On the north bank of the Columbia River, Vancouver, WA, is Vancouver’s newest waterfront development that brings the downtown to the river’s edge. In partnership with the City, Gramor, and a multi-disciplinary team, PWL Partnership created the detailed design for the public realm, parks, and open space plan along with the detailed waterfront park design for this 29-acre/12-hectare project site. This new mixed-neighbourhood includes residential, retail, commercial, civic, park spaces, and environmental restoration areas—it makes space for 6,000 new residents and 5,000 office workers.
The park is a three-hectare model for urban transformation and placemaking. The project goal—to revive the former industrial site—connects historic downtown and Esther Short Park with the waterfront. Over 75 years as a working river cut off access, leaving the foreshore contaminated. Reconfigured existing rail line infrastructure opened access to the waterfront, expanding open space by connecting to existing park amenities. The Landscape Architects, with the developer and project team, envisioned the 12-hectare master plan within which the park sits, and as prime consultants for the park, were able to weave the ecological restoration of the foreshore with the social and cultural restoration of the city: a continuous, varied waterfront experience developed from the water’s edge. Pathways wrap and weave from the shoreline to the street edge, mimicking the flow of water; riverine expressions emerge in paving patterns and lead visitors to the cantilevered pier at the foot of Grant Street. An intense collaborative process between the public artist’s team and landscape architects yields a design where one cannot tell the difference between art and landscape.
Prioritizing local and symbolic materials was both sustainable and conceptual. Local basalt embedded throughout the site represents the vastness and variedness of the watershed in many forms, from rough-hewn to crisp edges. Heavy timber planks and mill artifacts reference historical working river uses, while hardscape plaza patterning emerges from early traditional craft of original inhabitants of the area.
A notably sustainable feature of the park is the Grant Street Pier, a cable-stayed structure projecting more than 30 metres over the water. The concept emerged from the enduring spirit and function of the river, conveying recreational and industrial vessels. The form was designed with an open centre—and without in-water structures—to maintain unhindered aquatic species migration and minimize disruption of the riverbed. Visitors are granted the chance to feel the exhilaration of being out on the water without ever having left land.
Expressions of the Columbia’s character are imbued in each detail: the water feature, designed in collaboration with the artist, in its execution is striking; wayfinding and interpretive elements lend colour and structure; light posts and custom furniture are evocative in form, and natural play elements complete a cohesive system throughout the park.
Opened in 2018, the park is more popular than ever expected. As a daily-use park and host to community and citywide gatherings, diverse needs are harmoniously integrated through careful programming. Truly a place for people, Waterfront Park represents a cultural shift toward a regenerative and context-sensitive future.