The Special
featuring Kevin Lanthier
Curated by Pennylane Shen
January 7–30, 2016


Like any city, Vancouver has its myths and clichés. Being a lifelong resident of the Lower Mainland, these are as common to artist Kevin Lanthier as the North Shore Mountains, or Number 1 Highway. As a digital photo artist, the ability to extract and recompose elements allows him to explore these ideas. So while every subject of his images can be found within the Greater Vancouver area (unless they’ve already become victims of the city’s ever-reconstructing nature), none will be found in the context in which you see them here.

As such, The Special is not at all about the strict documentation of the city, but rather presents a crafted idea of it as it exists in our thoughts and memories. The flattened perspective of the buildings suggests reducing those structures to symbols, as a child would draw a house by placing a triangle atop a square, yet they maintain photorealism. The assembly of the pieces is done with the intention of creating a series of hyperreal, yet nostalgic little worlds, each of them distinctly and recognizably Vancouver.

Since it’s first appearance in 1965, the Vancouver Special has become ubiquitous throughout the city, especially it’s eastern half. The only house style completely unique to Vancouver, they were initially targeted for immigrant families looking for an affordable, modern home designed to optimize use of the 33 foot wide city lot. The original plans could be purchased at City Hall for $65, permits were given out almost immediately, and they could be built in as little as three weeks. With no basement to excavate, they were quick, convenient, and inexpensive. By the mid 80’s their boxy, utilitarian, stucco/wood paneling/brick or stone veneer aesthetic had become so reviled that they earned their derisive name and bylaws were passed to prevent their further construction. Over 10,000 remain today, symbols of the city’s rapid growth and working class practicality.

Today, a new style of house is being mass-produced, one with almost the same uniformity and pervasiveness of the classic Vancouver Special: a house design I think of as being the “New Vancouver Special”. All over the city, older houses are being knocked down and replaced with this new design here. While the classic Vancouver Specials are having something of a renaissance, becoming targets for renovations that take their strengths in efficient use of space and modernizing the aesthetic for the more trendy, affluent homebuyer of today, I wonder will these brand new houses have the same nostalgia surrounding them in 40 years? Do they even have a quality of build to sustain such long-term use? Do they offer anything worth the waste created by knocking down the older houses they replace?

The Special

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