World’s Tallest Passive House Fails To Earn The Support Of Vancouver’s Urban Design Panel

1075 Nelson St (DP-2021-00589)
As I knew the Urban Design Panel was scheduled to review the world’s tallest passive house building, I was ready to be amazed when I walked into city hall’s Joe Wai Meeting Room. Sure enough, I was greeted by the most impressive scale model I’ve seen in months. It was only after I quickly snapped some photos to send to Hannah that I realized nothing could have prepared this applicant team for the thrashing they were about to endure.

It’s not that these volunteers acted unprofessionally, nor did they lack expertise, as Jennifer Marshall, Laura Jimenez, and Robin Williams were invited by city staff to join them as non-voting guests. Rather, it’s that several of those present have previously stated they’re worried the creation of more housing was making Vancouver a worse place to live. A virtual attendee who now resides in Gibsons, took that further, lamenting how our city’s bright lights were ruining their night sky.

Naturally, they were upset green strips, and a colour changing light feature had replaced the trees that had once broken up this now monolithic wavy exterior. Forgetting their prior remarks had caused them, they blasted these moves as a failed landmark’s hypocritical greenwashing, and issued a long instruction. This recommended design development to architectural expression and materiality to speak more to the passive house and residential nature of project and the origin of design concept, including east and west facades.

Their office-like appearance was also ironically due to this group’s past advice to eliminate the mid-tower cantilevered amenity deck. Moving that area to the rooftop was little better, as it had been split between two levels, which a landscape architect noted any consultant should realize was problematic. However, the recommendation for design development to increase quantity of amenity and arrangement of rooftop amenity space and proposed programming and improve social sustainability sought to bridge a different gap.

Limiting this successfully refined crown level to residents of the market rental and strata homes was seen as unacceptable, especially since the 102 non-market homes were so poorly treated. Two lengthy recommendations attempted to resolved this, with the first highlighting that this lower portion needed some colour or even a “waistband” to be smoothed out. These desires were simplified in a recommendation for design development to how tower hits the ground to enhance contextual relationship and neighbourliness of ground plane.

The second called for design development to improve activation of the ground plane and public realm to better foster neighbourliness and community building doubled down on this idea. This encompassed fears the residents of these 501 homes might overwhelm this small lot’s landscaping, and harm the West End community. That led one person to suggest this applicant should pay their eastern neighbour to upgrade their property, as the new public pathway that will split these sites deserved higher quality materials.

While I expected the recommendation to consider relocating children’s play area to southwest corner of site, I was stunned some seemed unaware that neighbour is Westbank’s Butterfly. Maybe some just didn’t care, as despite the summary praising this world-leading sustainable design, no one took interest in the innovative vacuum-sealed glass that made it possible. As that curtain wall dramatically reduces the amount of insulation needed, this could lead to significantly larger homes, something which drew strong criticism.

They understood any addition would be contained within this already approved scale, yet assuming city council authorizes the required rezoning amendment, insisted it be dedicated for amenities. That step shouldn’t delay this process though, as this body voted 5 -1 to request this proposal’s re-submission, ensuring there will be several months of revisions ahead. Even if you’re tired of all this blah, blah, blah, it doesn’t take long to influence this future world leader by leaving your comments here.

Applicant Team Information:

You can view more of our photos of this project’s model, and renderings here and here on our Instagram.

Developer – Brivia Group
Architects – WKK Architects
Local Architects – IBI Group
Landscape Architects – IBI Group
Model Maker AB Scale Models

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