Sometimes development in Vancouver takes a ridiculous amount of time; this is true even in the shoulders of the Central Business District. Back in 2009, City Council Passed a Waterfont Hub Policy that called for an expansion of office towers and transit options surrounding Waterfront Station, along with a new Vancouver Whitecap’s stadium located along the harbour. That plan failed to come to fruition for a multitude of reasons, and in 2015 Cadillac Fairview, a subsidiary of the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, submitted an application to turn this parking lot into a public plaza with a 26 story office building.
Source– 2015 Proposal Rendering
Unfortunately, those involved with the failed Hub Plan, as well as former city officials, were strongly against the proposal, labeling it a blob and an alien invader. As a result, this land has sat empty for the last three years. Now that Cadillac Fairview has reactivated the proposal and made changes to the design, city staff have held an information session with heritage commission to review the proposal and ensure a better outcome for our city.
The general idea behind this sculpted, steel framed origami building remains the same. However, to show more respect to the historic The Landing and Waterfront Station buildings, the building has been rotated 90 degrees. Also, there is no longer a physical above grade connection to Waterfront Station. Instead, the connections are more subtle, as 555 Cordova’s sculpting has been designed to match the heights and cornices of its neighbours. The benefits to the public realm are clear, as the rotation has allowed space for the future Cordova Connector, as well as opportunities for more public space and views. This new plaza space will have unique pavers, with a pattern that the city may choose to continue throughout the future hub lands, or keep isolated to this location. Though the real improvements to the public realm can be found within the building.
While the first 7 floors are effectively unusable due to their lack of floor space, the 4th floor in the new design will still have an important role. As the floor is too small to allow for a restaurant or work space it will instead become a public amenity, with great views of the harbour. The rotation and sculpting of the building also allows for views of the heritage buildings to be kept in tact. In fact, at its widest point (the 17th floor), 555 Cordova only overhangs Waterfront Station by a small 6 meters, which should be almost unnoticeable at the street. It was noted that while the renderings make the building appear larger the floorplates have been reduced it size from the previous design.
Because of these challenges, the building is struggling with it’s economic viability. Despite that admission, the commission was firmly divided on the height of the building. Those in favor of the height believe that it was appropriate for the area. One member even surprised themselves by requesting a taller building, as it would allow for smaller floors and a more interesting design. The opposition generally supported a height decrease of 5 floors, though one member involved with the original hub plan believed that the building should be a boutique tower of only 11 floors. This debate led to the older member and younger members debating policy, rather than the building
Eventually the chair and council liaison were forced to remind the members that they should offer their opinions on the building, instead of drafting/arguing over neighbourhood guidelines. Despite this, a consensus on issues other than height was easily reached. The commission was unanimous in the belief that this was a much improved design. It was felt that the heritage of the neighbourhood was much more respected, and that Cordova still retained a historical look. The commission was eager to see the project go forward. I’m sure it will be the first of many changes to come, as city staff revealed that the Waterfront Hub Plan, as well as a new Gastown Neighbourhood Plan are on the agenda for 2019.