Westbank has built a practice around long-term commitments to artistry, sustainability and city-building. These commitments underlie an orientation towards projects like Woodwards, Vancouver House, Mirvish Village, Telus Garden and Oakridge – catalysts for larger change that go beyond the borders of the projects themselves. We are here to create. To provoke. To ignite. We are the vehicle for a new movement of cultural expression.

As the practice matures, we have become more ambitious. With every new project reflecting our commitment to the philosophy behind Gesamkunstwerk, or in our recent work the Japanese philosophy behind layering, the net effect is that our work becomes much more complex and far-reaching.

The core of Westbank’s mission is to create a body of work with a high degree of artistry that helps foster more equitable and beautiful cities. Westbank is active across Canada and in the United States, with projects including luxury residential, Five Star hotels, retail, office, rental, district energy systems, affordable housing initiatives and public art. Established in 1992, we are one of North America’s leading developers, with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Seattle, Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and over 25 billion dollars of projects completed or under development.

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May 15, 2014

GWERK Profile No. 3,589: Roy Yen

It’s been fantastic speaking to all the amazing contributors, influencers and people that make up Vancouver in our GWERK Profiles feature! This week we spent some time with Roy Yen, Producer and Principal of soomö Entertainment Company.

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

Fairly typical to native Vancouverites, I was born and raised here on the west coast, went to school out east, then lived down south before finding a way back to make this city home base once again. Along the way, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had opportunities to build a professional career as a producer of international live and televised entertainment projects, mass spectacles and cultural celebrations. In this capacity, I regard what I do as distilling and conveying messages to target audiences in an effective, engaging and meaningful way. I consider this process — rather than the result or product — to be culture, and that culture builds community in the world. It is the building of community through culture that is the essence of humanness. That’s how it all seems to me at the moment. In any case, I’m just a guy who has more questions than answers from one day to the next and is interested in experiencing more humanness in himself and the world.

How does the philosophy of “gesamtkunstwerk” play into your life?

Taken literally, I feel that my work as a producer of multimedia and interdisciplinary projects requires a certain understanding and respect of how seemingly unrelated, discrete elements and art forms can significantly affect the overall outcome. The experience of an event, film or show is made up of thousands of small components ranging from the creative (artists, music, set design, choreography, wardrobe, etc.), technical (lighting, media format, production design, etc.), operational (staffing, transport, catering, etc.) and administrative (accounting, insurance, legal, etc.). If any one area were to be altered in the slightest, ultimately the level of connection, engagement and empathy we experience as a viewer would be affected and different.

Taken more philosophically, I’ve always marvelled at the ability of even the smallest of things to profoundly influence the whole.  Everything seems to be related in some way to everything.  In this way, everything matters and one cannot entirely regard a segment of a thing as entirely separate and apart from another. As a system, I connect with this as the nature of interdependence.  In art, as in life, my experience has been that to approach things with this macro and micro perspective yields greater opportunity for genuine connection, engagement and empathy. In a word again, it’s humanness. That is my interpretation of “gesamtkunstwerk”.

Why is it so important for the public to be involved in dialogue happening around city-building and design?

Firstly, democracy requires constituent participation. Secondly, a community is defined by the community itself. In both cases, the process becomes enriched as the broadness of opinion, expressed values and perspective. Decisions on city-building and design can have profound, wide-reaching effects in the near and long-term. Public participation is essential to this process.

Your work takes you around the globe. What is it about Vancouver that sets it apart from other world-class cities?

People seem to have an endless amount of enthusiasm both for espousing the natural beauty and cleanliness of Vancouver, and it’s urban immaturity and shortcomings. It’s a city that feels young, fresh and innocent in a lot of ways, and with that comes a feeling of hopeful potentiality. In these ways, it is easy to see how the city is often ascribed with romantic feminine attributes. It’s easy to fall in love with Vancouver. And I love being Canadian. Personally, I don’t long for elements of other cities to be present here, whether it be the hustle that exists in London, the culture in New York, the dynamism in Mexico City (you think the traffic here is bad?). I look very forward to this city developing and maturing into itself. For other elements and for all of what the rest of the world has to offer, Vancouver happens to have a really great airport. And by my account, Vancouver is the best place in the world to return home to.

To read past GWERK Profiles, click here!


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