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A rendering of a building designed by Kengo Kuma for local developer Ian Gillespie in Vancouver.
A rendering of a building designed by Kengo Kuma for local developer Ian Gillespie in Vancouver.

Vancouver's new condo proposals a stark break from past low-key style Add to ...

Two striking new towers are being proposed for a key intersection on Vancouver’s Georgia Street that represent a dramatic departure from the city’s traditional style of bland glass condos.

One, designed by local architect James Cheng for new Chinese-Canadian development company Brilliant Circle Group, is a three-faced glass obelisk at the triangle where Georgia and Pender streets meet.

There will be an unusual public space under and around the stilt-like legs of the tower, since the condo floors will start about 25 metres above street level.

The other, across the street, is a traditional straight-edged tower with a curve carved out of one side, being designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma for local developer Ian Gillespie.

The two will create a memorable gateway into downtown Vancouver that is unlike anything the city has seen, said Mr. Cheng, who is designing his building to be a complement to Mr. Kuma’s design.

“It’s deliberate that the two buildings are different. His approach was to take a rectangular building and carve it out, while we’re exploding our building. It’s like a solid and void dialogue.”

Mr. Kuma, in an interview from Japan, said this will be his first “monumental” building in North America and his design was heavily influenced by the organic, natural beauty in Vancouver.

His tower, at 135 metres, will be notable for its traditional Japanese garden and for the amount of wood he will use on the outside of the tower.

The two proposals – Mr. Kuma’s was formally submitted to the city this week and Mr. Cheng’s is due to arrive shortly – were preceded three months ago by another startling tower proposal within a block of those sites.

That Jenga-like tower, at 152 metres and designed by German architect Ole Scheeren for long-established Vancouver company Bosa Properties, has rectangular blocks extruding at different points from the building – a style that hasn’t before been seen in Vancouver.

All three sit close to the point where Georgia, one of the city’s ceremonial streets, transitions from the residential West End to Vancouver’s high-rise downtown.

The three new towers, which will add new commercial spaces at the ground level and several hundred new condo units, represent a dramatic break from the past 30 years of condo buildings in the city.

Vancouver became famous in the 1990s for a certain style of building, with tall, thin, straight glass towers set on a podium of townhouses with street-level entrances.

That style, sometimes called Vancouverism, has been popular with developers and buyers, but has often been criticized by architects and city observers who say it is boring, lacks style and is repetitive.

Vancouver also became known as a city that mainly relied on local architects, with very little done by outsiders.

That has changed in the past few years. Mr. Gillespie hired Danish superstar architect Bjarke Ingels to design Vancouver House, the condo tower that is currently under construction next to the Granville Bridge. The unusual building will start from a small base and cantilever outward in a curve toward the top.

The city’s office-tower boom has seen several developers bring in American and European architects.

Mr. Cheng, who designed some of the very early condos, said the city has preferred for a long time to have low-key buildings.

“Vancouver is so famous for being a background city.”

Some people have speculated that it’s because the city has always been able to count on its dramatic mountain background for any landscape interest it needs.

But Mr. Gillespie has been trying to push architectural innovation in the city.

And, says Mr. Cheng, “the moment has come. We now need some foreground buildings.”

All three buildings will require rezonings but won’t need to go through the special urban-design panels that the Vancouver planning department has convened in the past for its tallest towers.

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