Tempers Flare as the UDP Recommends Resubmission of the New St. Paul’s Hospital

1002 Station Street and 250-310 Prior Street (New St. Paul’s Hospital and Health Campus)
Though I attended the Urban Design Panel‘s first look at the New St. Paul’s Hospital back in January, Neither Hannah nor I could find a way to condense that nearly three hour workshop (pg 13) into a short recap. Now a second review has taken place and you would be forgiven for not noticing any changes in the proposal, as the applicants admitted no major ones have been made.

It seems the hospital is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The applicant team explained that the bulk of the lower floors cannot be reduced, as medical necessity requires the ER be connected and close to medical imaging, operating rooms, patient and technological services. In fact, St. Paul’s generally needs more connections than Vancouver General Hospital as it focuses more on research services than trauma care.

That said, it’s city policy that prevents the resolution of the higher floors. Despite the pleas of the UDP for a relaxation of the Main Street view cone, city staff made it clear that issue was not to be discussed. A heated conversation ensued when the applicant essentially told the panel that, because of these limitations, their opinions wouldn’t have any affect on the design of the healthcare campus.

City staff immediately countered that there has to be some flexibility. The applicant shrugged this off, noting it’s the panel’s job to comment on urban design, not to redesign the hospital. Both groups looked so upset, I half expected a brawl to break out. These passions are understandable, as the applicants have been working on the hospital campus for 18 years. Eventually, they agreed, the main hospital was not up for discussion, but the surrounding buildings were.

Ultimately, many on the panel felt the hospital could only achieve its ambition of becoming a world class institution if this “oppressive” view cone was eliminated. Only that would provide the room it needs to function, and allow for a usable public realm. One city staff member explained the view cones haven’t been altered in almost a decade, when their number was increased, something one panellist correctly believed was inaccurate.


Others tried to stay within the rules by suggesting the bulky appearance could be reduced by adopting a more curvacious exterior, or adding more trees. Some desired to see the weather protection over the healthcare boulevard expanded. However, they understood the project is already operating on a shoe string budget due to a funding shortfall from senior levels of government.

That didn’t stop others from criticizing the very foundation of this design. One complained that it felt like the road network informed the area’s layout, with the rest being only an afterthought. Others hoped to create a better gateway by eliminating the southwestern tower, and increasing the density of the other buildings. The consensus desired additional calm spaces and retail stores, especially on the high street, to better serve the thousands who will be on campus at any one time.

In the end, the panel felt it was impossible to reconcile the problems of the project, the view cones, and the design guidelines. In a unanimous vote, they requested a resubmission of the hospital and campus plan, and recommended further design development to reflect the established design guidelines. Several members were clearly upset to cast this vote, but appeared to think they had no other choice.

In response, city staff admitted they were speechless, and the applicants clarified they couldn’t select a design team before it was determined whether it was possible to construct the hospital. Unfortunately, neither group can grant the UDP’s real desire, but you can still express your comments to city staff. Though if you believe these critical health cares services deserve a bit more room, than you’ll have to contact our city council.

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