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March 2017

community personality

Don Vaughan and the art of creating space Chris Stringer


wenty-five years ago, our house needed landscaping so we leafed through the Yellow Pages and contacted a nearby West Van landscape designer named Don Vaughan. Within an hour we were chatting with Don about our landscaping needs and favourite wines. Don provided a series of hand-sketches, samples of shrubs and pathway stones, and an invitation to visit the elegantly tousled Altamont estate where he and his wife, Patty, lived. The end result was our own beautifully

landscaped property, and a deep admiration for this unassuming, engaging gentleman with the perpetual smile, twinkling eyes, genuine warmth and caring nature. At the time we had no idea that Don Vaughan had been the face of landscape architecture in Western Canada for more than 25 years, influencing much of the urban fabric of Vancouver. If you have lingered in the plazas of Expo ‘86 or along the seawall of David Lam Park or the Granville Island ponds, or relaxed at Park Place beside Christ Church Cathedral or Sun Life Plaza you have enjoyed Don’s work. Born into three generations of a logging family in Coos Bay, Oregon, Don Vaughan received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon. He came to Canada in 1965 to work on the campus expansion of the University of Victoria on the site of the old army bar-

 Photo: courtesy of Don Vaughan Marking High Tide and Waiting for Low Tide Pavillions by Don Vaughan, 1996.

racks, as well as a new university that was in Arthur Erickson’s planning process on top of Burnaby mountain. These projects made the young Vaughan a desirable commodity in a city that was embarking on a major phase of urban development. In 1972 Al Raine was invited by the provincial government to work with a planning and development team to turn Whistler into a world class ski resort. His wife, Nancy Greene, became the marketing face of skiing Whistler’s slopes. Don Vaughan and Associates joined a distinguished architectural group to design the Whistler Village that would be developed over the following twenty years. During the ‘80s Don was involved in the design of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese - Don Vaughan Garden and Park, inspired by his visits to classical gardens in Suzhou, China. After the initial design and, while in its construction phase, he formed the ’86 Landscape Collaborative with Claude Muret, for the design and planning of the extensive landscaping at the Expo ‘86 World’s Fair. Don explains proudly how 36 landscape architects and designers in one office completed the project “on time and under budget.” “The landscape architect’s job is to merge functionality with aesthetics,” says Don. As highrise towers were being built in Vancouver through the ‘70s and ‘80s Don and his design team were creating the spaces among them for people to linger,

Your health matters. Make it a top priority. ON TIME • UNHURRIED • COMPREHENSIVE

escape and meditate. Gardens sunk below street level were interspersed with paths and seating areas beside waterfalls to mask the traffic noise. “Landscape is about space. You’re in it.” One sunny lunchtime Don was sitting on a bench in Sun Life Plaza beside a woman reading her book. He asked what she thought of the design of the gardens around her. She replied that she loved sitting there but hadn’t thought about the design or the designer. “People don’t see the landscape. They just take it for granted,” Don laments. Don enrolled as a mature student at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in 1989, where he earned a diploma in fine art. The creation of Ambleside Landing followed graduation and after developing the concept for the park, Don designed the ‘Granite Assemblage’ fountain, a composition that breaks away from the traditional landscape architectural aesthetic. Set at the edge of the harbour in an artificial tidal pool, it is a creative transition between waterfront walkway and the ocean. The Expo lands were being developed by Concord Pacific in the ‘90s. Don developed the “Bays” concept plan for the site followed by David Lam Park. He is particularly proud of the first two public art projects for the newly developed lands: the Marking High Tide and Waiting for Low Columns that are formed around a

“As the moon circles the earth the ocean responds with the rhythm of the tide.”

Contact us today Terri Thompson at or 604-707-2273 West Vancouver, 200-545 Clyde Ave Vancouver, 400-1128 Hornby Street

The Beacon - March 2017 Edition  
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