Members say 26-story design a bad fit beside heritage train station By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun
A striking and controversial office tower proposed for the entrance to Gastown was rejected by Vancouver’s urban design panel Wednesday.Saying Cadillac Fairview’s plan for a 26-storey glass “art wall” style tower presented too many unanswered questions and conflicted with the major heritage Waterfront Station next door, the panel voted 4-2 not to support sending the proposal on to the next stage of city consideration. It means the architects will have to redesign the building before coming back to the panel.The panel, a city council-appointed group made up of architects, engineers, landscape architects and the development industry, unanimously said the space, a small parking lot at 555 West Cordova, deserves to have a building but the proposal as it stands was a “poor fit” for such an important site.
They said the design, a tall, bulky, angular glass tower that tapered down to a pyramid entrance and a curved art wall, had many flaws. From the city’s insistence that the building be moved closer to the heritage-listed Waterfront Station to protect a proposed road, to the loss of important public space, to a paucity of sustainability features the architects have incorporated in other projects — the panel felt the building wasn’t the right fit for the space or the city.
“There have been comments on this panel that it seems as though the connector road is being valued more than the station building,” said panel chair and architect Ryan Bragg. “The proposal almost insults the heritage around it.”
The tower was designed by renowned Chicago architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, who have built many internationally-recognized buildings all over the world.
But with this one, they struck out. From the start they acknowledged it was a challenge to design. The small footprint available, the city’s insistence on protecting a road allowance to a future waterfront hub district and a view corridor that limited the height of the tower made it hard to come up with a workable design that complimented the city and the site. They ended up designing a building that towered over and even appeared to eat into Waterfront Station. But they said they felt the resulting proposal achieved the necessary goals of form, space and design.
The entire panel disagreed, even though two members, Walter Francl and Arno Matis, voted to send the proposal to the next stage.
“I am not satisfied that the work has been done,” said Phil Mondor, who represents the Vancouver Planning Commission on the panel. He also noted that with the city and the Canadian Pacific Railway on the outs over the controversial Arbutus Corridor, it might be some time before the waterfront hub district built over CPR’s tracks will come to fruition. “We might be living with this for a long time,” he said, adding the tower had to stand on its own merits and not whether it fit into the proposed district.
Panel member Matthew Soules, also an architect, said he’s a “strong advocate of bold architecture” and believes in contemporary design. But he said this proposal “has some significant deficiencies.”
Gill and Smith took the rejection in stride. Gill told reporters later he appreciated the panel’s comments, many of which offered alternative solutions that could make the project work.
“I don’t take this as a personal affront,” Gill said. “I felt the panel’s comments were very constructive and very helpful. Nothing really surprised me. I think we understand the site really well. It is a difficult site.”