Home / Accueil

Unitarian Church of Vancouver

949 West 49th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, V5Z, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1993/12/15

Exterior view of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver; City of Vancouver, Julie MacDonald, 2006
South elevation
No Image
No Image

Other Name(s)

Unitarian Church of Vancouver
Unitarian Church

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/02/26

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Unitarian Church of Vancouver consists of a cluster of three buildings (the Sacristy, and the Education and Administration wings) organized around a central courtyard and connected by covered walkways. The site is located on a large lot in the Oakridge area of Vancouver.

Heritage Value

Built in 1964, the Unitarian Church of Vancouver is valued for its historic, cultural, aesthetic and spiritual significance. In particular, it is an excellent example of Modernist design ideals brought to bear on a place of worship. The building is also significant because its forms and details respond to the programmatic challenges of the physical requirements of site and use, as well as to Unitarian emphasis on the questioning mind and unrestricted use of reason.

The Unitarian Church, winner of the first (1965) Citation Buildings Competition, is a fine example of the Modernist idiom, possibly influenced by work of the Prairie School initiated by Frank Lloyd Wright, but given a local interpretation. The building displays the Modernist emphasis on the rational deployment of simple materials, either lightly finished or unfinished, and on the dramatic use of natural light, with openness between interior spaces and associated exterior grounds. Detailing is integrated with the overall design, custom furnishings relate to building style, and the various building forms express the functions within.

The building was designed by architect Wolfgang Gerson, one of many architectural and engineering professionals dislocated by events of the Second World War, who immigrated to Vancouver and influenced the local design community with their European Modernist sensibilities.

The Unitarian Church is culturally important for representing the wave of investment in community institutions during the decades after the Second World War. Many churches, synagogues and temples were built on the south side of Vancouver in this period. Together with public spending on schools, libraries, and community centres, church construction demonstrates the relative economic ease with which major facilities were built in Vancouver in the 1960s. The relocation of the Unitarian Church from the Kitsilano neighbourhood to this site denotes the increasing mobility of citizens through the widespread use of the automobile.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver include:

Siting, Context and Landscape
- Grouping of sacristy, and education and administrative buildings around a central courtyard
- Parking for the congregation with direct access to the courtyard
- Continued use as a Unitarian Church

Architectural Qualities
- Hierarchical arrangement of buildings
- Careful modulation of the sense of openness and of enclosure

Architectural Elements
Exterior architectural elements in the sacristy:
- Siting on highest, quietest corner of the property
- Double-height volume set beside single-storey ancillary wings
- Overhanging flat roofs
- Open glazed corners and associated walled private gardens
- Glazed wall slots, which use coloured glass in their upper parts
- Roof skylights
- Laminated column clusters supporting roof beams
- Expressed concrete piers and unadorned concrete block walls
- Hemlock tongue-in-groove soffits
- Fine-painted wood lattice in horizontal composition outside of standard windows

Exterior architectural elements of the education and administrative buildings:
- Roof forms and exterior finishes similar to the sacristy
- Details related to but often simpler than the sacristy detailing

Interior architectural elements in the sacristy:
- Interior wood finishes and custom furnishings
- Unembellished concrete and rough cast plaster
- Laminated timber structure with rough purlins
- Copper-clad blocks embossed with sculptured Unitarian symbols on the beam ends
- Lighting rings suspended from a high ceiling
- Clustered posts supporting roof structure
- Square proportioning to the plan to express openness to all points of view, as opposed to a space with a directional axis

Landscape elements:
- Courtyard design that extends the geometry of the buildings into the landscape
- Organic landscape design and larger-scale tree planting around the exterior
- Variety of tree species (Arbutus, Cedrus, Magnolia, Rhododendron, Acer)
- Planting patterns with one species per bed
- Choice of low ground cover species (Juniperus, hypericum)



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

City of Vancouver

Recognition Statute

Vancouver Charter, s.582

Recognition Type

Community Heritage Register

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions

Function - Category and Type


Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Religious Facility or Place of Worship


Architect / Designer

Wolfgang Gerson



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




Related Places



Advanced SearchAdvanced Search
Nearby Places