1555 Robson Street
There are many reasons to love Vancouver’s West End, some are drawn by its urban living, others by its diversity, and some just want to be close to Stanley Park. This building draws inspiration from all of those, and incorporates them into both its aesthetic design, and its very form. It also clearly has a dual sense of identity- a dark side inspired by the western Redwood Cedar and Arbutus trees, and a lighter side that the applicants describe as being drawn from our provincial “flower”, the Pacific Dogwood, as well as the peeling bark of Yew trees.
Though, like most works of art, it’s hard to say if that justification actually inspired the design, or if it was just a story created after the design was already complete. That said, the Kengo Kuma building across the lane did heavily impact the project, as it will be built right up to its property line. As city policy requires an 80 foot separation between towers, city staff allowed a small relaxation of the floor plate size of this building from the normal 80 foot width to 84, to avoid limiting this proposal. Both the city staff and the applicant team seemed a little nervous when broaching that subject, but no one on the Urban Design Panel appeared to have any problem with it.
Instead, they spent most of their time discussing the public realm, and the multiple uses the building will host. There was some time spent discussing the separated entrances, as everyone in the room was painfully aware of how controversial that can be. Which is a little odd, as it’s not a new concept in Vancouver. For decades, single family homes have had basement suites with a front door for the homeowner, and a separate entrance hidden away for their mortgage-helper renter.
Even the residents of Vancouver’s tallest building, Living Shangri-La, use separate entrances based on what floor they live on, in addition to the hotel entrance. We simply feel it’s a far better solution than having income segregated neighbourhoods, like the Downtown Eastside and West Point Grey.
Ultimately, while the applicant and city staff acknowledged that separated doors are a sensitive topic, it wasn’t a concern shared by the panel. In fact, one member seemed rather irritated by the whole conversation. They warned the applicant that some people will try and make it an issue at the development permit board hearing, but their own experience showed it likely wouldn’t matter. They simply couldn’t understand why some felt it was better to impose their values on a project, instead of leaving the operators of the non-market homes to figure out the best solutions.
In the panel’s summary, it was noted that all members support the dual entryways, as well as the custom paving stones leading up to them. That said, there was a suggestion to unify the type of materials to create a sense of a shared space. Another aspect that won praise was the location of a corner retail store on the laneway. The applicant admitted they originally considered incorporating a courtyard in this area, but felt the current choice would be preferred by the residents, and was a more community friendly option.
In fact, the only recommendation the panel put forward was in regard to the 2 floors of office space the building will provide. I honestly didn’t even realize office space was part of this proposal, and it definitely makes it feel like this building could act as a neighbourhood by itself. However, it’s likely that space won’t feel as invisible in the future, as the panel recommended further design development was needed to celebrate that portion of the building, so it wouldn’t feel so subtle.
There was a proposal for a second recommendation, as earlier in the meeting a panellist voiced concern over the type of material that will be used to anchor the retail units to the ground. Still, when a different member later suggested it as a recommendation, they were alone in their voice. In that regard, public feedback is a lot more powerful, as every opinion is considered by city staff.
Even though the window has closed for your thoughts to be included in the staff report, make sure your opinion can make an impact by contacting project facilitator, John Freeman, at firstname.lastname@example.org , or by phone at (604)-871-6076 or attending the Development Permit Board meeting scheduled for December 10, 2018.