Beautiful canopy by Robert Kleyn for Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. The design of this canopy is clever not just because it’s a visually interesting addition to an otherwise aggressively plain warehouse, but also because it effectively deflects wind in what is an exposed windy laneway. And it has worn very well – it’s been up there for a while now. Kleyn, who converted this warehouse building to a gallery for Jeffries, has also recently designed a studio building for artist Stan Douglas in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Klein is also an artist and designer among many other things – see this Fillip magazine article, or read more about his work here.
PS On the roofline of the building, you can see the text artwork “Stay Away From Lonely Places” by Ron Terada.
Vancouver architecture critic Trevor Boddy’s article on the studio building Kleyn designed for Stan Douglas is reprinted below.
By Trevor Boddy
The Globe and Mail, Friday, Dec. 08, 2006 (updated on Mar. 17, 2009)
Earlier this decade, things got so bad on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that it started to be abandoned even by artists — a group that Statistics Canada data indicates is amongst the poorest residents in Canada’s poorest postal code area.
The nadir was reached when a leading-edge art presentation centre — the Or Gallery — left its home in the 100 block of West Hastings for inferior new quarters in Yaletown, patrons scared away by open drug dealing out front, and staff frustrated by repeated burglaries inside.
One artist who has never abandoned the Downtown Eastside is photographer and installation artist Stan Douglas. With family roots on Vancouver’s eastside, he has long located the studio where he produces his globally acclaimed artworks in the neighbourhood. Mr. Douglas made the block where the Or Gallery used to sit world-famous through a self-explanatory street-front photo-montage and related book, Every Building on 100 West Hastings.
For his own building — studios for himself and partner/painter Mina Totino — he carried on with his interest in street façades by working with an architect he had long known from the art world.
Like Mr. Douglas, architect Robert Kleyn was inspired by the conceptual art of the 1960s and 70s, and the subsequent art theory of the 80s. Because of several well-reviewed shows early in his career — before he left to teach architecture in Michigan — Mr. Kleyn was actually better known to Vancouverites as an artist than architect. While in Detroit Mr. Kleyn went on a tour with Mr. Douglas of its almost-abandoned downtown core, helping inspire several subsequent video productions there. The tour also led to one of Mr. Douglas’ most famous large format photographs — a 1920s movie palace so fallen into neglect that its hollowed-out interior now serves as a parking garage, with Jazz Age ornament incongruously floating above an idyll of Fords and Chevvies.
Mr. Kleyn started his design for the Douglas/Totino studio even before his return to practice architecture in Vancouver. After five years of planning, design and construction, the building on Cordova Street near Main Street opened last spring. It is a minor marvel; a small building that masks its sophistication with quiet references to the ordinary, the local and the mundane, tempered with a zest of Italian sophistication.
It does this with such quiet grace that Mr. Kleyn’s building may be one of the wittiest commentaries ever on the visual art of Stan Douglas — videos and photographs that also use deceptively ordinary narrative and genre conventions as passageways into deeper, more complex themes and shadings.
Many Vancouverites, even those who have lived in the area for years, are convinced the Douglas studio is a renovation rather than what it is — all-new construction. Necessity is the mother of this ruse, as budget permitted only a concrete block shell with two architectural indulgences — a raised, east-facing courtyard cut out of the upper floors of this otherwise simple cinder-block box topped with gable roof, plus an extravagantly over-height, flag-red, attention-grabbing false front façade on Cordova.
This façade was based on Mr. Kleyn’s studies of “boomtown” fronts on commercial buildings elsewhere in East Vancouver, and common throughout Western Canada. But this is a boomtown front like no other — the organization of this façade is more considered, more complex, in a word more ‘arty’ than the vernacular.
The clue here are the windows, the architect positioning them nowhere in the typical pattern of shop front large glass at street level, then regular windows for rooms above. Mr. Kleyn has located a stair flush against the Cordova Street elevation, leading to some eccentric positioning of small windows at landings. When experienced from the inside, these positions lead to some dramatic views to the street.
With a workshop, loading dock and art storage spaces located there, much of the ground level elevation is opaque, with security also being a not unimportant consideration here, in one of the city’s highest crime areas. The net effect of all of these decisions is a highly Mannerist front elevation, with a complex interplay of red wall and window proportions. The look is less prairie town than palazzo in Puglia — indeed, Mr. Kleyn spent years in Italy, working for both architects and prominent film directors, and has designed film sets for Stan Douglas more recently.
With their unexpectedly rich new building, Mr. Kleyn and Mr. Douglas remind us there is more to the Downtown Eastside than the current chaos: a rich history; architecture of note; lively streets; and a pride of place many other areas of Vancouver would love to possess.