City in Wilderness
Two weeks earlier, Nizam sat in the co-pilot’s seat of a single prop De Havilland Otter seaplane, soaring high above BC’s Coast Range Mountains in search of inspiration for his creation. He didn’t have to venture far to find it. A mere 10-minute flight from Vancouver, glaciers calve in the warm, spring sun—falling to the valley in ferocious displays. Giant, gentle bears roam through rainforest. A line of cars filled with adventure-seekers navigates the beautiful Sea-to-Sky (Highway 99), bound for the mountain towns of Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.
As the seaplane nears Phantom Lake—a glacial-fed body of water nestled in the mountains—the pilot lifts the aircraft up and over a ridgeline and begins his descent. But as soon the pilot lands on its surface, a late spring snowstorm rolls in. Light snowflakes engulf the plane as the pilot powers back up. We came for the sunny, alpine lakeshore but nature sees it another way. We need to leave. It’s a fitting reminder that the surrounding wilderness shapes our lives—whether we like it or not.
“When you go out into nature here there’s something that provokes you; something that’s without words,” recalls the artist. “You feel how vast and big nature is here. It has presence.” - James Nizam
Airborne once again, the pilot of the Otter banks hard, navigating the substantial seaplane between Vancouver’s twin mountain peaks known as The Lions. Nizam peers down on the city intently. While he was born in England, raised in the Middle East, and happily spends time in Berlin, Vancouver is the city he is aligned with artistically.
Vancouver’s place within nature is far from anonymous. The world knows the glory of this city of steel and glass set on the wild edge of British Columbia. A cosmopolitan sanctuary with its inspired restaurants, seaside markets, and rich culture, Vancouver sits between the Pacific Ocean and the imposing Coast Range Mountains, which rise immediately out of the ocean and stretch high into the alpine. Skiers and snowboarders who frequent the city’s three ski resorts in winter must resist being tantalized by the steep, snow-choked gullies. In the summer, hikers and mountain bikers collect vertical in both directions.
But wilderness isn’t merely close to Vancouver, it’s engrained in it. Stanley Park is a 400 hectare (988-acre) chunk of seaside forest at the heart of the city. Between towering swaths of thick emerald rainforest Vancouver’s active residents wander, wheel and walk their way on serene paths. And then there’s the Vancouver Convention Centre’s six-acre "living roof". Nizam, who has a keen interest in architecture, jumps at the chance to explore this unique structure post-seaplane adventure. The roof houses 400,000 indigenous plants and is equipped to recover rainwater used for irrigation. Four colonies of 60,000 bees spend the summer on this roof.
Being that no public can visit this closed, sensitive urban ecosystem, Nizam himself buzzes with the rare opportunity to explore the rooftop sanctuary. As a lively flock of birds swirls over the roof’s mossy surface, he climbs the gentle incline to the edge, looks out over Burrard Inlet and up to the slopes of Grouse Mountain. On them lies The Cut, an iconic ski run visible from almost any corner of the downtown core. But for Nizam, The Cut is more than a playground for winter enthusiasts. It is the site where his project will play out. And with a little help from The Eye of the Wind—the 1.5-megawatt wind turbine at Grouse’s peak that supplies 25% of the resort’s electricity—it is where the connection between city and wilderness will be brought to life.