Whenever I’m in Vancouver, I tend to walk by this building on an almost daily basis. It’s never occurred to me that I should come here and play tourist, even if the lobby is considered a public space. For me, the HSBC Building is just one of many indistinguishable office towers in our city of glass. It certainly has its charm – built as it is with granite from Quebec and South Dakota – but as a “thing to do” in Vancouver . . . I don’t know. I just kind of struggle with it. I guess if one is on an artistic culture tour then the HSBC Building might merit a brief stop? The site carries with it an interesting history and, hey, it does feature art.
First opened in 1986 and home to HSBC since 1987, this office tower is built on the former site of the much lauded Hotel Devonshire (imploded in 1981). Over the last 33 years, the tower and – specifically – atrium have evolved into something of a minor artistic hub. In fact, the HSBC describes their atrium in this way via an information plaque found on the exterior of the tower: “The Atrium [. . .] is a public space dedicated to Vancouver’s citizens and visitors for the enjoyment of the arts and urban life.” It goes on to say that the arts and commerce have been brought “under one roof for the benefit of all.” In short, the arts have been combined with commerce to form a sort of gestalt. This might seem surprising at first, especially given the postmodern nature of the temporary art exhibitions, but if one thinks about it one quickly realizes that art and commerce have always walked hand-in-hand: Artists create objects – be they paintings, pictures, or whatever – that are part of our daily lives. They form, and inform, us regardless of how abstract they might be. The fact that the exhibits in HSBC’s atrium usually function as a “preview” of larger shows whereby pieces can be sold and people can network only makes their placement in a large banking tower all the more apt and appropriate.
Beyond the transient art exhibits, perhaps the most noteworthy attraction at the HSBC Building is Alan Storey’s impressive “Broken Column” pendulum. Installed in 1987, the piece has been described by Fodor’s as “one of the city’s more intriguing public-art installations.” While I might disagree with that characterization (the city is home to far more intriguing pieces of public art), I will agree that it is nevertheless an eye-catching piece. When I first visited the HSBC Building for business about 10 years ago, seeing the pendulum swing “to and fro” was almost mesmerizing. A decade later, it still carried the same effect on me. It was peaceful and thus represented a nice contrast with the hustle and bustle of Vancouver’s downtown core.
If I was a tourist in Vancouver, would I make a special trip just to visit the HSBC Building? No; however, if one is on a cultural tour of sorts, this attraction can very easily be added to an itinerary. After all, it is in the heart of downtown AND the Vancouver Art Gallery is literally right across the street. So, one can spend a few minutes here and then cross the street or vice versa.