Collaborative Project Sailing Toward Fruition

2010 SVI Case Study presenters, United We Can, partner with Architecture for Humanity to create their temporary new home from the old Canada Place sails.

Collaborative Project Sailing Toward Fruition
Globe and Mail - Vancouver, BC
Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2011
By: Jessica Linzey

It’s not everyone who relishes inheriting 14,500 kilograms of 20-year-old, Teflon-coated fibreglass.

But when Canada Place offered to give Linus Lam the used material from its iconic white sails, the designer saw nothing but possibility – including that of a temporary new home for a not-for-profit bottle depot that long ago outgrew its current digs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Mr. Lam is the founder and executive director of the Vancouver chapter of Architecture For Humanity, a San Francisco-based not-for-profit dedicated to finding design solutions to humanitarian issues – such as health care, education and shelter – both at home and abroad.

As an organization, AFHV was exactly what Canada Place was looking for, said Brett Calder, manager of communications for the convention centre. “We really appreciated the chance to marry the iconic sails with both local and international humanitarian projects.”

The old sails, all 12,000 square metres of them, now sit on Mitchell Island in two 13-metre-long containers. According to Mr. Lam, they feel “like those plastic-y portfolios. You can roll it and bend it, but there’s a toughness and rigidity to it. And it lets in light, which is a nice feature.”

It’s a lot of material to work with, said Mr. Lam, whose plan to find creative uses for it across the country and around the world began with an unusual partnership in an east Vancouver neighbourhood.

Brian Dodd is the executive director of United We Can, one of the Downtown Eastside’s most successful social enterprises. It was last fall when a mutual contact put him in touch with Mr. Lam, he said.

At the time, AFHV was looking for local project opportunities, and Mr. Dodd – whose organization is about to begin work on a permanent space that will be larger than the one it currently occupies – was in the hunt for an inexpensive and short-term home.

It was the perfect match. The two talked about collaborating on a project, one that would see AFHV create a shelter out of the old sails for United We Can to use while it’s waiting for its new building to be ready.

“Both Linus and I were walking a foot off the ground after that first meeting,” Mr. Dodd said.

In the months since, Mr. Dodd has been negotiating with the city over possible sites in the DTES and mapping out a “flow chart” with Mr. Lam. (They’re close enough to signing that he’s already measured the dimensions of the earmarked site, he said.)

“We see 750 to 900 binners [bottle collectors] come through here every day, so we need to work with traffic patterns. There has to be a flow to the way things are done,” Mr. Dodd said.

It’s not yet clear what the final structure will look like, but both Mr. Dodd and Mr. Lam hope that whatever shape it takes, it can be passed on to another local organization after United We Can has moved out. Mr. Dodd expects construction on both the new permanent building and the temporary structure to begin in the next few months.

“It’s so neat that we have this material,” Mr. Dodd said. “We’ve even talked about incorporating bits of it into the new building as well, so that our customers can say, ‘Hey, you know those Canada Place sails? Well look at this. We’re part of something much bigger here.’ ”

Click here to read the article on the Globe and Mail website.

Credit for Canada Place image.