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Granville Bridge project raises the benchmark from the standard residential mixed-use building

A new playful tower, seen in this rendering from the Bjarke Ingels Group, is planned for the north end of the Granville Bridge. Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie has hired the renowned Danish architecture firm to transform the challenging industrial area. In this view looking south, the tower hugs the bridge at the intersections of Beach and Howe, creating a distinctive new entrance to Vancouver’s downtown.

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The designer of the tower, architect Bjarke Ingels, recently attended an open house for the project to explain the challenges of building among the labyrinth of roads and ramps. Instead of a predictable glass-tower look, Mr. Ingels designed a building that responds to the environment around it. He describes the Vancouver project as ‘a contemporary descendant of the Flatiron building in New York.’Laura Leyshon/The Globe and Mail

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Mr. Ingel’s 52-storey tower will curve away from the Granville Bridge, growing from a small base and then broadening out as it rises. It will be covered in a latticework of balconies that will incorporate bronze trim, giving it a metallic sheen, deliberately playing off the grittiness of the concrete bridge.

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But the mixed-use project calls for more than just a rock-star tower. At its base, triangular spaces will be developed into a mix of shops, passageways, courtyards and outdoor public spaces. The building will offer 407 condo units, 95 rental units, 80,000 square feet of retail space and 77,000 square feet of office space.

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At street level, Mr. Gillespie plans to animate the underpass with lightboxes featuring the work of Vancouver’s renowned group of photo-conceptual artists. ‘It’s like the Sistine Chapel,’ Mr. Ingels says. The outdoor art gallery will define the market area and carry on the spirit of one of the city’s most successful public spaces, Granville Island, which was crafted from industrial land under the south end of the bridge.

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So far, the project, seen here looking to the southwest, has won praise from the city’s urban design panel in both rounds of review. It still needs to go through a public hearing and council approval.

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Mr. Gillespie admits it may be difficult to find retailers willing to operate in triangular spaces under a bridge. ‘The geometry is difficult for most retailers. The idea is you have to find someone who is willing to break out of that box. It is a little more eclectic.’

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