Granville Island

Vancouver, British Columbia

Photo Credit: DIALOG.


Initial Research by: Jamie Coverini

Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2019



Project: Granville Island 

Type of Urban StrategyIndustrial Landscapes, Circular Economies 

Type of ProjectIndustrial Remediation

LocationVancouver, British Columbia

Date Designed/Planned: 1977

Construction Completed 1979



Granville Island attempts to go one step further than most post-industrial projects by maintaining at least one active industry: Ocean Concrete. This has been accepted as a contributing factor to the overall atmosphere and makes this project significant. However, the lack of residential development on Granville Island has created an isolated area of public amenities, resulting in the space becoming a destination rather than an everyday landscape. It appears as though zoning has limited residential development to border the Island, enforcing that industry and people are not compatible. Integrating industry into these types of developments and places for their blue-collar employees to live, can help battle gentrification and help create mixed-income neighbourhoods. 



In 1979, Vancouver welcomed a redeveloped Granville Island to the shores of False Creek. Transformed from an old industrial site, the design and vision for Granville Island was to transform the area into an urban park that promised to be something different. Its vision was to be an active public realm that would include cultural and artistic spaces, non-traditional retail, event and celebration spaces, an educational facility, all while still maintaining its overall industrial feel. The island was an instant success with both residents and tourists alike. Ever popular, Granville Island is currently one of the most frequented tourist attractions (and public markets) in Canada (VPSN, 2014).


The Canadian government transferred the management and redevelopment of the Island to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in 1973. This management transfer occurred at a time when CMHC was developing the south shore of False Creek for housing. A group of influential and innovative people were appointed to a new body, the Granville Island Trust, to assist CMHC in implementing a plan for the future. A budget of $25 million was allocated for the redevelopment, $11 million of which was used to purchase the remaining industrial leases (VSPN, 2014).


Multi-family residential buildings border Granville Island to the south, disconnecting it from the adjacent commercial/entertainment area. Highway 99 is the primary connection to the island from Downtown Vancouver, but the eight lanes of vehicular traffic and narrow sidewalks make this connection uninviting to pedestrians. Alternatively, pedestrians can access Granville Island via the Aquabus, for a fee.


Granville Island formerly consisted of two sand bars in Vancouver’s False Creek, which were used by local First Nations people as places to meet and to collect shellfish. In 1916, the federally-administered Vancouver Harbour Commission (VHC) built a seawall around the sand bars and created 41 acres of land to be used by industry. The VHC leased parcels of land to tenants who built their factories and mills in post and beam structures clad in a corrugated tin. For 40 years, the industry thrived on the island while the city of Vancouver grew around it.

In the 1960s, many of the industries began to move away due to changing market conditions. Those that remained were dirty. The island became an eyesore while the waters of False Creek became heavily polluted. The public’s sense of the environment was increasing, and they felt that something should be done to clean up the area; both the City of Vancouver and the Federal Government agreed (Siracusa, 2012).


A fundamental principle was that Granville Island would become a “people place” while remaining reflective of its industrial, maritime heritage (DIALOG, n.d.).


While the City of Vancouver and the Trust couldn’t initially agree on a vision for the island, they eventually came to a compromise, and a basic concept came together. This vision is articulated in a plan, the Granville Island Reference Document, which still acts as the chief formal agreement between the City and the Federal Government, providing a regulatory framework for the island. The Reference Document establishes some broad guidelines: the island is accessible to everyone, re-using existing buildings when possible, and the allocation of space provides a variety of land uses (limiting retail to arts and crafts, maritime products and a public market) (Siracusa, 2012).

The architects envisioned a radically different type of waterfront characterized - not by beaches or parks - but by various commercial and cultural programs (Whelan, 2014). Every building was analyzed by the designers to determine what was salvageable, attempting to keep as many of the original tin structures as possible. One major design decision that has significantly contributed to the atmosphere of Granville Island was not to separate vehicular/pedestrian traffic but to keep everything at one level. Pedestrians, cyclists, buses, concrete trucks all navigate the shared streets together. Another major decision was to continue the operation of Ocean Concrete. Though some argue the noise and vehicles are a nuisance, the designers hold firm that this is integral to the unique experience of Granville Island.


The project team set the goal of achieving Living Building Challenge and LEED certification at the beginning of the design, influencing the material selection and the build of an ecological system. The project team was able to integrate natural and human systems, restoring biodiversity and ecological balance to the site (International Living Future Institute, n.d.).


Granville Island showcased what an urban waterfront was and set the tone for the rest of waterfront development in downtown Vancouver to expand beyond just green space. Today this iconic destination, popular with both citizens and tourists alike, is recognized as a pioneering precedent for urban development across Canada (Whelan, 2014).


Granville Island is currently undergoing a redevelopment plan that aims to be completed by 2040. The main focus of this plan to increase accessibility and enhance public spaces.


GRANVILLE ISLAND 2040: BRIDGING PAST & FUTURE. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Granville Island Redevelopment. (n.d.). Retrieved from

History & Architecture. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Living Building Challenge Resources. (2019, March 29). Retrieved from

Redefining Granville Island. (2015, February 24). Retrieved from

Siracusa, L. (2012, September 10). How Granville Island Came to Be. Retrieved from


Some of the programmed elements in Granville Island include a water park, canoe club, community centre, arts/creative studio spaces, marina, open green space, public market, yacht club, and charters. There is no residential development included on the Island, but there is a small number of houseboats that dock at the Northeast corner.


Granville Island is currently undergoing a redevelopment plan that aims to be completed by 2040. The main focus of this plan to increase accessibility and enhance public spaces.