British Columbia

How the 'incredible beauty' of 4 industrial buildings inspired the Granville Island Public Market

One of the two architects of the Granville Island Public Market reflects on its past and looks to the future on the 40th anniversary of the market's opening.

Architect who helped design it reflects on 'one of the largest recycling projects city has ever encountered'

Joost Bakker, one of the original architects of the Granville Island Market, visits the market a few days before its 40th anniversary. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Joost Bakker was a young architect in his early 30s when he was offered an extraordinary opportunity.

Bakker and his partner, Norman Hotson, were asked by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to come up with an idea for what to do with Granville Island.

"I'm amazed it's only 40 years ago that we started," Bakker told CBC's The Early Edition. "Everybody who was involved in the project couldn't have imagined the success of the place."

The Granville Island Public Market celebrates its 40th anniversary this week. It opened on July 12, 1979.

Before Bakker and Hotson got their hands on it, the area around the market was, as Bakker puts it "a giant dump site." It was the twilight of industrial extraction in Vancouver, he said. Log booms were a frequent sight floating down False Creek.  

After analyzing every building on the island, Hotson and Bakker came up with a new vision for four industrial buildings along Johnson Street.

"The thing that struck us was the incredible beauty of these buildings. These are really old, heavy timber buildings the likes of which are unique," he said.

Joost Bakker, one of the original architects of the Granville Island Public Market, browses the produce a few days before the market's 40th anniversary. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

They decided the closely-spaced columns inside the buildings would lend themselves well to a market. As they designed the space, they tried to retain the character of the buildings — and that included leaving up a few of the overhead cranes to give visitors a sense of the area's industrial history.

"Given our preoccupation with environmental issues, to me this is still one of the largest recycling projects that this city has ever encountered. It's got a really unique character," said Bakker. 

The building wasn't the only thing that made the market unique in Vancouver.

"This is the first time in this city where people could get an urban relationship to the waterfront," he said.

He says the market was a pioneering concept in the city. In fact, when it opened, it was only half full of vendors. 

"Very few people were ready to try this, because, in the city, it was kind of an experiment," said Bakker.

But the market soon filled up with young vendors, many of whom have gone on to build their businesses and expand throughout the city over the past four decades.  

"This was truly an incubator space for people in food," he said.

Joost Bakker, one of the original architects of the Granville Island Market, said when it was first redeveloped, the island was unique for its urban waterfront. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Bakker, who is still an architect and urban designer in Vancouver, has enjoyed seeing the ways the market has grown and evolved through the years. 

"I think the vitality of the place is huge and it's exciting and yes, it's satisfying," he said. 

He's excited about the City of Vancouver's ongoing study into the possibility of creating a public walk on the Granville Street Bridge with an elevator from the bridge down to Granville Island — a concept that has historical precedent in the bridge's pre-war iteration. 

"I think that would be phenomenal," said Bakker.

Above all, he hopes the island continues to evolve in ways that attracts the people of Vancouver.

"This has to stay, hopefully, a major place of public interest in the city. And that's my hope for the place." 

The Early Edition

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