Unclear on the Cone-Cept (CC#91: Why do so many want to mess with View Cones? Who gains?) by Brian Palmquist

(City Conversation #91 was first published 14-Nov-2022)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatchplease visit this page.)


November 14th 2022—My first City Conversation 21 months ago was about the chipping away of views of the mountains and water in order to allow super high-rise unaffordable residential development. The issue has not gone away.

This November 9th illustration is the latest broadside—funny that the water and mountains are not even in the picture

“That’s actually quite an attractive, almost seductive building form,” offered my son as he looked over my shoulder. “What’s your beef?” I had to smile before replying—from an architectural objet point of view, I agreed.

“My beef, as you call it, is that like so many arguments in favour of doing away with our city’s view cones, it fails to consider the building’s context.” He awaited patiently for me to continue.

“This illustration is a bit extreme in the sense that it has no context—no surrounding buildings, streets, etc. We only know it’s the Bay parkade site because we’re told so. Worse still, it’s taken from an angle that would never be seen except by a drone.” He nodded agreement before interjecting.

“I get that and agree it’s a bit deceptive, but it looks like it could be really good architecture—shouldn’t we make exceptions for that?”

“That’s been the recurring argument so long as the view cones have been under attack, which is pretty much as long as they have been around, some 40+ years.”

I continued. “Getting back to the context I mentioned earlier, I completely agree with the arguments that the view cones themselves are artificial constructs.” He looked surprised so I continued. “But for me and many others, the context of the view cones is not architecture that penetrates, ultimately obliterates them—it’s the visual richness that arises from their existence.” He looked puzzled.

“I went for one of my favourite walks this afternoon, along Jericho Beach. As I do, I shot a few skylines. As I developed them, a few things struck me.”

The grand seduction—go far enough from the city and we still have the mountains and water—all photos by author

“If you go far enough from the downtown you still appreciate views like this—relatively low, older high-rises in the West End, with water in the foreground and high mountains behind.” He nodded, puzzled, so I continued.

 Skyline view from Jericho, but a bit to the east, with Downtown and some of Downtown south

“As I zoomed in—which is the same as getting closer to the view—the mountains have almost disappeared. The older office high-rises, such as the Bentall towers, the Royal Bank building, the Hotel Vancouver—they are nudging the mountain tops but largely below them. And the many lower, older high-rises in the West End cluster well below the mountain tops. They pretty much form a wall of 12 to 25 storey buildings.

But the later Trump tower, Shangrila, etc., remove swathes of the mountains from view, even from far away.”

Skyline further east—Vancouver House in the centre

“You must have erased the mountains from this view!” he said, looking at the next photo, centred around our favourite, Vancouver House. “Stop messing with Lightroom and post processing!”

“Honest, this is as is, no post processing. In fairness, from the Jericho perspective the mountains are marching away to the east—but I expected to see something. There’s a tiny sliver of mountain at the extreme left of the photo—then it just disappears.”

“But how do the view cones prevent that from happening?” he asked, realistically. I thought for just a moment before answering, showed him one last picture from the same viewpoint.

The Wall Tower to the left, Vancouver House centre right—all from Jericho. Our future skyline could nudge the underside of the lines

“The view cones are way to the east of the photos I’ve been showing you—they’re almost at right angles to where these photos are taken from. But they result in buildings of many different heights. In this picture, there is a field of lower high-rise buildings in the West End and Downtown South—several of the newer buildings are double the height of their elders, which were governed by the zoning regulations of the day.” I paused for effect.

“Now imagine if every air space in this picture was a much higher building than the field of older buildings. Imagine a field of high-rises the height of Vancouver House to the right and the Wall Centre, the tallest building on the left. In fact, just before the election Council approved a view cone busting city-sponsored rezoning amidst the clover leaf at the north end of the Granville Bridge, just to the left of Vancouver House. There are currently proposals for similarly tall buildings to the left of the Jim Pattison building in the centre of the photo, as high or higher than that building. Draw a line from the Wall Centre building, the high one at the left, to the Jim Pattison building, then over to Vancouver House. That will be the new skyline in no time.”

“Does anyone care?” he asked in a low, worried voice.

“Well, I’ve described in previous City Conversations how the Broadway Plan will destroy most views from Fairview Slopes and Mount Pleasant and how the Jericho Lands proposals will erase the mountains and water views from Point Grey. I’ve not even started on what the Vancouver Plan will do in the rest of the city, but I wager it won’t be pretty!”

“It’s early days with the new Council,” I continued. “They must decide how important Vancouver’s unique skyline and environment are as against many higher buildings for our wealthiest residents and investors.”

“In the words of Joni Mitchell that I quoted in my first City Conversation:

You don’t really know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

Today’s question: Do you think view cones serve a useful purpose? Why or why not?

I read and respond to all comments made below. If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a free subscriber to City Conversations at https://brianpalmquist.substack.com/

2 thoughts on “Unclear on the Cone-Cept (CC#91: Why do so many want to mess with View Cones? Who gains?) by Brian Palmquist

  1. We drove by the Oakridge Centre on 41st Avenue this morning, and the street west from Cambie to the tower on the end of the huge megolith was so dark it was like driving through a tunnel. I can’t imagine how the people who bought the condos on the north side feel now that they have lost their southern sunlight! I wonder how the plantings on their side of the street will fare, too. City planning? That is clearly NOT happening here!

    Thanks for keeping your column/blog going. It helps with my anger management!

    Sincerely, Candace O’Connor


  2. Thanks, Brian, for the question above and providing photos (from Jericho Lands), particularly the last one where you inserted red lines. The answer to “Who gains?” from messing with City’s view cone policies is – developers. But as part of a review in 2010-2011, the “General Policy for Higher Buildings” expanded opportunities for increased height and density at specific, prominent locations that would generate a potential array of PUBLIC BENEFITS -eg. provision of significant cultural or social facilities, low cost housing, etc., etc. Further, all such higher buildings would have to demonstrate “a significant and recognizable new benchmark for architectural creativity and excellence, contributing to the beauty and visual power of the city’s skyline”, recognizing the urban design importance of the sites identified: North bridgeheads of both the Burrard and Granville Bridge Downtown “Gateways” and W. Georgia St. between Seymour and Bute. The determination as to whether a proposal met this architectural objective would be adjudicated by a specially convened Urban Design Panel.
    Two towers in your photo, the Jimmy Pattison building (on axis with the Burrard Bridge) and Vancouver House (Granville Bridgehead), took advantage of this Higher Building Policy by providing a number of Community Benefits and CAC’s. On Architectural Excellence, personally I’d say they met the test/ Others may disagree.
    The main reason for challenging the fundamental notion of protected view cones is that their 3-dimentional complexity is a nuisance for developers, arguing that they are an indulgence in these times of housing crisis. I would argue they contribute
    to this city’s uniqueness, the visual power of our mountain backdrop, a qualitative element we’d regret losing.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s