A Bad Apple – Vancouver’s UDP Rejects Pacific Centre’s Newest Flagship Store

701 West Georgia (Pacific Centre Plaza)
One of Vancouver’s worst kept secrets is that a new flagship Apple Store will be replacing the rotunda at Pacific Centre. After all, why else would the mall’s ownership team,  a partnership of three Ontario based pension plans and a compensation board, abandon their previously approved expansion for one designed in Apple’s signature style.

There have been many updates to Pacific Centre since it opened in 1971. Presently, one of the complex’s office towers, the Canaccord Tower, is being revitalized with a modern look, and in 2006, an expansion of Holt Renfew consumed a publicly accessible atrium (pg 3). That left the ownership with a hard, costly choice, to either substitute that lost space at this location or provide a high profile entrance to the Canada Line’s Vancouver City Centre Station.

In hindsight, they clearly made the right choice (pg 8). Though that transit focused plaza has led to the mall’s layby drop off becoming more of a kiss and ride, given the underground loading and drop off spaces, the city’s engineers agreed the layby could be eliminated to increase the public realm in this application.

The design also responds to a different behaviour, as when one panellist asked if the north space could be bevelled up to the building, the applicant noted it was lower to prevent people from climbing onto the stainless roof.

Sometimes when a meeting runs late, the room gets a little free-spirited, and someone quipped that was for the best given every 11 years or so Vancouver has a Stanley Cup run. The design team was actually let down by this stainless roof, as their original intent was to forest it with trees. Ironically, it was a similar feature, proposed by the city’s landscaping department, that drove the most criticism.

The large green wall featured heavily in the recommendations. Often repeating each other, they called for it to be relocated, and for more design resolution between the pavilion, the mall background and the public realm. Really, it boiled down to ensuring the pavilion’s design was strengthened and related better to the mall behind it.

The panel may have been able to agree on the recommendations, and most felt the pavilion would be a jewel in our city. However, some appeared to be ignorant that it was destined to become an Apple store. Some individuals fretted over the idea that the views from one of Vancouver’s most prominent spaces would be of people buying clothes.

Theses members didn’t seem to realize that this style of building, with its very large sheets of high clarity low-iron glass, is the hallmark of an Apple Flagship store. Ironically, one panellist even remarked that the design felt like it was just a variation of a general template.

It was these panellists who successfully opposed the motion to support the project. Those in the room seemed stunned when one member announced they believe retail doesn’t belong on this corner. They added the recommendation should be to relocate this building somewhere else. The applicant admitted they didn’t know how to respond to such a desire, and the chair made it clear this was not an option.

The chair tried to explain that, by rejecting this application, the applicant could proceed with their previously approved design, which offered even less public space. A cynical member agreed, but opined as this is development application, city staff would probably ignore their advice and press ahead with this design anyways. The public aren’t allowed to speak at these meetings, but I would have loved to remind that person of a couple  recent meetings that prove their theory wrong.

The panel never officially voted to request resubmission of the project, rather that was the assumed desire, given the motion of support was defeated 4 – 3. As you’ve read this post, you may now be better informed than some on the panel. So, don’t hide your knowledge, whether you like this design or prefer the bulkier original one, make sure to express your voice and contact project facilitator, John Freeman, at john.freeman@vancouver.ca, or by phone at (604)-871-6076.


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