An Energized Base Helps Robson Street Monolith Overcome Urban Design Panel Concerns

150 Robson Street – DP-2019-00809
Perhaps it’s fitting that a project that will provide a new hotel, strata tower, and save a heritage building by BC Place was the final item reviewed by the Urban Design Panel this year. While its rezoning was approved last summer, it’s likely the conditions were met only a few months ago when a development application was filed to replace the Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel. Despite that delay, the applicant has been hard at work in the background.

Given the panel’s past recommendations, Hannah and I expected there would be some refinements to the concept, but neither of us predicted this level of change. As the applicant explained, a new direction from city staff challenged their original ideas, so they had to reluctantly let some of them go. Still, they agreed the new design responds better to the existing context, and the hotel’s boxier form is becoming more common due to Vancouver’s strict sustainability policies.

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Though this form remains prohibited from shadowing Terry Fox Plaza, it does have a slightly larger impact on Beatty Street. The consensus was these changes were worth it as they have helped to create a vastly improved public realm, and made the hotel much stronger. However, one member was worried the large crowds exiting BC Place would trample the landscaping, and were surprised that the applicant opted to retain the planter boxes along Robson Street, rather than expand the sidewalk.

All five panellists felt the biggest flaw in the public realm was the lack of weather protection, and recommended it see further design development. That said, they thought the connective element between the three buildings was very successful. It may have a modern look, but its simple background appearance was described as a flattering contrast to the Northern Electric Building. They also appreciated that some of the hotel balconies would relate to it with the terracotta coloured cement board highlights.

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The applicants plan to restore this heritage structure back to its pre-1957 form, which is also why the condo’s entrance will be located off of Robson Street. More importantly, all of the walls of the hotel rooms will respect the building’s historic partitions, meaning no walls will meet the windows. To my genuine surprise, there won’t be any separation of outdoor amenity space on the podium either, as it will be shared between the hotel guests and strata residents.

Those strata homes will all be located in the tower portion of the development, which has changed the most since the rezoning stage. It appears this was in response to a recommendation from a previous UDP review to consider the solar effect on all of the building’s facades. The once staggered balconies have now been simplified, sharing the same regular expression on all sides, except the south, where they are recessed to provide solar shading.

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At night, this face will be articulated with LED strip-lighting, but the majority was disappointed by the broad brush strokes that have formed the towers appearance. Only one member felt the changes had been for the better, as most criticized its appearance as monolithic. They remained unconvinced, noting the tower was extremely unsuccessful, and did not live up to the rest of the development. The majority believed the choice of colours and materials were to blame for this.

The chair struggled to address this, lamenting the tower had looked fresh and dynamic (pg 15), and now it seemed old and stale. In the end, a recommendation called for further design development of the tower’s materials, architectural expression, and character. Nonetheless, the panel acknowledged the applicant’s good work and unanimously voted to support the project. Whether you share their faith, or want something more vibrant, make sure to contact project facilitator, Mike Bird, at mike.bird@vancouver.ca or (604)-829-9770 by February 3rd, 2020.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer Amacon
ArchitectsGBL Architects
Landscape Architects – PWL Partnership

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