Bringing European concepts of architecture to Vancouver

SFU lecture brings to the fore European urban development. | Photo courtesy of SFU

Michael Geller will be hosting his 4th annual lecture series at SFU Harbour Centre on Feb. 15, 2017. This year, the focus will be on higher density housing with insights based on his travels in Europe.

Geller is an architect, planner, real-estate consultant and property developer. Born in the UK but raised in Toronto, Geller has always been interested in creating buildings. After traveling extensively in Europe over the last few years, Geller had accumulated numerous photos of interesting developments and initially planned to use them for Christmas cards. But he rethought his original plan and came up with the idea to share them with the public at this year’s lecture entitled Higher Density Housing and New Communities: Lessons from Europe. In this way Geller combines his work and personal life.

“When I travel, it’s for leisure and professional interest,” says Geller.

Adopting low and mid-rise buildings

Geller explains that in Vancouver, people tend to think that densification means building more high rises. However, in countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, many of the new housing developments are actually low and mid-rise buildings (4-10 stories high).

“Part of the message I want to deliver is that there are these new forms of smaller mid-rise buildings that are so common in Europe but not very common in Vancouver and elsewhere in North America,” says Geller, who has four decades of experience in property development.

According to Geller, the main benefit is that low or mid-rise buildings can fit next to single family homes or within single family neighbourhoods much better than high rise buildings. Geller is not opposed to high rise buildings but he feels that there is room for different kinds of buildings in Vancouver and that we should study building developments in other countries. In addition, Geller will be discussing both individual buildings and the new planned communities that he has seen across Europe.

The challenge with building these low and mid-rise buildings is simply that we’re not used to doing them. Geller feels that developers tend not to build them because they’re unfamiliar with the type of construction and also because they may follow a herd mentality. In short, developers build what other developers are building.

“I like to think that by presenting images and pictures from other places, and promoting these ideas, eventually they will catch on,” says Geller.

He stresses that the ideas that he’ll be presenting are not his original ideas but rather hopes that through this presentation Vancouver can begin to adopt the best of the European approach to architecture. There has already been some small-scale adoption of European tradition in Vancouver, for instance, the “car-free” housing development. This means that apartment complexes are built with little to no parking spaces for residents.

“These projects are becoming feasible thanks to changing attitudes towards car-ownership, the rise in popularity of car-sharing and improved public transit,” says Geller.

Affordable housing

In early April, Geller will also be giving another lecture on affordable housing. This year, the City of Vancouver will be implementing a relocatable modular housing project. These small and easily transportable housing units will be set up on unused plots of land to provide temporary housing for those in need. Geller, who wrote a thesis on the subject 45 years ago, has been promoting this idea for several years now.

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