Tag Archives: Eldon Beck

Legends of Whistler… tell the stories

We are incredibly excited to announce a three part speaker series cohosted with the Whistler Public Library and the RMOW!

Over three days, twelve very special guests will be sharing their own stories and knowledge of Whistler’s history, including the development of the mountains and the creation of Whistler Village.  Each event is free to attend.

Soundbite-Sized History: Whistler Heritage Minutes

In our never-ending quest to spread the word of Whistler history as far and wide as possible, a few months ago we started producing a weekly series of audio clips called Whistler Heritage Minutes that air every Monday on Mountain FM.

We’ll continue to produce a new one to be played on the air every week, after which they will be uploaded to our SoundCloud page where our entire catalogue is hosted.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to share a few of our favourites here to this blog for your listening pleasure.

First off, Myrtle & Alex Philip are considered the founders of the community that became Whistler, as it was their Rainbow Lodge, built in 1914, that first established this valley as a tourist destination. In this clip, Myrtle recalls the first time she ever laid eyes on her future husband and life-partner:

Myrtle & Alex with their dog Skookum, circa 1920.

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Long-time local, professional forester, and dedicated environmentalist Don MacLaurin made innumerable contributions to our community over the more than 50 years that he lived here. In this audio clip he recounted how Lost Lake was nearly lost in the early 1960s, and what he did to save it.

 

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

 

One of Whistler Village’s major assets is the abundance of gorgeous sight lines towards the surrounding mountains. If these seem almost too perfectly aligned, well, they’re no happy accident. In this clip, Eldon Beck, the lead architect of Whistler Village, explains some of the early inspiration for his designs.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Lots of attention was paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains when designing Whistler Village.

 

When snowboarding first emerged in the 1980s, the new sport was met with a lot of skepticism and outright opposition. Blackcomb Mountain was one of the first ski hills in Canada to allow the sideways sliders on all of its slopes. In this clip Blackcomb Mountain VP-Marketing Dave Perry explains his mountain’s rationale.

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

We’ve got 8 clips so far, with lots more to come! Make sure to check out all of our Heritage Minutes at http://www.soundcloud.com/whistlermuseum

Creating the Consummate Ski Village

Building on the post from two week’s ago which examined some of the key influences that informed landscape architect Eldon Beck’s design for Whistler Village, now we will delve deeper into some of the challenges and happy surprises that came to light during the actual construction of the village.

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As Beck recalls, though he had a lot of support and leeway in crafting an initial design true to his personal vision, getting it built was a different story.

Probably the biggest [challenge] was that the various designers with their projects, the architects, were used to doing stand-alone buildings… The requirement that they subordinate their individuality to the totality of the Village was really hard for many to comprehend. We’d set it up, and that’s why we required models. We wanted to see how the models would fit together. We’d get one model, stick it by another, you’d see it didn’t match. We’d talk with them and say, “Can’t you make your roof form fit, can’t you make this happen?” We lost all of those battles.

My first reaction when they were built was to walk around I got probably 40 or 50 slides of mistakes. So I took pictures of all these things that didn’t quite fit. A couple of years later I did the same thing and said, “Well those are really pretty nice.” It was almost the mistakes of not fitting that became human. It was more real and more human because of the imperfections rather than controlled perfection. It was interesting. I had to flip my mind around and say, “Oh, that’s kind of neat.” That really looks like [several] people did it instead of being totally controlled. But that was the big one. Their understanding that they were subordinate to the Village totality was hard for most designers to comprehend.

And so in his typically philosophical manner, Beck learned that relinquishing some control could actually enhance his vision.

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However, not all the unplanned changes pleased him. One notable concern he continues to raise is the impact of some of the larger buildings in the village:

I have not been consulted on any of those. I’ve been consulted on most new things in the Village, revisions within the Village… The problem with the big buildings, when they become vertical, they lose the relationship with the pedestrian level.

Independent-minded builders and excess verticality weren’t the only unforeseen challenges to attaining Beck’s vision. In late 1981, as the village was mid-construction, a massive recession brought much of the work in progress to a halt. Though the provincial government bailed out the village construction, the building environment changed substantially. As Beck recalls,

It is interesting ‘cause it was almost the opposite to the question on over-planning… The controls were eased thinking that by golly if someone can come in and build something, go right ahead. Don’t worry so much about the regulations. So as dearly as I love Al [Raine] and Nancy [Greene], I think that the roof form on their building [Nancy Greene Lodge] was absolutely wrong. And I think it was at that point the Carleton Lodge was built. And I think that violated one of the early premises that that was the town living room. In early plans it was a two-story building, low in profile, so that when you came up the street you could see the mountains. Instead it became a big old block at the end of the street. So the whole west side of Village Stroll I thought was pretty badly compromised by that period of time.

