Vancouver is world famous for its downtown collection of slender glass towers – a dominant style labelled Vancouverism that has elicited admiration, but also provoked complaints about the city’s monotonous architecture.
Now an internationally renowned Danish architect being brought in by Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie is preparing to break that mould with a dramatic new 49-storey tower.
Instead of a narrow structure that disappears into the sky, Bjarke Ingels has designed one that starts from a small base and expands outward as it rises from its location next to the Granville Bridge where it enters the downtown.
Instead of a row of evenly spaced townhouses at the bottom, he has a large podium of retail spaces around and under the bridge, broken up in a way that echoes Granville Island across the water, with passageways that will let people wander through them.
And instead of an all-glass building, Mr. Ingels is exploring how to use B.C. metals like zinc and copper on the exterior.
“We wanted to come up with an evolution of this idea of urban density that already exists here. It is taking the podium-and-point tower and saying ‘Let’s see if we can take those ideas and do something more,’” said Mr. Ingels in an interview from New York. “We don’t want to disregard what exists. But it has been articulated in a very uniform way.”
Mr. Ingels has worked on high-profile projects around the world since he started practising on his own in 2001. He will be the first non-Vancouverite to design a prominent condo building in the city since the firm of London-based Norman Foster was commissioned almost a decade ago to design Jameson House on Pender Street.
He is known for fitting his designs into the existing urban fabric of a city, as opposed to designing iconic buildings that have no relationship to what’s around them.
Former city planning director Brent Toderian, who introduced Mr. Ingels to Mr. Gillespie last year in an effort to encourage more distinctive architecture in the city, called him “the hottest young architect on the planet.”
He’s thrilled with the results.
“He turns the Vancouver building form on its head almost literally.” He particularly likes one part of the multi-building development that sees a shorter building rise up beside the bridge “like the tip of the iceberg that tells you something interesting is going on underneath.”
Mr. Gillespie said he brought in Mr. Ingels to solve the problem of a difficult site, but also to try to encourage innovation and add new energy to the existing architectural conversation in the city.
“There just been a lot of sameness in Vancouver. I think people are just crying out for a new building typology. With this, we can try to break out of that momentum,” he said. “And if Vancouver is going to say to the world that we have this innovative city, if we’re going to try to introduce new ideas around the world, we have to have a reciprocal relationship. We have to raise our game.”
The site where the tower is being proposed was identified by the city last year as one of only six possible sites for taller buildings downtown. City planners also identified the area, which extends under the bridge, as a good place for a neighbourhood retail centre
However, the design will have to pass extra scrutiny. A special panel of experts, including two international architects, will evaluate the project April 11 to judge whether it sets a new bar in the city for architecture and sustainability. The city will use the panel’s advice to decide whether to approve the project.
The city owns the land on the other side of the bridge and envisions a complementary tower on that site in the future.