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The origami tower — meant to be first step to new Vancouver waterfront — sparks debate over both tower and waterfront

February 3rd, 2015 · 7 Comments

Been a lot happening recently, so I’m catching up here and packaging a few things together since things are sometimes changing daily in the fast-paced civics world these days.

First up, the “origami” tower came to the urban design panel, where it was not supported in a 4-2 vote. My story here.

For those not familiar with how the UDP works, it is not like the development-permit board or board of variance or even council. The design panel is meant to allow local architects, engineers, and planning experts to give city staff some outside-the-hall feedback on major new projects coming forward. It’s more like an architecture grad-student studio than a judicial body. When a design is not supported, it means the advice is “Go and work on this a bit more.” It’s not a rejection.

And, for those who will be surprised when this comes back again, the panel expressed no discomfort with the height or density. Their major recommendations were to move the tower away from the train station, where it looks a bit like a Japanese horror-movie monster eating it, I have to say. And, since the plaza there has spectacular views of the water and mountains and should be a welcoming space for the public, they suggested making it even more accessible, possible even turning the lobby into a kind of passageway for general commuters on their way too and from the station.

The panel hearing also included a lot of discussion about whether this building fit in with the future waterfront of Vancouver, which was thrashed out six years in a planning document about the future Waterfront Hub.

That plan, which no one has talked about much since the idea of having a soccer stadium built over the tracks there fell apart, also alarmed some people — because of the new roads it envisioned for the area, the cluster of new towers and more. So I wrote about that in a follow-up story here. (As far as I can tell, these stories are available to non-subscribers in the link, but, if not, let me know.) Much more to hash over here. I had former city planning/design wizard Ralph Segal helping me understand some of the ramifications of the details. He’s written a couple of posts on this already here and on Gordon Price’s Pricetags blog.

Michael Alexander, the City Conversations convenor quoted in the story, called me later to clarify his remarks. Here’s what he had to say:

I am not opposed to the basic design of the building (though I think it can be improved, and overreaches in size— but that’s what developers do to get what they really want when the city protests). The problem is its location.
Waterfront Station is the hub of 10 major rail, sea and air corridors— the most concentrated and important in B.C. and one of the important regional transit centres in North America. Not once was transportation mentioned in the hearing. The building is being told to site a little to the east, a little to the west. But that parking lot needs to be the boarding location for major bus lines and taxis that then exit to the transit plaza in front of Waterfront Station which the Hub Study envisions. And the woefully underused Waterfront Station needs to become a place that attracts people, not one that they just pass through.
There is a place for that tower if some land swaps and infrastructure enhancements are brought into the conversation. I would hope that the city would be promoting that, and Cadillac Fairview is the kind of farsighted company that could entertain a broader vision. I don’t hold it against them that they are trying to build on land that they already own.

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