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Heritage meets modern in Gastown rejuvenation project

Gastown, Vancouver's first downtown, has always been a neighbourhood in transition, says Gordon Price, a former city councillor and director of the Simon Fraser University City program.

He notes the area's chameleon-like qualities – from 1978 alone, it's gone through three major transitions: touristic old town, reinvention as a residential area to high-tech, education and creative-arts hub.

Its "flexibility" means that the heritage component has to be adaptable. "It can't be cast in stone, or preserved just for architecture's sake but as part of a neighbourhood that grows and changes," he says.

The main obstacles to heritage conversion in Gastown have "always been about [building] codes," Mr. Price explains. "Fire and seismic issues have often prevented it from changing."

And yet heritage architecture, he says, is key to the neighbourhood's essence, and if approached correctly becomes the "very definition of adaptability" – by "keeping its feel and character while accommodating new uses and definitions."

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

Built in 1900, to reopen in spring 2015

The terra-cotta tiled Ormidale Block, located at 151 West Hastings St., is a heritage building created in 1900 that is being readied for its new definition as a Class-A building with 35,611 square feet of rentable office/retail space.

B&H Architects

Changing face of 100 block of West Hastings Street

An architect’s rendering shows the facade of the Ormidale at dusk after an $11-million renovation project that will begin this spring. The Flack Block, in grey next door, has already been restored. Rising behind the Ormidale is the Woodward’s project which was completed in 2009.
B&H Architects

To the street, a restored Edwardian face

Century Group, which purchased the Ormidale Block, will restore the front facade to its Edwardian former glory as this rendering shows. But much of the exterior envelope will be new, as will the mechanical system and all of the interior, which had undergone two ‘unfortunate’ renovations.

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

At the back, a gritty urban laneway

B&H architect Michael Wartman, left, Century Group’s director of real estate finance Brett Walsh and Colliers leasing agent Stephen Moscovich stand in the laneway. They expect tenants will come from the creative arts and technology sector who appreciate the ‘urban grit’ of Gastown.

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

Before: Laneway potential

The back of the building on West Cordova Street. The renovated Ormidale Block will offer a new modern entrance on the sloping laneway, with double-height ground-floor retail space designed with restaurant-ready kitchen and ventilation systems.

B&H Architects

After: Restaurant-ready laneway

This rendering shows the same laneway view after the renovation. Clad in weathered steel, this back face of the building will fit the character of the laneway. A steel mesh canopy will bring shimmer to the new entry. There are 58 restaurants and bars in Gastown – some which are making use of the laneways.

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

Alleyways get new commercial use

Neighbourhood architecture on the approach to the West Cordova Street laneway. Salt, a charcuterie bar off of historic Blood Alley, was a pioneer of laneway use in Gastown when it opened in 2006. In 2009 Robert Fung also included animated laneway space in a three-phase mixed-use development off Blood Alley.

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

Heritage buildings protected

A crumbling detail from a nearby former single-room-occupancy block. The 19-acre Gastown neighbourhood includes about 100 commercial buildings and is zoned to protect its heritage grain. Gastown is a neighbourhood of ideas and novelties, of restaurants and fashion shops, “but the one constant is the buildings that contain them,” Mr. Price says.

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

Gastown revamped

The area’s “flexibility” is seen here as a man washes windows at a heritage building that contains a gym aptly called Revamp.

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

Woodward’s paved the way

The redeveloped Woodward’s project, with its iconic capital letter W. Developed by Westbank and designed by Gregory Henriquez, the project was built on the bones of an old department store and comprises two towers, a university arts department, an office building, and a courtyard that is split between an indoor and outdoor plaza.

Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail

And a green roof to top it off

At the Ormidale Block, the developer will top off the building with a green roof that will include patio space and help cool the building.

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