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    Lu's Pharmacy for Women

    Mike Taylor
    Sep 27, '09 4:34 PM EST

    Last weekend I had the opportunity to help put some of the finishing touches on a senior design/build project in the downtown east side. The studio was led by Inge Roecker an Assistant Professor at UBC SALA who also runs her own practice: Asir Architekten in Stuttgart and Vancouver.


    The project was to build a women’s pharmacy on West Hastings Street that would be a welcoming environment and help to fulfill a number of different needs that are not currently being met within the community. Lu’s Pharmacy for Women has a pharmacy counter at the front that any woman can use to fill her prescription. From what a I understand the dispensing fees will be much lower than those at a regular pharmacy and the prescription sales will help fund the pharmacies other operations. These include a database of doctors in the area with testimonials from female patients, a resource centre and library, meeting areas for workshops and also a doctor’s office.

    The students in the studio raised $115, 000 and worked with Vancouver Women’s Health Collective to create a space that is beautiful, safe, and highly functional. I am very appreciative of having the opportunity to help do some work in the space because now that the pharmacy is open for business men will no longer have the opportunity to see the interior of the site. I highly recommend that all women in the area check it out at 29 West Hastings Street.


    Here is a TED lecture given by Idette De Boer a UBC SALA thesis student, on the project, its significance in the community, and their design.


    • liberty bell

      Wow, Ms. De Boer's dress is awesome.

      Now that I've got the stereotypically "girl" comment out of the way, I'll say that I think the project is great, architecturally, and I think the endeavor as a school project is an amazing, wonderful experience for students.

      I do have mixed feelings about the program; basically, whenever I hear that women need a special i.e. safe place to deal with their health needs, it makes me angry. Would men put up with feeling like they were being judged/threatened when they needed healthcare?

      I realize that's a bigger conversation than an architecture project can solve, so cheers to the fantastic work of the students and professor!

      Sep 27, 09 8:50 pm

      so naïve...

      Sep 28, 09 12:12 am
      liberty bell

      Care to elaborate, collage?

      Sep 28, 09 7:20 am

      i'll say two things; first, most men have a hard time talking about or going to doctors regarding their medical issues - prostate, colon, ED, mental, so i would welcome a place, a clinic that dealt specifically with male issues...second, while i do agree, and feel that it's necessary that women have a "safe" place to get treatment, i wonder how much longer will we all have to go down this road of clouding the health issues of women as some kind of mysticism? i still remember, back in 5th grade, when the girls were pulled out class, taken to another room, while the boys watched some dumb film; no explanation was given, and it was only after junior year in high school did i find out what all the hub-bub was about....the ever magical menstrual cycle, and the howling at the moon thing you ladies do....;]

      some day we'll all need to talk like adults, and start communicating with one another. there's very little we don't know about each other.

      Sep 28, 09 4:38 pm
      liberty bell

      beta, I get what you're saying, and wish, especially in the midst of the current American health care debate, that we could all talk like adults about real health issues.

      But there is a substantial difference: men feel embarrassed about certain health issues, like ED. Women feel physically threatened, often, when they seek reproductive health care, because in America we have a judgmental attitude that women who want to have sex are sinful, while men who want to have sex are only pursuing their god-given (and insurance company sanctioned, in the case of ED) right.

      collage, did you anonymously email me an article about this project? Why not get that discussion out here in the open?

      Sep 29, 09 8:58 am

      liberty, i totally agree with you, on all points. and i for one think that disparities in how women are treated vis-a-vis sex is but one area of ridiculousness.

      Sep 29, 09 11:14 am

      Skin Deep: A Women’s Only Pharmacy
      By Seng Tsoi / August 2009

      PART 1

      There has been much publicity regarding a small project located in
      Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The project, publicized as a Centre for Women’s Health, includes a women’s only pharmacy, a small spatial provision for medical consultation and naturopathic therapy, and a new space for the project’s entrepreneurs: The Vancouver Women’s Health Collective (

      The project has received a tremendous amount of support from individuals and collective bodies alike through donations of time, energy, and money. Major contributions have come from the Central City Foundation, The VanCity Green Building Grant, and The University of British Columbia School of Architecture’s Community Outreach Studio.

      At the surface of the project is the renovation of its 29 West Hastings
      Street location and the design and planning of its interior space—a task undertaken by the School of Architecture’s Community Outreach Studio. For their efforts, the design team received an ACSA award, one of the highest accolades given to architecture schools across North America. Notwithstanding, the design’s bold assertion still remains unanswered, that is, whether it will contribute to the recovery of the women it seeks to help—many of which are dependent and struggling. A large part of this assertion undermines the central program of the project: a pharmacy that sells methadone.

      At the soul of the project is a body of knowledge that somehow seems to have been misinterpreted, or rather lost. In their initial research for the pharmacy project, the architecture students documented a staggering total of 19 legally operating pharmacies within the Downtown Eastside, an area that has the highest concentration of heroin addicts in Canada. The proliferation of pharmacies in the neighbourhood was linked to the 1997
      deregulation of methadone, a harm reduction substance these pharmacies are primarily dispensing.

      Sep 30, 09 11:26 pm

      Skin Deep: A Women’s Only Pharmacy
      By Seng Tsoi / August 2009

      PART 2

      In addition to these findings the students hypothesized, through comparing different neighbourhoods in Vancouver, that there was a strong correlation between the general health of a neighbourhood’s population and the density of pharmacies, with the Downtown Eastside having the most pharmacies and visibly the poorest health. Conversely, this data could be interpreted as a market relationship, with the supply of pharmacies being an indication of demand and in the case of the Downtown Eastside the demand is there for methadone. By precluding the substance of this research, the design team diminished their own capacity for substantial change and reduced it to a design project that relies on cosmetic, depthless operations.

      The Vancouver’s Women’s Health Collective has been operating as a
      non-profit organization since 1972, with a feminist stance their outward appearance has been for the advocacy of women’s health. Recently, the Collective has seen less and less government support and in response have opted to enter the pharmacy business in order to support their social activities. Regardless of its origins and intentions, what is ingenious about the enterprise is that it hones in on 500 women out of a total of 1,400 heroin addicts in the Downtown Eastside, providing the pharmacy a market niche for the profits that the entire social operation is counting on.

      Sep 30, 09 11:28 pm

      Skin Deep: A Women’s Only Pharmacy
      By Seng Tsoi / August 2009

      PART 3

      The dispensing of methadone is a lucrative business, with BC pharmacies making tens of millions of dollars annually. From the loyal methadone customer, a pharmacy can make approximately $6,000 a year on dispensing fees – if all their prescriptions have been filled out at that location. The typical methadone maintenance program runs for approximately 2 years, with many staying on the program long after this time. Having done their market research, The Women’s Health Collective can hope to have annual revenue in the millions. Ironically enough, the profits will go toward the advocacy of women’s health, particularly towards the women whom will be sustaining the social enterprise.

      While the information that is presented here is neither exhaustive nor
      wholly inclusive, it is, however, intended as critique and to reveal a
      subtle yet complex problem—not of the Downtown Eastside itself, but of social agencies that may be misguided. As well, these criticisms remain at large, and only when the pharmacy doors open will we see if it is truly an agent for social change or just an enterprise that has used this guise to be competitive amongst the sea of profiteers.

      Sep 30, 09 11:29 pm

      update: lu's is closed. 100,000 plus dollars in charity money down the drain.

      Jul 24, 10 2:19 am

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