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Striking tower at First Baptist Church site the latest in Vancouver’s new “sculpture garden” of new-design buildings

September 18th, 2015 · 11 Comments


Vancouver has been the home to a lot of same-looking slim glass towers for going on 30 years now. But, thanks to developer Ian Gillespie trying to push some innovation and a spate of office developers looking for something new and different, we’re starting to see some differences in design and some out-of-town architects on the scene.

I had a story earlier this week about the cluster of towers being planned for Georgia Street at the point where it rises up the hill to downtown: the lovely wood-accented Kengo Kuma tower being done for Ian Gillespie, the James Cheng tower “obelisk” being done on the point of land where Pender meets Georgia, the Ole Scheeren Jenga-style tower being done for Bosa Properties nearby. (And Kirk Williams at CBC, following the story, added Gregory Henriquez’s origami tower to the list.)

A little further away but equally striking in design is the tower being planned for the land behind the First Baptist Church on Burrard. A couple of images are above. I’ll have a story next week about the interesting history behind this development.

(My story pasted below for those at their Globe article ceiling.)

Two striking new towers are being proposed for a key intersection on Vancouver’s Georgia Street that represent a dramatic departure from the city’s traditional style of bland glass condos.

One, designed by local architect James Cheng for new Chinese-Canadian development company Brilliant Circle Group, is a three-faced glass obelisk at the triangle where Georgia and Pender streets meet.

There will be an unusual public space under and around the stilt-like legs of the tower, since the condo floors will start about 25 metres above street level.

The other, across the street, is a traditional straight-edged tower with a curve carved out of one side, being designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma for local developer Ian Gillespie.

The two will create a memorable gateway into downtown Vancouver that is unlike anything the city has seen, said Mr. Cheng, who is designing his building to be a complement to Mr. Kuma’s design.

“It’s deliberate that the two buildings are different. His approach was to take a rectangular building and carve it out, while we’re exploding our building. It’s like a solid and void dialogue.”

Mr. Kuma, in an interview from Japan, said this will be his first “monumental” building in North America and his design was heavily influenced by the organic, natural beauty in Vancouver.

His tower, at 135 metres, will be notable for its traditional Japanese garden and for the amount of wood he will use on the outside of the tower.

The two proposals – Mr. Kuma’s was formally submitted to the city this week and Mr. Cheng’s is due to arrive shortly – were preceded three months ago by another startling tower proposal within a block of those sites.

That Jenga-like tower, at 152 metres and designed by German architect Ole Scheeren for long-established Vancouver company Bosa Properties, has rectangular blocks extruding at different points from the building – a style that hasn’t before been seen in Vancouver.

All three sit close to the point where Georgia, one of the city’s ceremonial streets, transitions from the residential West End to Vancouver’s high-rise downtown.

The three new towers, which will add new commercial spaces at the ground level and several hundred new condo units, represent a dramatic break from the past 30 years of condo buildings in the city.

Vancouver became famous in the 1990s for a certain style of building, with tall, thin, straight glass towers set on a podium of townhouses with street-level entrances.

That style, sometimes called Vancouverism, has been popular with developers and buyers, but has often been criticized by architects and city observers who say it is boring, lacks style and is repetitive.

Vancouver also became known as a city that mainly relied on local architects, with very little done by outsiders.

That has changed in the past few years. Mr. Gillespie hired Danish superstar architect Bjarke Ingels to design Vancouver House, the condo tower that is currently under construction next to the Granville Bridge. The unusual building will start from a small base and cantilever outward in a curve toward the top.

The city’s office-tower boom has seen several developers bring in American and European architects.

Mr. Cheng, who designed some of the very early condos, said the city has preferred for a long time to have low-key buildings.

“Vancouver is so famous for being a background city.”

Some people have speculated that it’s because the city has always been able to count on its dramatic mountain background for any landscape interest it needs.

But Mr. Gillespie has been trying to push architectural innovation in the city.

And, says Mr. Cheng, “the moment has come. We now need some foreground buildings.”

All three buildings will require rezonings but won’t need to go through the special urban-design panels that the Vancouver planning department has convened in the past for its tallest towers.




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