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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Changing urban eras in Canada: from the modern to the postmodern city Desrochers, Michel


This thesis examines the production of space in Canadian cities since World War II. It is hypothesized that there has been a considerable shift in the city building process (encompassing the fields of planning, architecture and urban design) over the last two decades (1970-1990), and that new types of urban landscapes are being created, often very different than those built during the immediate post-war era (1950-1970). This shift is often described in academic literature as the move from the modern to the postmodern city. The approach adopted in the thesis is to examine the modern postmodern distinction from a design perspective. Academic literature in planning, geography and architecture, and observations from Canadian urban landscapes were sources used to gather information on the modern/postmodern distinction. These sources suggest that modern design principles produced functional landscapes (where form follows function), and that postmodern design principles are creating spaces that are both functional and "funky". Seven specific design principles are useful in describing the modern/postmodern distinction: the level of diversity, the level of exteriorization, the relation to nature, the level of decoration, the relation to urban history, the relation to urban context, and the scale of development. A case study of plans for downtown Vancouver since World War II was used to verify the findings from the literature and observations from Canadian urban landscapes. Two plans were chosen from the modern era (1956 and 1964 reports) and two from the postmodern era (1974 and 1991 reports). Four of the seven shifts in design principles were supported, and a further two were in evidence, though only in an implicit manner. The case study thus upholds the findings derived from the literature and observations from Canadian urban landscapes. It is suggested that the understanding of the shift from modern to postmodern design principles will help planners gain a better grasp on the current planning context, and hence be better suited to plan in an effective manner in today's "postmodern" world.

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