National Urban Design Awards - 2024 Recipient | Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

National Urban Design Awards - 2024 Recipient

sθәqәlxenәm ts’exwts’áxwi7- Rainbow Park
Award Category: 
Civic Design Projects


The name of this new park, sθәqәlxenәm ts’exwts’áxwi7, was gifted by Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, and recognizes the site as a soft place known for abundant water where sun and mist danced around marshlands forming rainbows. Historically, it became a popular destination for the LGTBQIA+ community before being leveled for parking.  

The vision to revive the site as the Vancouver Park Board’s first new park in a decade was grounded in collaboration with the surrounding downtown communities. The result is an innovative, high-capacity, three-dimensional community space within a dense downtown that encourages relationships between shared histories and land. This was achieved through the creation of multilevel, multigenerational space; playful grading and experiential low impact design; and careful selection of culturally relevant plants.  

Three terraces negotiate the site’s 4.5-metre drop from north to south. As the land descends, a finely detailed bridge rises and zigzags above densely programmed area below. At night, dynamic LED lighting glows from the overhead bridge. The lower terrace folds upwards into an amphitheatre and café around the multi-use plaza, and houses the mechanical room.  

The dynamic design also includes Host Nation artwork, a bouldering zone, a twisting slide, built-in trampolines, urban hammocks, a multi-use splash pad, and rainwater-collecting pocket wetlands. Sweeps of meadow, woodland, and marshland directly respond to the microclimates created by grade changes and the overhead walkway. An urban ecology arises that imprints traditional plants into the collective memory, promising a deeper connection to a shared and hopeful ecological future. 

CLIENT Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation ARCHITECT AND LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT TEAM Joost Bakker (FRAIC), Jill Robertson (FCLSA), James Godwin, Brady Dunlop (MRAIC), Dan Guenter, Paul Giles, Ryan McClanaghan, Stephanie Fargas Amador, Matthew Thomson, Mandy Yu, Steven Oosterhof, Thomas Wu, Cameron Franchuk, Graeme Johnston, Dan Prescott, Keith McDonnell, Andre O'Neill, Elizabeth Hand, George Unger, Elizabeth Orallo, Katherine Hurst. CIVIL WSP Canada ELECTRICAL AES Engineering MECHANICAL/STRUCTURAL DIALOG ENVELOPE Elemental CODE LMDG PLAY EarthScape INTERIOR (CAFÉ) Scott Cohen AREA 3,237 m2 (site) COMPLETION April 2022

Jury Comment(s): 

Rainbow Park is an exceptional example of a public engagement strategy with its tightly knit spaces intertwining neatly within the multi-level design. It’s a new way of imagining a public square within a context of high real estate densification.  

The metaphor of water and light through a rainbow expresses an idea that connects the Musqueam, Squamish and Tslell-Waututh Nations together, while also speaking to the public using the space. A strong collaboration between the design team is evident, and the integration of native plant materials was completed thoughtfully. The garden shows how design can express the importance of change and reconciliation.   

The park seamlessly recognizes and integrates the history and presence of indigenous life in Vancouver. The walkway offers a unique view of the city and neighbourhood, while the experience of walking through it is similar to the New York City High Line on a smaller scale. 

National Urban Design Awards Jury 2024

Click for full version: 
Aerial of the Rainbow Park

PHOTO - Vancouver Board of Parks & Rec.

Diagonal pathways and elevated connections

PHOTO - Brett Ryan Studios / Brett Hitchins

Integrated lighting

PHOTO - Brett Ryan Studios / Brett Hitchins

Play areas

PHOTO - Brett Ryan Studios / Brett Hitchins

Raised walkway

PHOTO - Brett Ryan Studios / Brett Hitchins

Site plan