Architect sets sights on street life, not towers

by Susan Stern
Staff writer

Intern architect and new UBC graduate Nick Sully is not interested in creating skyscrapers. His vision of city life in the new century will focus on projects that add to the enjoyment of life.

It may be something as simple as a small, street-level kiosk where people tend to socialize. Sully entertains the idea of opening up Vancouver's laneways to the street or designing bus shelters to create common meeting grounds.

"It's a vibrant street that makes a city," says Sully, one of 10 UBC graduates receiving a Master of Architecture degree at this year's Fall Congregation. "It's the social contract between individuals facing each other in an open environment."

Sully, who has an undergraduate degree in geography and history from the University of Calgary, came to UBC's School of Architecture because of its strong reputation in design.

Sully worked with former UBC Architecture Prof. George Yu on his thesis on Calgary's Plus 15 project, a series of raised walkways more than four-and-a-half-metres above street level which enables people to connect to their offices without touching the street.

The idea, when the walkways were built in 1967, was to protect people from the elements and to keep a strong central downtown core.

The problem with the walkways, Sully says, is that they are not accessible to anyone on the street and they close at 5 p.m., creating a ghost town in downtown Calgary.

"The link between private offices and the public street should always be open," he says. "My thesis proposes to add new raised public space to link the buildings on a 24-hour basis to bring more life into the downtown core after hours."

Vancouver architect Bruce Carscadden, a partner with Roger Hughes Partners, offered Sully a job to help the firm re-develop Centennial Square, an area in downtown Victoria that includes Victoria City Hall and the McPherson Playhouse.

The company beat 20 other firms to win the first province-wide competition in 10 years.

"I had to leave UBC for a year but it was worth it," Sully says. "I was part of a team of eight people. I built all the models and contributed to the design, which focused on bringing people back into Centennial Square."

Strong skills as an artist and business person are important elements for a successful architect, says Sully, but are not the only skills required today.

"Communication skills are vital," he says. "You must constantly evaluate what people are telling you they want. It's a group process."

Sully is looking for an international life, based in Vancouver. Communications make it ideal to compete for global contracts and do the work at home, he says.

"Architecture is given to you by the people at the end of the day. You can't be an architect without being responsible to society," Sully says. "That's what it's all about."