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5 things you (probably) don't know about Vancouver architecture

Vancouver has lots of big, famous buildings. Let's not talk about them.

A city's architecture is often the most recognizable thing about a place.

From Paris's Eiffel Tower to Toronto's CN Tower to Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers, that often means a tower, but that's not always true.

While the Harbour Centre is tower-esque and recognizable as part of Vancouver's skyline, Expo 86's creative influence helped the city gain two arguably more iconic structures with Science World's glittering golf ball and Canada Place's sails.

But there are lots of architectural pieces, quirks, and unique (or not-so-unique) spots that make up a city.

And here are five of those (though lets acknowledge there are lots).

1. At one point there were 10,000 Vancouver Specials

Let's start with one of those not-so-unique things: the Vancouver Special. It's not the design that makes it special these days, it's how many there are.

In just a couple of decades, more than 10,000 were built, with the vast majority in Vancouver.

This was due to economic and zoning pressures making the house an ideal build inside the city, though there are versions across the lower mainland and on Vancouver Island.

How many there are now is unclear, since some have been knocked down. However, others are being renovated into more unique and interesting homes.

2. The Sam Kee Building is the narrowest commercial building in the world

This is maybe the most well-known of these facts, but the Sam Kee Building (aka the Jack Chow Building) in Chinatown holds a world record.

With a base of just 1.5 m (4'11") it's the shallowest commercial building in the world. For reference the average Canadian is about 5'10".

The building was built in 1913 after the city expropriated a chunk of Sam Kee's property to widen West Pender Street. It was expected what remained would be unusable, but Kee got an architect to design the building, which still stands 110 years later.

Its record has been challenged though, as it has window bays on the second floor that extend out further than the base, making it 6 feet wide at some points.

3. There's a fake house on the Vancouver-Burnaby border

As much as it would be to think of it as a secret observation post for Burnaby to watch over the border with Vancouver, the house at 3906 Frances St. isn't that.

To be fair though, it's also not a house.

It's a ventilation building for a train tunnel. Essentially, it's the top of a chimney.

The Thornton Tunnel runs under Vancouver and Burnaby in this area, and the 3.4 km hole in the ground needs a place to let fumes out as freight trains travel through it.

Instead of building an industrial ventilation chimney, this little building was built.

4. The Vancouver Convention Centre has a skirt

Since this is all about architecture there's a clue here that we're not talking about a piece of clothing. Instead, it's a habitat skirt.

It was the first of its kind in Canada and was part of the centre's expansion in 2008.

It looks like a giant staircase (which you can see at low tide) and creates an artificial shoreline for local flora and fauna.

5. There's a massive sundial on the International Village Mall

The mall was built in 1998, and part of the design includes a massive sundial that's virtually impossible to use (unless you live in a nearby condo).

While it doesn't provide a useful function to anyone, it is fun to spot on Google Earth.