Jessika Kliewer (right) introduce their building block prototypes. Image on right: Kellan Higgins.

Designing together

Last week’s workshop was a blast. After a primer on participatory design by Vancouver Design Nerds Marten Sims and Kim Cooper, participants came up with some wild and wonderful ideas for animating moribund spaces in our city. A giant slide. A waterfall from the Burrard Bridge. A giant Pac-Man board on Granville Street. Check out their ideas here

Participants at March 3 workshop present their ideas, including...Human Plinko! (Kellan Higgins image.)

Hallucinating in public

Now it’s time to figure out just how we’ll use these blocks to transform public spaces in Vancouver. This Sunday, March 10, join SALA and Spacing Magazine for the first of three workshops. Workshop leaders promise to lead participants into what they call the hallucinatory state needed to imagine new designs. The mind reels. Join us!


Upcycled Urbanism is a participatory project that invites students, artists, designers, makers, and anyone with a even a smidgen of creativity to reimagine and rebuild parts of Vancouver’s public realm. Working together, teams of participants will design and build prototypes using modular blocks of expanded polystyrene containing material salvaged from the construction of the Port Mann Bridge. 

Upcycled Urbanism is a partnership between Museum of Vancouver (MOV), UBC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA), Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN), Maker Faire Vancouver, and Spacing Magazine, with generous additional support from SALA, the Vancouver Foundation and Mansonville Plastics.

Twitter: #upcycledurbanism

[What is Upcycled Urbanism? Learn more here.]

Upcycled Urbanism: start designing new city space this weekend!

[What is Upcycled Urbanism? Learn more here.]

This winter MOV and our friends decided it was time to invite everyone to redesign and rebuild part of Vancouver's public realm. The fun starts this Sunday.

Upcycled Urbanism is a participatory project that invites students, artists, designers, makers, and anyone with a even a smidgen of creativity to reimagine and rebuild parts of Vancouver’s public realm. Working together, teams of participants will design and build prototypes using modular blocks of expanded polystyrene containing material salvaged from construction sites around the Lower Mainland. 

The first step for many of us will learning just how we can work with others to imagine our future city together. Hence our first workshop:

Designing Together: the first workshop in MOV's Upcycled Urbanism series

This kickoff event focuses on how to hold a design charrette: a fun, engaging, and inclusive workshop in which experts and community members work together to turn their ideas into pictures and plans. If you've ever wanted to get people together to work on a new idea for your neighbourhood or your city, then this workshop can give you the tools. With guidance from the Vancouver Design Nerds, we'll brainstorm how to bring an underutilized public space to life.

Bonus: Sneak peak of spectacular Upcycled Urbanism building block designs created by students of UBC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

Mar. 3 Workshop leaders are Vancouver Design Nerds Marten Sims and Kim Cooper.


Kim Cooper is a multi-media artist, designer, and creative community facilitator. She is the owner of Kale Creative and a director for both the Vancouver Design Nerds and Vancouver Community Lab Society.

Marten Sims is a trans-disciplinary designer, artist, curator, researcher, facilitator and design faculty member at Emily Carr University. Over the past decade Marten has produced design work with and for a broad range of social, environmental, cultural, media, health, advocacy and science organisations. He was selected this January to City of Vancouver's 'Mayors Citizens Engaged City Task Force'.

Join us!

2:00PM - 4:00PM @ MOV (1100 Chestnut St) 

Please register at:

Twitter: #upcycled urbanism

Upcycled Urbanism is a partnership between Museum of Vancouver (MOV), UBC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA), Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN), Maker Faire Vancouver, and Spacing Magazine, with generous additional support from SALA, the Vancouver Foundation and Mansonville Plastics.

[What is Upcycled Urbanism? Learn more here.]

What is Upcycled Urbanism?

Have you ever wished you could redesign and rebuild part of Vancouver's public realm?

