City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. - City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. | Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Plans envision transformation of viaduct lands

frances bula

VANCOUVER— From Monday’s Globe and Mail
Last updated 

Vancouver is developing detailed options for the land around its downtown viaducts – if those major commuter connections are eventually torn down – that include public open space, low-cost housing, business projects, or a combination.

In a sign of how seriously the city is considering the ultimate removal of the viaducts, the land-use plans, being worked on jointly by the architecture firm Perkins + Will with city planners, were going to be presented at a city urban-design panel next week. That presentation has now been cancelled and pushed to an undefined later date, but only in order to incorporate ideas from the city’s parallel design competition on the viaducts. Awards for the best ideas will be announced on Dec. 1.

City planner Brent Toderian said there are some themes coming forward among the designs in the competition that might be included, like ideas about including water features in this former tidal-flats area.

Ultimately, though, it’s the detailed planning being done by the city and its consultants that is setting the stage for what use to make of the 4.8 hectares that are under and around the viaducts.

The city plans are looking at how the land could be used under several different scenarios: leaving the viaducts as is; altering the eastern end to bring them down to street level at Main; closing one viaduct or another; keeping the viaducts but converting them to other, non-car uses.

“Council could decide to make it open space. It could be social housing. It could be rental housing,” said Mr. Toderian. “And, if it’s sold, it may not all be to one developer.”

A previous engineering report had said closing both viaducts – they’re 822 and 670 metres in length – if council chose that option, would not be feasible for at least 15 years. That’s because better transit and alternative truck and car routes would need to be put in place.

The city owns almost all of the land under and around the viaducts – 4.1 hectares – and Concord Pacific owns the small amount remaining. That’s about half the size of the Olympic Village site.

There’s been a perception among some that the proposal to tear down the viaducts is some kind of giveaway to Concord Pacific, the mega-developer that has built thousands of units on the former industrial land of False Creek since Expo 86.

But since the city owns most of the land, the real question is what it could do with that land, if the viaducts were fully or partially removed, that’s of most value.

Even if the city did nothing but alter the eastern end of the viaducts to bring them down at Main Street, something that its engineering consultants said would be easy to do immediately, that would free up two huge blocks of city land next to Chinatown that could be developed into housing – what that land was used for before the viaducts were built.

The city’s detailed land-use planning with Perkins + Will has been proceeding quietly – so quietly that even Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs, who has been seen as the public champion of reconsidering the viaducts’ future, was surprised to hear it was going on.

Mr. Meggs said he’s waiting to hear about the design-competition winners Dec. 1 and how the planning department will mesh those ideas with its existing consultation.

But, he said, it’s clear to him that the public will not support doing anything different with the viaducts unless they’re persuaded that there won’t be a negative impact on transportation or that it isn’t just a bonus for some developer.

But, most important, he said, “Not a lot of people are very interested if there isn’t a big benefit to the public.”

That benefit could be more open space or more affordable housing.

Mr. Meggs said some of the stakeholders in the area – landowners like Concord Pacific and Aquilini Developments – as well as neighbourhood groups need to get involved in the debate about the viaducts’ future.

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The repetition of simple forms and materials give The Ironbank Building in Auckland, NZ a lot of design punch.

With Council’s recent approval of Millennium’s 210 foot tower at 1215 Bidwell (33 market rental units and 50 condo units – 5.67 FSR) and the pending approval of Westbank/Peterson’s 216.5 foot tower at 1401 Comox (6 townhomes + 180 apartments, all market rentals), the rhetoric and blogsphere have heated up:

Westend resident and former Councillor Gord Price blogs about it here.

Frances Bula’s article in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail is here:

Vancouver council dumbfounded over backlash to rental program

Somewhat in consternation to what she heard during last week’s Council session when the 1401 Comox project was being considered, her blog post is here:

Vision rental program generates backlash, raises questions about future solutions

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This rendering is of a twelve unit condominium project just brought to market in Kolkata, India.  The building was designed by Piercy Connor Architects of the U.K.  For an in-depth description of the project, go here.

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This 28 unit residential building in Cesena, Italy was designed by Tissellistudioarchitetti and brilliantly illustrates how powerful simplicity and restraint can be.  There are more photos here.

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A bold stroke that’s sure to polarize, the new Moderna Museet Malmö in Sweden by Tham & Videgård Arkitekter uses perforated metal screening to clad an existing industrial brick building making big impact in the process.  There are more images here.

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This article by Kerry Gold in Friday’s Globe and Mail talks about the pending changes coming to the north end of the Granville bridge and two of the market housing projects to be developed there.  My prior post on The Rolston is here.

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This is an image of Rize Alliance’s proposed redevelopment of the Cecil Hotel site on Granville at Drake. According to Malcolm Perry of the Vancouver Sun, HOK, Busby Perkins+Wills and IBI|HB have all had a hand in the design.  Additional information and images can be viewed here.
For years, I’ve been somewhat puzzled  as to why there is decidedly more “progressive” residential architecture in Toronto than Vancouver.  On the multi side of the equation, developers like Peter Freed of Freed Developments have built profitable brands based on delivering interesting, adventurous, design-forward mid- and high-rise communities.  Vancouver has a few exceptions – James Schouw’s one-ofs Grace, Iliad and now Artemisia; Robert Fung at The Salient Group’s Garage in Gastown; a number of Intracorp Developments’ projects including Folio and Jacobsen; architects Lang Wilson in conjunction with Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden’s Roar_One; Wall Financial’s One Wall Centre; and Cressey Development’s Milano, which I had a hand in. However, for the most part Vancouver’s skyline has been dominated by pretty straightforward point towers clad in glass and either painted concrete, stucco or Alucobond panels.  Most are virtually indistinguishable from one another, to the point of being bland and banal.
I realize that part of this is driven by simple economics: different is taken to meet less easy to build and therefore potentially more costly to construct, plus there’s the perceived added risk that you may alienate part of your market that’s looking for things that are safe and conservative.  Undeniably there is a measure of truth in this, but it is tremendously encouraging to see projects like The Rolston, 5590 Balaclava, Jacobsen, PCI Group’s Crossroads, Bastion Development’s Pulse and Coast,  and even Westbank’s Living Shangri-La pushing the envelope.  The public benefits will include a more interesting skyline and a measure of choice not seen here before.
Bring them on!
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Revitalization – Gastown Revs Up

Globe and Mail writer Adele Weder is the latest reporter to “discover” the renaissance of Gastown in this article that appeared last Wednesday.  I how many more years it’ll be before we stop hearing that Gastown’s time has finally come?

The article is here.

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