DESIGNING KITS POOL

Originally built in 1931, Kits Pool is Vancouver's only (heated) saltwater swimming pool and, at 137m (150 yards), it's also the longest pool in Canada. The pool itself is picturesque, with views of the mountains, ocean, beach, and downtown skyline. The pool is designed like the neighbouring beach, gradually becoming deeper as you wade toward the ocean, making it accessible to every age and swimming ability from babies to athletes. 

And while all those things make Kits Pool worth a visit, there's much more to the pool's design than most people know (until now...).

In the 1970s the City decided to renovate the pool to bring it up to the BC Building Code. They hired Howard Architects and John Bingham was tasked as the Project Architect. Fortunately for us, we know John pretty well and convinced him to tell us anything he could remember about the renovation that isn't already on paper.

The first challenge of the renovation was to address the Provincial Government's requirement for a continuous seawall path for public access and maintenance along the entire length of the seawall. At that time, a concrete wall separated the ocean from the pool, effectively ending the seawall to the east of the pool. The Architects kept the original wall (which is still there today directly north of the pool) and created a new wall for the pool at a higher elevation so that it was no longer fed directly by the ocean. 

One of the major components of the renovation was to include new mechanics for cleaning and heating the water. Since its opening, the pool had been seawater fed at high tide. Until the renovation, though, the water was untreated and unheated. With the addition of new mechanical system, the pool is now filled with treated sea water once only at the beginning of the summer. Over the season, evaporated water is replaced by fresh water. By the end of the summer, Kits Pool is filled with more fresh water than sea water. 

The change rooms were also included in the renovation. The men's and ladies' symbols on the walls differentiating the change rooms were meant to be placeholders on the Architectural drawings only. However, they ended up making the cut and are carefully recreated with every paint job. The cubbies on the deck are chimney stacks turned on their side, a relatively cheap (and original) way to create open cubbies. Light wells into the change rooms can be seen from the concession stand south of the pool, but have since been covered to mitigate privacy concerns.

Other areas included in the renovation were the Showboat, which acts as a stage for amateur performers. The circular deck that sits out above the change room was originally supposed to have a tent (the clips for the tent are still there). However, the tent and the children's spray park designed to the east of the pool for eliminated due to budgetary constraints (and have apparently since been abandoned altogether).

Construction of the renovation began in 1978 and took approximately one season to complete. Apparently, the mayor at the time received numerous complaints about noise during the construction, which could only be done during low-tide, whenever low tide happened to be that day. 

After leading the design of the renovation, the same Architectural firm was commissioned by the City to design Second Beach Pool. While Second Beach Pool is not saltwater fed, it does have the same graduated entry as Kitsilano Pool, making it equally popular for families with young children.

Read and see more here

John Bingham , of Bingham + Hill Architects, was the project architect for the pool's renovation

John Bingham, of Bingham + Hill Architects, was the project architect for the pool's renovation

Looking North over Kits Pool during its first season after the renovations.   Photo courtesy of Bingham + Hill Architects.

Looking North over Kits Pool during its first season after the renovations. Photo courtesy of Bingham + Hill Architects.

The view from inside the lifeguard station, 1979.   Photo courtesy of Bingham + Hill Architects

The view from inside the lifeguard station, 1979. Photo courtesy of Bingham + Hill Architects

Kits Pool during its first season after the renovations in 1978.   Photo courtesy of Bingham + Hill Architects.

Kits Pool during its first season after the renovations in 1978. Photo courtesy of Bingham + Hill Architects.

HERITAGE WALKING TOUR WITH JOHN ATKIN

Heritage preservation in Vancouver recently came back to the forefront with the ongoing review of the Heritage Action Plan. Vancouverites have been lamenting the destruction of some of the city’s oldest homes, often replaced by large, characterless construction that seems out of place with the remaining streetscape. Despite our appreciation for the city’s built heritage, most Vancouverites are can identify with the saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ - we walk along city blocks without truly understanding how the streetscapes and neighbourhoods that we are trying to protect came to be.

Except John Atkin, whose familiarity with Vancouver’s neighbourhoods has bred insight and a deep appreciation for the city’s streetscapes and heritage conservation.