Architecture and design is an inescapable part of the Vancouver experience, yet there are few chances for people to influence these designs outside of academic settings, City Hall, or architectural offices. Sometimes it can feel like the city and its spaces are created by unseen hands in some faraway design star chamber. And let’s face it: the designs we live with on Vancouver’s streets are not always as creative and risky as they could be.

What if we could invite everyone to re-imagine aspects of urban design and then actually empower them to build prototypes of their ideas? This is the question that gave birth to Upcycled Urbanism: a design+build project for everyone.

What is Upcycled Urbanism?

Upcycled Urbanism is a participatory project that invites students, artists, designers, makers, and anyone with a even a smidgen of creativity to reimagine and rebuild parts of Vancouver’s public realm.

Working together, teams of participants will design and build prototypes using modular blocks of expanded polystyrene containing material salvaged from the construction of the Port Mann Bridge.

Raw material, ready for recycling into public design in the yard at Mansonville Plastics

In the yard at Mansonville Plastics: raw material, ready for recycling into public design.

First, students from the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture created building block prototypes. Then, at a series of workshops in March 2013, teams will brainstorm, sketch, and model how to use these blocks for new public design ideas with the help of design experts from our partner organizations. Everyone is welcome. Finally, teams will come together again to actually build their creations at an outdoor design/build spectacle in July. The wider community will be invited to help, critique, encourage the builders, and occupy their creations. Think of it as a combination workshop/street celebration/public art unveiling!

Materials will then be re-recycled for industrial use.

Upcycled Urbanism is a partnership between Museum of Vancouver, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Public Space Network, Maker Faire Vancouver, and Spacing Magazine, with generous additional support from SALA, Mansonville Plastics and the Vancouver Foundation.

Why are we doing it?

By inviting people to re-imagine public art and street amenities, we hope that Upcycled Urbanism will provoke conversations about public realms and design culture in Vancouver, foster collaboration and connection between people of diverse backgrounds and talents, and give participants a greater sense of ownership over the public places they share.

It will also viscerally explore issues of sustainability by removing polystyrene from the waste stream, empowering people to build with it in a large-scale public spectacle, and finally returning the material for further recycling.

Workshops bring people together for design and creation.

How did Upcycled get started?

Upcycled Urbanism began as an idea and grew into a collaborative community effort.

Back in the summer of 2012, we mentioned MOV’s participatory design aspirations to Erick Villagomez, editor of Spacing Vancouver, and he suggested the perfect medium to make this dream come true: expanded polystyrene, or EPS. This material, sometimes incorrectly mistaken for Styrofoam, is super-light and easy to cut into shapes.

Best of all, said Erick, we have a local, green source for it! Langley-based Mansonville Plastics actually diverts blocks of used EPS bound for the landfill and grinds the stuff down in order to produce entirely new, usable blocks. (In 2012, Mansonville supplied the EPS filling for the wondrous Pop Rocks installation at Robson Square.)

Mansonville generously offered to fabricate a mountain of blocks for the project. Then Spacing, Maker Faire Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Space Network, and UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) all came on board as partners.

 SALA’s Bill Pechet offered to put his design studio students to work creating EPS building block prototypes. Then, with a small grant from the Vancouver Foundation, we were off and running.

Who can get involved?

You! One of the project’s goals is to get design experts and students thinking and playing with people from other backgrounds. So whether you want to contribute to the design conversation, help build with the blocks, or just watch, you are welcome to join us during our program in the spring and summer of 2013.

We are limited only by our dreams! Image: Tavis Brown's photostream


March workshops @Museum of Vancouver:

Sunday, Mar 3:    Designing Together: a primer on how to give fun, inclusive design workshops

Sunday, Mar 10:  Building Public Hallucinations: a design journey with SALA and Spacing Vancouver

Sunday, Mar 17:  Block Talk: creating spaces that bring people together, with SALA and Vancouver Public Space Network

Sunday, Mar 24:  Shock and Surprise: public design juxtapositions, with SALA and Maker Faire Vancouver

Workshop Time: 2:00pm–4:00pm

July Design build event: watch this space for date/location!





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