An Opportunity Like No Other – A Super Sized UDP Strongly Supports West End Landmark Tower

1157 Burrard Street
The meetings of the Urban Design Panel can sometimes feel pretty monotonous. Week after week, these volunteers are required to review buildings that city policy forces into a similar, 6-storey shape. However, this wasn’t one those times, as this proposal at the corner of Burrard and Davie triggered a “Super UDP” review under the Higher Buildings Policy.

After all, an application that will provide 236 homes, a 37 space daycare, 1570 sq.m. of office space, and possibly 50 hotel rooms (or more homes) at one of Vancouver’s most important intersections certainly deserves a little extra attention. Which is why the panel was joined by renowned architects, James K.M. Cheng and Karen Marler.

The applicant team certainly had their own star power, as one of the original co-founders of Merrick Architecture took time from his retirement to help introduce the project. He was clearly proud of his namesake’s vision, and at one point in his animated presentation, asked the panel to join him on the floor to gain a better perspective of its contribution to our city’s urban experience.

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Even city staff admitted the location and public benefits being offered created an opportunity like no other. These were the only reasons the proposed height was even being considered, which is still conditional on whether the office space will be dedicated for public use. This means the eventual redevelopment of the old St. Paul’s Hospital site to the north will likely not be anywhere near as tall, as it’s affected by several view cones, and heritage retention requirements.

The applicants have had challenges too, as the artistic shading system they have proposed has led to conversations around the world. Currently it seems they will have to source the system from a Belgian company, as it might be the first time a building in North America has incorporated it. They will also be doing something different with the paving around the building, looking to blend it into the sidewalk, like seafoam on a beach.

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This concept was an instant hit with the panel. One member took the lead, expressing their pleasure at seeing such a well-thought out proposal. They felt the potential was proven, the basic moves were there, and acknowledged that this was not the appropriate time to debate the fine details. In their mind, the building would be a landmark, like the Hagia Sophia, allowing one to see the entrance to the West End from the skyline alone.

Others admired this slender sophisticated tower and how well it responds to the constraints of the view cones. I’m not sure if anyone directly criticized that element, as one person described their amazement that the design team could do so much on such a small site. Others simply expressed that the required level of architectural elegance had been met.

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That said, one member was particularly critical of the project. They felt the design team represented themselves too much, and that it didn’t speak to Davie Street. They feel that the LGBTQ community and residents as a whole should have been consulted more. While they were alone in their opposition to the building’s slight cantilever, their desire to see improvements to the laneway made it into the recommendations.

Several members did have some concern about the ground plane, particularly over the plaza space. Described as too much of a good thing, they hoped it could be simplified. Merging these two ideas, the recommendation called for development of a strong clarity to the overground element to relate to Davie Street and the laneway. Similarly, there was a recommendation for more design development to address the grade, and activation of the plaza space.

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In contrast, one member desired to see a recommendation to address the Burrard Street facade, as they felt “all the juice” went into the west side. In an attempt to find consensus, wording of that opinion was toned down to respect the architect’s creativity, and only called for more design development of the West Coast narrative.

Members of the city staff admitted they were relieved to hear the panel’s support, as they had concerns there might be opposition to the west facade. Clearly staff value the panel’s opinion, but it comes second to public feedback. So, help give them direction by making your thoughts heard here.

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