The industrial revolution had a major influence on architecture, the futurists were obsessed with cars, and architects from Le Corbusier to Renzo Piano have tried their hand at automobile design.
But now the wedding of automotive and architectural design is being celebrated in a Vancouver neighbourhood, ironically marketed as a place where you don’t need to drive.
The Olympic Village area, slowly awakening from its post–Games slump and showing signs of becoming a real neighbourhood, is known as a place where you can eschew the automobile in favour of urban cycling paths, pedestrian and skate friendly seawalls and new Canada Line transit.
At the edge of the once-industrial turned residential area, a new Cressey development designed by architect Foad Rafii called Meccanica, offers an oddly retro fetishization of the automotive on the bones of an old custom designed Porsche workshop.
On a site across the street from Mario’s Gelati, next to a new social housing complex designed by GBL Architects, and across the street from a Burger King with miles of parking space – an oddly suburban anachronism in a rapidly urbanizing area – Frank Reisner designed and made custom-built Porsches for a quarter century.
But this former railway turned industrial turned residential neighbourhood is undergoing a sea change, and it doesn’t include much room for even light industrial enterprises like Mr. Reisner’s Intermeccanica.
Enter Cressey Development, who saw both an opportunity to pay homage to the area’s industrial past, and a brilliant marketing idea. Now the plan is to have Intermeccanica – temporarily relocated to a nearby nondescript warehouse – operate at the base of the new Rafii-designed tower and podium.
As Hani Lammam, VP of Development and Land Aquisitions explains, “When we first acquired the property, we planned to evict Frank Reisner.” But as the marketing campaign progressed and they decided on the name Meccanica, they scheduled a meeting with Mr. Reisner to make sure he was on board with the similar name. As they got to know more about his business, “we realized there was great potential to put the shop back into the development, and preserve that light industrial use,” relates Mr. Lammam, especially since it was a “clean” industry that could easily co-exist with residential.
While a key component of the city’s Southeast False Creek development plan involves respecting the industrial nature of the neighbourhood, Mr. Lammam contends that this has mainly been realized in terms of landscape treatments and architecture, noting, “Ours was more of a genuine gesture.”
And even though the city has advanced policies for the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood bordering the Meccanica site to include new development while preserving production, distribution and repair industries, “there was no policy in place to support what we were doing,” explains Mr. Lammam.
A more traditional form of “mixed use” development would typically be a retail space at the base of a podium/tower development, not a custom design automotive shop.
But city hall has supported the concept, says Mr. Lammam, and it’s now just a matter of bureaucratic procedure. Demolition is slated to begin in early September.
The inclusion of Intermeccanica has also influenced the design of the development. While Mr. Rafii’s initial designs already featured industrial references, now buyers can choose from an array of Porsche themed interior options.
Six vintage Porsche shades are offered to rev up kitchen cabinetry – ranging from a 1957 Ruby Red to a 1962 Slate Grey to a 1991-2004 Midnight Blue.
And buyers are given the choice of three different models – flexible speedsters, street accessible, town-home style roadsters and penthouse-level turbos, on the podium’s highest level.
While a variety of different floor plans and high-tech upgrades are available, there is no explicit Porsche design connection to the interiors – beyond the colours and industrial references like exposed pipes and ducts and polished concrete floors.
“It’s really about maximizing economy of space through clean, judicious design,” says Mr. Rafii, who has conceived the condos to be as stylish, lean and compact as a sports car.
The showroom, the actual original site of Intermeccanica, greets visitors with a vintage silver roadster bedecked in balloons. It’s minimalist palette of industrial slate grey and light blue unwittingly mimics the colours of the Walter Francl/Nick Milkovich-designed Creekside Community Centre, glimpsed kitty corner by the discerning eye.
The display suite is one of the deep and narrow South facing lofts – essentially a big open plan delineated by sliding translucent glass doors – (and by a seven-foot industrial metal door to the master bedroom) – that allow light deep into the interior while providing requisite privacy.
The development itself consists of a five-and-a-half-storey building conjoined to a 14-storey tower by a series of layered sky-bridges.
A simple palette of glass, steel and concrete is given texture and character by industrial-style aluminum grating on the balconies. And green roofing and vegetable gardens add to the already LEED silver status of the complex.
Soon the Burger King across the way (slated for redevelopment) will be gone, a mere remnant of an imagined fast-food past, replaced by the leaner wild salmon burger of the newly opened Tap and Barrel in the Olympic Village. And across the street, the now vacant lot – one of the last remaining land parcels in the area – will become five new residential towers (also designed by Mr. Rafii for Concert Development) and an urban park (designed by Durante Kreuk).
If the protagonist from a Vancouver version of Woody Allen’s Sleeper were to awake here in say, 2050, he might well wonder what had become of the once-industrial wasteland/no-man’s-land vibe of the area. And as he wandered through gleaming streets full of bicycles and brave new buildings, decked out in the colours of ancient automobiles, he might hear the faint, nostalgic purr of a Porsche roadster emerge from some underground studio.