If Bosa Properties' plan for a cutting-edge residential tower gets the nod, the Vancouver skyline may drastically change in a couple of years.
Since Bosa purchased the property at 1500 West Georgia St., the company had been on the hunt for an architect who could build a one-of-a-kind, distinctive tower that would put Vancouver on the map for more than its sky-high property prices.
They hired German-born architect Ole Scheeren, who fulfilled the mandate for something distinctive with a tower that will stand around 50 stories and include glass horizontal projections that will soak up panoramic views of the West End and Coal Harbour.
There will be a public plaza, an outdoor event space, restaurant or gallery, as well as an extended version of the well-known water feature that now exists.
All details are tentative until the city approves the proposal. Partners Kingswood Properties submitted a letter of inquiry to the city Thursday morning, which officially starts the development permit approvals process.
"There are architects here who do great work, but we wanted sort of a fresh approach," says Daryl Simpson, Bosa's vice-president of marketing. "And we wanted somebody that has done buildings on an international scale, who has proven that they can look at things differently. If you look at some of the buildings that Ole and his partners have done, they are very provocative."
Mr. Scheeren is a world-renowned architect, his most famous work being Beijing's massive China Central Television Headquarters. It's one of the rare buildings that had its status as a pop-culture icon confirmed when it was featured on an episode of The Simpsons. Mr. Scheeren was delighted again when Vancouver artist and author Douglas Coupland commissioned a bronze model of the building. Mr. Scheeren has also designed interior spaces, such as the New York Prada store.
The 44-year-old architect has offices in Beijing and Hong Kong, but he's increasingly spending time in Europe, with a new Berlin office. He also has plans to open an office in North America.
Mr. Scheeren's hiring is testament to the increasingly competitive landscape in Vancouver's high-end residential market.
"This market is getting more and more sophisticated and the level of design in architecture and interior design is going up and up and up," says Mr. Simpson.
Bosa Properties is an old Vancouver company that has built for all levels of the market, including several recent rental buildings. Although this project looks like it's aimed at the luxury market, Mr. Simpson would say only that considering its high-end design and proximity to Stanley Park, "it's not an inexpensive building to build."
For his part, Mr. Scheeren believes his tower will fit perfectly with Vancouver's natural beauty, but also fulfill a need for something distinctive.
"I don't think this kind of quality exists in the city, this engagement with context," he says, seated in Bosa's downtown boardroom. "It's an incredible environment, a great city, but then how much does the architecture engage both the city and the environment? And I think there is scope for improvement and possibilities, and maybe that is something I'm really trying to do with this project."
"There are cities that are great cities, but strangely they don't have any great architecture. And there are cities with some great architecture, but not good cities."
His goal, he says, is to subvert the tower as we know it.
"The tower is linear, a floor plate that gets multiplied until you hit the limit of where you are allowed to go. …For the resident, you go up, you go down. Top is always better than the bottom. There is a hierarchical issue with the tower, in that sense.
"And it has very little identity, because it looks the same from everywhere. And more and more, it's become in vogue to fold them slightly, or curve them to give them a more elegant profile. In truth, if you look at them as functioning architecture, the floor plans are terrible. These towers are no longer made for people to live there."
The triangular mid-rise office that stands at 1500 W. Georgia, designed in 1976 by Rhone & Iredale, will remain. The Scheeren tower will replace the one-level building at the east side of the property. It will go beyond LEEDS platinum certification by generating solar power on the top levels that will provide power to the two bottom commercial floors.
And Mr. Scheeren plans to create an outdoor space that will become a destination for everybody, not just residents of the tower.
"Although we are putting a private residential tower there, I wanted to give more to the public.
"It could be a silo in itself, and totally closed off. I think that would be terrible. This is an attempt to reopen it to the city and the people."
He also believes that the tower units will be lived in, not purchased for speculation and left empty. In cities around the world, foreign investors have been buying housing for investment and driving up prices.
Mr. Scheeren acknowledges the problem.
"I don't like that at all," he says of the phenomenon. "It is a global problem, and here it might be quite extreme. But in many places I work, the same problem exists."
He cites his unique residential project in Singapore, another city under global investment pressure. He designed The Interlace when he was still a partner with the Dutch firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture. He left that firm in 2010, to start his own firm, Buro Ole Scheeren.
"Over 90 per cent of the apartments there are occupied. But even in the other ones I've done, an enormous amount of people decided they wanted to live there," he says. "It's not just a speculative measure – and architecture can contribute to that. It's very important.
"Most of the projects I do have a very strong local buyership, which means maybe they have accomplished meaning in a local context."
Mr. Simpson said the tower will have an "international appeal," but he hopes it will attract the local market, too.
"Who knows what the future would hold, but I would hope the demand for a building like this is easily satisfied with local buyers," he said.