John grew up in Victoria, surrounded by conversations about heritage, architecture, and city planning. When he moved to Vancouver for art school, he realized there was little awareness of Vancouver’s history and how that had affected the built form. In 1991 John co-founded the Heritage Vancouver Society with Michael Kluckner, an independent heritage advocacy group dedicated to “Creating a Future for Vancouver’s Heritage”  (Heritage Vancouver Society). John also offers heritage walking tours, which are extraordinarily insightful and interesting – he is a walking repository of information and can tell you something interesting about almost every house on the block (check out his website for the next tour date).

We were fortunate enough to have John give us a walking tour of the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood, and while we learned lots about a neighbourhood that we thought we already knew well, what we really got was a new way of looking at our streetscapes. Heritage preservation is about more than conserving perfectly restored houses with all the quintessential architectural elements. It’s about understanding how history has influenced a streetscape, the growth of a neighbourhood, and the landscape of the city.

The eastern boundary of the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood is at Nanaimo Street (everything east of Nanaimo Street was the Hastings Townsite which didn’t join the city until 1912). Investors in the area thought the advent of the Nanaimo Street streetcar would help open up the area, but with limited service on a single track development in this area lagged behind that centred around Commercial Drive’s Interurban streetcar line. Instead, development around Nanaimo Street came gradually, though the School board did construct Lord Nelson Elementary School at Charles Street and Garden Drive, which opened in 1911.

Development in Grandview-Woodland occurred in waves, which is evident in the character of the streetscape. Looking along Charles Street, the Arts and Crafts and Edwardian homes were built by small-scale builders prior to the start of the depression in 1913. John is an expert at describing the events and people involved in shaping the neighbourhood. He has researched the history of Grandview-Woodland, as well as most other neighborhoods in Vancouver, with a level of rigour that would rival that of a crime detective. With this knowledge, John describes different urban planning phenomena such as the large retaining walls that hold back the front lawns of several houses. These are a byproduct of the city levelling the street grades and therefore lowering the elevation of the land in front of existing homes. The walls were constructed to prevent the homes from tumbling into the new road. John also describes the history behind street names, such as Kitchener Street, known as Bismarck Street prior to World War I. Residents living on Bismarck Street demanded that the German name of their street be changed to something that showed their support of the British Empire. The evidence of this name change can still be seen on the sidewalk where city labourers removed the concrete embossed with Bismarck and replaced it with Kitchener.

The Canadian Pacific Railway was instrumental in shaping Vancouver west of Ontario Street – as the developers, the company was able to lay down a comprehensive grid system and prescribe things like setbacks and building height. East of Ontario Street, however, the road layout developed organically, as development occurred at different times and by small-scale builders. As a result, the grid system is arbitrary in some areas with roads dead-ending at what was formerly a field or orchard. The small-scale developers that first built in the neighbourhood typically owned enough land to construct two or three houses and repeated the design to save money. Today, these "house twins" are often disguised by nearly one hundred years of renovations. However, John is quick to point out the similarities in the windows, the design of the roof line, and the layout of the front porch. One developer built eight homes along Lakewood Drive using the same plan. Today, however, their likeness is almost indistinguishable. 

Building largely stopped until after World War I, at which time infill houses were built around the previous developments. Vancouver Specials popped up in the 1960s, followed by another surge of new buildings in the 1990s. While some might overlook this patchwork streetscape, John showed us how this lack of consistency has created the neighbourhood’s character (though arguably some houses have more character than others). Hundred year old homes that have been painted in vibrant colours and smaller infill modern homes that recall the vernacular architecture of the area are a new phenomena that allow the neighborhood to evolve and remain liveable.  It seems that the historical houses and planning anomalies have fostered a neighbouhood that is active, engaged, and forward-thinking.  This is seems to be the true value of heritage and neighbourhood preservation.

John offers several other walking tours, which can be found on his website.  They are each as fascinating as the last for both visitors and locals and are, in our opinion, the only way to learn the true history behind the city. The next time you are wandering down a city street, take some time to look at how the neighbourhood developed around transit, schools, and economic forces. Not only does each house have its own story, so too does each street.