Still, Beck is very satisfied with the final outcome. We’ll conclude with some of Beck’s favourite aspects of the village, as recounted two decades after its initial construction:

Probably the thing that’s most consistent actually is the spatial framework, the pedestrian framework of the Village has really survived. It was organized around views, so as walk at the end of the place, you see a mountain. So the structure of the Village really grew out of that view. That has remained and I think that’s been the thing that’s made it really work very well.

I think Village Square is superb. The scale is right, the life is right, it really works. From there going back, Skier’s Approach to Village Commons, I think that’s probably one of the nicest sections in terms of scale… So I keep pointing back to that one section, saying that’s really what the objective was. I think Village Square is a magical place, it really works well.

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Whistler Village Influences

If the twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains put our town on the map, then Whistler Village is what keeps it there. It didn’t come together overnight; there were more than a few hiccups along the way, but to this day the village remains one of the defining features of our resort.

In the past we shared some stories from Eldon Beck, the lead architect responsible for the Village’s design. With this post we will delve a bit deeper into Beck’s creative process and the physical reality that it resulted in.

Despite the naturalistic approach, a lot of thought got crammed into Beck's initial designs.

Despite the naturalistic approach, a lot of thought got crammed into Beck’s initial designs.

When asked about the main influences on his design, Beck first pointed to his success in redesigning the village at Vail, Colorado.

My professional training is in landscape architecture…  In 1972 my firm was hired by the town of Vail to do an overall community master plan… It finally turned into resolving horrendous issues they had about traffic and servicing in their village, so the task was to make it a pedestrian village. So I worked for them as their prime consultant for about six years, from 1972-1978. That really was the bulk of my early mountain planning experience.

It was on the heels of this successful transformation of Vail into a more pedestrian-centric place that Beck was solicited for the new Whistler Village.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Unsurprisingly he took a similar approach here, to similar success, scrapping the original, grid-style design for his more flee-flowing traffic-free village. Continuing to describe how his work at Vail carried through to Whistler:

Vail did have a fairly important influence, mostly Bridge Street. The shape of the street actually was almost exactly what the shape of the valley suggested.

Going back further, Beck referred to where most influences in the ski world draw from, the Alps…

I’d done a fair amount of European traveling in the mountains, and I was fascinated by villages for a long, long, long time. So both Wengen and Interlaken [in Switzerland were major influences]. I took a lot of pictures there and I used parts of both of them. One as a pedestrian town and the other as a symbol of what a village was with the picture of shops on the ground floor and then the people who own the shops living above it. And so that was kind of the pattern, that’s the historic look of what a village is… The European villages all were shaped by the land. They didn’t violate the land. So to me that was very important. In our continent we tend to dominate the land. We don’t respect it as we should.

And so the Village adopted Beck’s more environmentally oriented design style.

This amazing scale model was produced to help visualize and plan the village before building. Note the planned hockey arena that instead ended up being the Conference Centre.

This amazing scale model was produced to help visualize and plan the village before building. Note the planned hockey arena that instead ended up being the Conference Centre.

The Village Stroll was intended to mimic the meandering curves of a flowing stream. Like an actual river, major bends in the route were conceived as eddies, incorporating open plazas where people could take a breather and watch the flow of traffic stream by.

The meanderings were intentional because, even though they weren’t direct or efficient like a grid, that wasn’t the point. Tourists weren’t here for business, Beck reasoned, but to relax, so a little happy confusion was sprinkled into the design. He wanted people to be able get a little lost in the village and wander aimlessly.

Practical considerations were not lost on Beck however; the village still needed to function. Logistical features such as the commercial loading bays, underground parking, hotel entrances and so on were tucked into back alleys in the Stroll’s many folds, hidden from view to keep the noise and distraction away from the pedestrian zones.

Recognize this spot?

Recognize this spot?

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In next week’s post we’ll return to Beck and his reminiscences about the village’s construction and how the reality matched his vision.