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neighbourhood watch

Take a $200-million development proposal, add Swiss expertise to Canadian know-how, then let the planning begin in earnest to preserve and expand the Old Stock Exchange Building.

There is a buzz in the air about a star architect from Switzerland who has been hired to leave his mark on the northwest corner of Howe and Pender in downtown Vancouver. Harry Gugger, meet the old exchange at 475 Howe St. Vancouver, meet Mr. Gugger, who will lend his expertise in the design of a new 30-storey office tower so that it complements the historic 11-storey building.

"Working in Vancouver is a new and wonderful challenge for me and my team. The design of a regeneration project in a heritage context such as this has always been of special interest to us," Mr. Gugger said in a statement from Switzerland, where he opened his own architecture firm in 2010, named Harry Gugger Studio. From 1991 to 2009, he was an architectural partner in Herzog & de Meuron, where his work included overseeing the restoration of two art galleries – the Tate Modern in London and the CaixaForum in Madrid. Mr. Gugger was also the partner in charge of the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing.

Premium office space has become a scarce commodity in downtown Vancouver, spurring new projects such as the Telus Garden office and condo development on Robson Street.

The Howe and Pender venture, named The Exchange, will be primarily devoted to office space. The basement and ground level will be set aside for retail. In preliminary design changes, the new office tower appears less flashy than in the original renderings. It remains to be seen how the concerns raised by Jameson House condo dwellers across the alley about shadows and blocked views will be addressed in final drawings.

Heritage consultant Donald Luxton, retained by the developer, said Mr. Gugger is a "starchitect" who will pay homage to the iconic old exchange. The building opened during a golden age for Vancouver in the Roaring Twenties, just months before the Wall Street stock-market crash in October, 1929. The Vancouver Stock Exchange operated out of the Howe Street address until 1947, but the connection lingered over the decades, despite the short lived VSE occupancy, Mr. Luxton said. Vancouver architects Fred Townley and Robert Matheson, who designed 475 Howe St., went on to win the contract for Vancouver City Hall, a landmark since 1936.

The Exchange's proponents argue their project dovetails nicely with the City of Vancouver's efforts to make the downtown core more vibrant. City planners have placed a priority on constructing office towers in the financial district while spurning new condo proposals in the same area.

A real estate fund managed by Credit Suisse is the developer and majority owner of The Exchange while Swissreal Investments Ltd. is the development manager and minority owner. The project will be "built on spec," meaning on a speculative basis without anchor tenants lined up yet, said Peter Arbuckle, a partner with MKT Arkle Development Management Inc., the project adviser.

"It's a huge testament to Credit Suisse's confidence in Vancouver," he said.

Office vacancy rates in downtown Vancouver were 4.2 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 – a tight squeeze when compared with rates that surpassed 13 per cent in 2003, according to CBRE Ltd., a leading commercial real estate company. CBRE has been given the task of signing up tenants such as mining corporations and law, accounting and consulting firms to help fill The Exchange.

Starting in late 2013, a two-storey Pender Street structure next door to the old exchange will be demolished to make way for seven floors of underground parking, said Daniel Hawreluk, the project architect with Vancouver-based Iredale Group Architecture, which is collaborating with Mr. Gugger. Construction completion of The Exchange is targeted for early 2017, and the goal is to have an elegant look that also meets the coveted platinum standard of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Mr. Gugger, who will be in Vancouver late next week, is the latest star architect to hit the West Coast. Britain's Norman Foster designed Jameson House and Denmark's Bjarke Ingels is the architect behind the planned Beach and Howe mixed-use tower.

"The Old Stock Exchange Building is a refined and handsomely crafted building," Mr. Gugger said. "The new tower will not look to compete with this prominent original building but rather to successfully work with it to provide a composition that at once looks to Vancouver's future without obscuring its past."