what's all this?

Project Rebuild is an experiment in collaboration. You are invited to move into any of the poems on the site, and renovate them as you will. Your new poem will then join the front page neighbourhood.

Please note: This website was designed for the poems to be edited in the text box provided. Should you copy and paste from Word, you may encounter formatting problems. Please contact Sachiko with the link to the problem poem as well as the correct format.


The Vancouver Special is a house particular to Vancouver, and particularly vexing to its residents. Its style is represented in nearly every neighbourhood in Vancouver. Built mostly throughout the 1970s, and designed to maximize usable lot space and to provide a legal and livable ground-floor secondary suite suitable for extended families or mortgage-helping tenants, the Specials are large, plain, and commonly considered ugly in comparison to their mock Tudor, Craftsman, and West Coast Modern neighbours.

By the 1980s, homeowners became so alarmed at the creeping advancement of the Specials into their neighbourhoods that bylaws were enacted to preserve the “authentic” character of neighbourhoods - notably in Shaughnessy, an affluent westside neighbourhood analogous to Toronto’s Forest Hill or Montreal’s Westmount. Design guidelines were drafted at City Hall under pressure from property owners to designate that new houses should “be relatively in proportion to its neighbour, be enriched with interesting detail, texture and colour, and be partially screed from the street in a manner that is characteristic of the area. The massing of the principal building should not overwhelm the site.”1

Yet the Vancouver Special persists in every neighbourhood in Vancouver. For an excellent visual documentation of the housing style, please see Keith Higgins’ Vancouver Special.

It is their replication, their persistence, and the reaction they produce in Vancouverites that interests me.


What is a poem but a rental unit of language?

Project Rebuild began with a single poem about the Vancouver Special. That poem was renovated through mechanical means; I ran the poem through Google Translate and back again through four languages of people I have known who have lived in Vancouver Specials – Cantonese, Italian, Portuguese and Serbian – and back to English again. The result of these flash inhabitations was a sameness with subtle differences. These four poems appear in Rebuild, my upcoming book, which as a whole considers the possibilities for renovation in poetry, and the tendency of Vancouver, Rebuild’s site of inquiry, to tear down and rebuild itself every few decades.

The question of inhabiting a poem persisted.

I then sent the poems to poets in Vancouver, and invited them to move in as tenants of the poems, to paint the walls, change the faucets, knock down whatever walls didn’t fit their visions. These poems became the first houses in Project Rebuild’s neighbourhood.

The idea of extending the community persisted.

Starkaður Barkarson created the architectural technology for this website. You can move in to any poem/house in the neighbourhood. Click on “renovate” and the poem becomes editable in a textbox. Change the nouns. Throw out the verbs. Bring in the big delete-button bulldozer and start fresh. Your poem will join the front-page neighbourhood.

The idea is to challenge the notion that the poems we write belong to us, that we are anything but temporary residents in the tenement house. Poetry is a community project in which we are all participants: poems are written in context and in conversation. Project Rebuild hopes to extend an invitation to that conversation, to you.


Most importantly: you. The door is open. Come on in. Read. Write. Renovate.

The first residents of the neighbourhood were:

Jason Christie
Roger Farr
Emily Fedoruk
Jennica Harper
Ray Hsu
Larissa Lai
Alex Leslie
April Martin
Lisa McInnis
Meredith Quartermain
Nikki Reimer
Jacqueline Turner
Rita Wong

Starkaður Barkarson created the website.

The Specials were drawn by Vancouver-based artists Marian Churchland and Brandon Graham. Please visit their websites.

Project Rebuild was initiated by Sachiko Murakami. Her first book was The Invisibility Exhibit. Rebuild, which contains the four source poems for Project Rebuild, is available from Talonbooks. Her newest book is Get Me Out of Here. You can find her on Twitter, too. Or you can email her.

1 First Shaughnessy Design Guidelines. Vancouver: City Planning Department, qtd in The Vancouver Achievement: Urban Planning and Design. UBC Press: Vancouver, 2003.