A whimsical yellow wave cascades over half a block on Robson St., it’s faux grass sprouting crisp white umbrellas. This playful public installation is PICNURBIA, an urban picnic and hang out oasis. Flanked by the stoic VAG on one side and Arthur Erickson’s courthouse on the other, with the simple yet dingy Sears looming in the background and concrete all around, PICNURBIA definitely punctuates the street.
PICNURBIA was created by Olena Chytra, Philipp Dittus, Alana Green and Katy Young, also known as The Loose Affiliates. The three women are recent graduates of UBC’s Masters of Architecture program, and Philipp met them as a visiting student who’d completed his degree at ABK Stuttgart. They’re all interested in public spaces and how we use them and while their design skills and intelligence are obvious, so is there sense of fun. And it’s clear that they love colour.
The space is designed as part of Vancouver’s Viva Vancouver project, of which there are and have been many other events and projects throughout the city. The Loose Affiliates came up with the idea after Dittus lost his job. He remembered seeing an email for a public space competition from the city, the winning ideas each receiving a small stipend, from the larger Viva Vancouver budget, to produce the chosen design. In a few days they whipped up their proposal and not long after the idea was approved. After months of hard work on a tight budget, their work has hit the street. Literally.
PICNURBIA moved onto Robson St. on August 9th. Over the first few days of its existence, it’s safe to say that the Astroturf has been packed as tight as a quarterback’s, well package. People lounging, reading, eating, people watching. Shoppers, weary with purchases sit and sip icy beverages. Children awed by the colour and shape dash along the wave, mothers stand nearby, nervous about their children’s excitement. It’s charming, interesting, eye-catching, cheeky. Most importantly, it seems to elicit the desired response in people: they’re using the space.
But don’t let me try and explain too much of what’s going on. These design folks are the ones who know what’s up. I asked The Loose Affiliates a few questions about their temporary wonder, summer fun and what they think the future of public spaces will (and should) look like. I used their first names, because, it’s just friendlier, don’t you think?
So, tell me this: There is some crazy yellow shizz in the middle of one of Vancouver’s busiest streets. What have you done?
Alana: We have designed a temporary ‘pop-up’ park in the heart of the city.
Katy: We thought we’d invite the city of Vancouver to a picnic.
Phillipp: Vancouver doesn’t have market places, Vancouver has parks. But parks are always somehow mimicking nature where a plaza celebrates the urban. In nature we want to be alone, but in an urban environment we want to be surrounded by others. PICNURBIA is a piece of art/architecture/furniture for people to gather on, to have a break, to relax and watch, to meet and eat. In short a ‘place’ in the best sense.
Or, as Paul the head worker of the carpentry team put it, when some guy asked him what is that all about: It’s the place to be!
Give us your PICNURBIA philosophy?
Alana: I know this sounds cliché, but really, PICNURBIA is more than just picnicking. For me, it’s about creating public spaces for people to enjoy hanging out. Sometimes we do this with food, or a book, or a friend, but it is important to have spaces in our cities where we can do this.
Katy: The city is your living room. This is especially true in Vancouver – the streets and sidewalks are so clean! We’re working to help people realize this while proposing an alternative to the Lazyboy/TV monotony.
Olena: It’s a place in the middle of the city to hang out without having to purchase a beverage or a magazine first.
Philipp: It is a place. A wave. A stimulus. An enabler. A park. A piece of furniture. A piece of art. A road block. It is yellow. It is for everybody. IT IS PUBLIC.
As of now, PICNURBIA has only been up for a few days, but have people really taken to it. I’ve already noticed photos on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr of people posing in the faux greenery (yellowery?) Are you collecting photos of people enjoying the lush, golden grasses?
Alana: We are collecting photos!
Olena: Yes! Absolutely! Send them in! email@example.com
Philipp: Taking pictures is a common way to hit on people. I’ve seen it. More than once! Our friend Krista Jahnke, a photographer, has taken some amazing pictures. (All photos in this article are courtesy of Krista Jahnke.)
Are any official activities planned for the space? Or will it function as a bring-your-own-fun venue?
Alana: Mostly it is a bring-your-own-fun venue. However, we are really excited to host the Blim Market on August 14, 12-5pm.
Olena: And August 12 is our opening B.Y.O.P-icnic Party (5-8). There may be more things planned so if people want to know more the can check the VIVA Vancouver website.
What do you hope for the future of public spaces and usable installations, like PICNURBIA, in Vancouver?
Alana: I think the future of public spaces in Vancouver is really exciting. The VIVA Vancouver program is a new city program, and I hope in the next few years it results in the implementation of many new and exciting public installations. I hope that this is the first of many different installations to go on this site.
Katy: I hope that the city continues to excite a wide range of people. I’d never sat in Robson Square on consecutive evenings until PICNURBIA was installed – it’s quite a magical place in the evening.
Olena: I’d like to see existing spaces reinterpreted. The urban fabric holds so much potential. I know that Vancouver has incredibly beautiful natural scenery to rely on but I think that has allowed the urban environment to be neglected in terms of compelling spaces.
Philipp: It would be awesome to flood Robson Square and make it a public pool in the middle of downtown. Cities have to become more interactive. People crave that and I’m convinced that there is a whole ton of options to do that in a non-commercial way.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about PICNURBIA?
Alana: When it opened we just watched how people used it. We watched one man spend four hours on it! He ate, read, relaxed. He was so happy that he sent the city a very nice email the next morning to tell them about his time spent there. And that’s sort of what I hope PICNURBIA instigates, just a long linger.
Katy: The turf is exactly half way between yellow and orange. Alana discovered this yesterday. So, everyone is wrong – it’s yrange.
Olena: It’s a really accessible and straightforward idea, which is why I was so drawn to the project. It’s incredibly fortunate that it was installed at Robson Square because it completely re-envisions the purpose of the space and the way it functions.
Philipp: The VIVA Vancouver Team –especially Krisztina Kassay, Jennifer Sheel, Daniel Fortin and Kimberly Collier– really worked hard for the whole program to happen and I have to say they did a great job! The project was constructed and installed by the amazing carpentry team of the city’s Equipment Services. We’re also thankful for the support we had from SYNLawn (yellow turf) and FAST+EPP (structural engineers).
What is your summer jam?
Alana: Kool and the Gang, “Get Down On It”
Katy: Orange marmalade.
Olena: “I Want More” by Can
Philipp: Michael Shrieve, Kevin Shrieve & Klaus Schulze, “Transfer Station Blue.” Total Craziness.
PICNURBIA is open 24/7 from now until September 5th on Robson St. between Howe and Hornby. The B.Y.O.P-icnic Party is tonight, August 12th, 5-8pm. Click here to find out more about PICNURBIA and The Loose Affiliates.