Linus Lam

My Commentary As A Designer

A design student asked, “How do you design a house? Do you start with the plan or the exterior?” My answer: Together. It is good to be mindful of them as a whole: we can’t have good plans with elevations as an afterthought; we can’t have great elevations with the inside not working.

A friend asked, “How do you design a web-application? Do you start with the structure or the interface? Do you favor the concept or the technology?” My answer: All of them. We plan them together because it is good to have a reliable and consistent experience.

On the same token, it is hard for me to imagine designing this “city of neighbourhoods” independent from its shared characteristics and functionalities. But wait: who cares about the design of this city? Really. The reason you are reading this note is likely because you work at the planning department; you are in politics; you study or practice in the related design profession; you are a community activist; or it is because I tweeted it.

Seriously, more people should care.

We have observed that an inter-connected world is increasingly vulnerable to volatile and drastic changes. I subscribe to the notion that good, timely design provides our society balance, allowing it to be adaptable and resilient in a rapidly evolving world. Cultures strive on stability: well-considered urban design would yield far-reaching value for the city of Vancouver.

Urban design discussions ought to be democratic – genuine social and physical change comes from informed, sophisticated and persistent dialogues: free from arrogance, distrust and emotionally-potent over-simplifications. But that requires an elegant, well communicated and promoted framework for innovative design thinking as well as discovery of opportunities. For Vancouver, it requires synthesis and coordination of a large number of existing policies including CityPlan, Greenest City Action Plan, Transportation Plan, Housing and Homelessness Strategy, in context of our 23 culturally unique neighbourhoods.

In a young city with expensive lands, we cannot volunteer market forces to generate great design, as form often follows funding; alternatively we cannot volunteer the crowd to generate great design, as coercion often extinguishes innovation. Meaningful, good and future-ready urban design needs to be officially fostered and I think an integrated City-wide Plan could be a powerful platform.

As a young designer emotionally invested in this city, I look forward to a City-wide Plan for Vancouver, one that is holistic and clear about how Vancouverites ought to manage the city’s physical change: empowering professionals and citizens alike to step up to pressing challenges such as homelessness, housing affordability, climate change and economic development. Moreover, I am excited with its educational and advocacy potential, elevating the quality and effectiveness of dialogue across the board.

I hope that the City-wide Plan will be unique and specific to our city: one that illustrates our values and truths as Vancouverites. After all, design integrity is about truthfulness – a thread that weaves together multiple scales: from city scale right down to street furnitures. Without design integrity, all we have left is a bunch of random, ah, stuff.

The City-wide Plan could renew public’s imagination and interest in design leadership, shaping Vancouver into a great city for everyone – including those who don’t come out to meetings, don’t blog or publicize opinions, even those who are not that interested in the subject – as much as I think more people should care, good design should simply be available to all.


Linus LamLinus Lam spends much of his time organizing the human experience through a design career that is responsible, sustainable, educational, and creative. Classically trained as an architect in Winnipeg, He has combined experience in architecture, web application development, communication design and community advocacy. His diverse qualifications provide him a balanced perspective that is critical to the development of creative yet pragmatic design solutions.

Building community through strategic partnerships and organizations such as Architecture For Humanity Vancouver and, Vancouver’s Art & Design Guide, Linus’s recent social ventures include re-purposing Canada Place’s old sail fabric; Future Masters Volume 1 & 2: Young Designers West exhibitions; and Prefab 20*20 International Open Ideas Competition in which it attracted 285 teams from 26 countries. Linus is the founder of Edison & Sprinkles.