Vancouver Especially: a public art piece on the Vancouver Special in Chinatown

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A Vancouver artist is commenting on the city’s housing affordability issues and monotonous architectural styles through Vancouver Especially, a new public art exhibit that provides a unique take on the Vancouver Special.

The piece is designed and built by Ken Lum and is located at a narrow empty lot at 271 Union Street in Chinatown, between Gore and Main streets. The sculpture is a small replica of the two-storey Vancouver Special single-family dwelling, which were built from 1965 to 1985 as an affordable housing design for poor families and immigrants. An estimated 10,000 Vancouver Special homes were built throughout the period; the boxy designs that maximize square footage allowances still dot the city today, especially in East Vancouver.

Last year, Lum was given $45,000 to produce the art piece, which is approximately the same price of a Vancouver Special in the 1970s. His original intentions were to produce a Vancouver Special replica for the same price and a scale that is relative to the present day price of such a development. However, it was later determined that the size of the art piece would be far too small, so the dimensions of the installation were multiplied eightfold. The actual miniature dimensions are shown at the front of the exhibit on the side of the podium.

Lum was born in Vancouver but he now resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he is a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. Until 2006, he was previously the head of the graduate program in studio art at the University of British Columbia.

The installation is funded by non-profit organization 221A and will remain on-site until mid-February 2016.

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