These buildings and mosaic are iconic of Gaudi’s unconventional style. Park Güell attracts roughly 12 million tourists every year. /LAURA KEIL

By Laura Keil, Publisher/Editor

Recently I was speaking to a tourist about the mountains surrounding us when I gestured towards Canoe Mountain only to see it perfectly obscured by a building’s peaked marquee. The contour of the mountain matched the slope of the building’s facade, the facade no doubt an intentional tribute to our surrounding peaks. It was ironic that it obscured the very mountain it imitated.

My family and I are currently on a holiday in Barcelona, Spain. In addition to bustling beaches, leafy pedestrian streets, and tapas restaurants, it is home to a dozen creations of the much-lauded Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. The most famous is the Sagrada Familia, a still unfinished cathedral whose many towers and mouldings show elements of Christian mythology in a way that can only be described as brilliant art. I am not religious, but I was genuinely moved by vaulted ceilings, the inspired designs and use of light and colour. It was different from any other cathedral I’ve seen. It moved me to think that such creativity and risk taking could be valued by so many people who have donated to its completion.

Gaudi’s buildings are known for their lack of straight lines, their curvature, playfulness, and festive colourful design work. A chimney shaped like a rainbow soft ice cream cone. A mosaic-covered giant lizard. A roof that looks like a dragon’s back. Windows shaped like mangos. His most iconic buildings are beautiful, irrational, and distinct from any buildings surrounding them and draw millions of tourists to Barcelona every year. Gift shops are chock full of Gaudi-themed shirts, hot mats, mugs, and other collectibles.

Barcelona has a long history of seafaring. Imagine if Barcelona had told Gaudi that he could only use “natural colours,” that it had to be under a “maritime” theme and his designs had to be pre-approved by a local government? Think about what a loss that would have been not just to Barcelona’s culture but to the world.

With that in mind, is it relevant to enforce a “mountain theme” in Valemount’s commercial districts (highway, downtown, and “rail town”)? The village bylaw contains prescriptive and sometimes contradictory rules that commercial district businesses must follow: 

“Buildings shall reflect a ‘Mountain Valley’ style, which includes sloped roofs, exposed wood and use of natural materials for building exteriors including rock, stone, and wood.”

In addition to mandatory sloped roofs and natural materials, it encourages recycled and recyclable materials, discourages stucco and vinyl, and “Civic buildings should be comprehensively planned in conjunction with other nearby civic buildings, public spaces, and non-civic buildings to ensure connectivity and well designed public spaces.” Businesses must submit an application, pay a fee, and wait for the bureaucratic decision.

To me this reads like a lot of red tape for very little benefit. Just think: we are saying we don’t want roof-top patios and that new buildings must fit in with existing ones, regardless of how uninspired the existing ones are.

While the rules are somewhat open-ended, the vagueness could equally be used against any developer who chooses to build something distinct from the peaked-roof/log-cabin motif that Valemount is so fond of. 

Worse than that, having a bylaw like this squelches the authentic varied flavour of our town.

After the mill shut down, it was creativity, unconventional thinking and grit that got us to where we are today. Why not allow those traits to flourish in the town’s design? A single awe-inspiring building could become both an icon for Valemount and a draw for visitors. 

What do you think about the mountain valley theme? Let me know! [email protected]