Despite howls of protest from residents at the Shangri-La, council granted Holborn Developments an additional 16′ of height in exchange for additional DCL’s, community amenities and reportedly $14.0 M in transferable heritage density.  That will put the Ritz-Carlton tower at 616′ versus 646′ for the Shangri-La. Frances Bula’s reporting on the Council meeting is here.

Original Approved Design for Ritz-Carlton Vancouver

Original Approved Design for Ritz-Carlton Vancouver

Holborn applied to amend the existing CD-1 zoning for this site to allow an additional 80,000 SF of residential FSR, increasing the total FSR from 17.74 to 20.8.  It also sought to increase the number of residential units (located on floors 25 – 67) from 124 to 193 and hotel rooms from 127 to 176.

This project is shaping up to be something quite different from what was originally envisioned. Construction has yet to start, so stay tuned for more changes ahead (brand, developer…?).

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Up, Up and Away

In this Globe and Mail article yesterday, writer Frances Bula identifies the four downtown sites that Director of Planning Brent Toderian has proposed for Vancouver’s tallest towers.  One of the sites (the old bus depot site on West Georgia between Cambie and Beatty) is owned by the City and was much-discussed as a preferred location for a new Vancouver Art Gallery.  The article is here.

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With media focus shifting to Vancouver in anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics, I expect we’ll see a lot more articles like this one which describes the social experiment that is Woodward’s.  The article is here.

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The world’s best buildings for 2009 were selected at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona earlier this month.  The winners are listed here.

The Met in Bangkok, Thailand won in the multifamily residential category.

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One of the projects I was toiling away on earlier this year was a residential master plan in the US Southwest where our smallest single family home plan was to run 4,000 square feet.  The inclination of most of the people involved was that bigger is always better, so there were a preponderance of plans in the 5,000 to 11,000 square foot range.  We toured entire subdivisions of homes averaging 7,500 square feet, where six car garages with granite countertops and wet bars, family rooms with three big screen TV’s, four or five piece en suites bathrooms with every bedroom, and kitchens to rival all but the largest restaurant kitchens in size were the ‘norm’.

There are subdivisions just like this all over Southern California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

This article in last week’s Wall Street Journal suggests there’s been a bit of a reality check, but time will tell. The article is here.

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Although radical in its fabrication, the result is a contemporary, aesthetically appealing home.  In addition to cladding, aluminium components provide the structural system, radiant heating & cooling and even the reflective surfaces for the LED ambient lighting.

More information can be viewed here.

This is the Yarra House designed by Leeton Pointon Architects and Susan Pointon Architects in Melbourne, Australia. It uses a very restrained collection of finish materials (concrete, stone, hardwood and drywall) to maximum effect. For more images, click on the photographs.

This beach house was designed by architect Marcio Kogan for a waterfront site near Paraty, just outside Rio de Janeiro. It immediately evokes the work of fellow Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer and modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the strong horizontality a form recently put to good use for the Warapuru Resort and residences at Itacaré, in Brazil’s Bahia region.

Lastly, this little gem is a wooden extension to an existing brick home just outside Gent in Belgium. The work of Wim Goes Architectuur, it brings to mind the traditional covered bridge.

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True or false: townhomes are better than high-rises at promoting community?

They look so inviting, our little versions of New York brownstones or Baltimore rowhouses: Vancouver’s trademark downtown townhomes, with their front doors opening to the street, their little patios carefully personalized with planters and decorative objets d’art, and their small flights of steps. They transform downtown streets from a dreary Towerville to a spot where Carrie Bradshaw and her friends might hang out.

Lawyer Grace Chen loves her place on Richards Street. As she and her boyfriend have often noticed, they talk to their neighbours much more often than when they lived in apartments. Somehow, says Chen, it’s easier to connect on the street or on their stoops than in a high-rise hallway or elevator. And the whole street feels more connected. On a sunny weekday afternoon recently, rivulets of walkers streamed down her street, one of the prime breeding grounds of the Vancouverist townhouse, some with strollers, some with briefcases, some with grocery bags as they strolled past. It looked like a scene of utopian livability—downtown urbanity as friendly village.

But oh dear, maybe not. These homes, which seem to induce such neighbourliness, are also oddly empty. There are patio chairs but no people, flowers but no children’s toys. Windows facing the sidewalk usually have their curtains drawn. And one urban researcher who’s explored the anthropology of the area suggests that although our townhouses look as though they have the power to generate a noticeable wave of bonding and sociability, they really don’t.

“The townhouses have a positive design impact. And they make the streets feel safe and lived in. But it’s a simulacrum of a neighbourhood,” says Peter Greenwell, a graduate of SFU’s Urban Studies program, who explored residents’ interactions with their Downtown South area and each other. He surveyed them about who they are, what they like about their neighbourhoods, and how much contact they have with the people who live around them. What he found from 22 in-depth interviews (representing about one-sixth of the 133 townhouses in his study) was that they have high incomes, travel, and are well educated. They love the convenience of living close to their work and some of them walk—the move to the inner city really did prompt many of them to give up second cars, and several told him that once the Canada Line opened, they’d give up their remaining vehicle.

But do they know their neighbours? Only half of respondents said they have any social interaction at all. And half of that contact happens only on the street. There’s a little more on their terraces, but very little in-home visiting. For Greenwell, who was then the director of the nearby Gathering Place, that was a disappointing surprise. “I found what I didn’t really want to know,” he says. He’d hoped that the new areas would foster a sense of community and connectedness that would help agencies like his work with residents on local social issues, like homelessness. “These townhouses, which are really Georgian knockoffs, where people can promenade—people really like them because they feel they’re in this safe, secure, neutral space. But in terms of living in the community, the townhouse as a place maker did not work.”

One of the city’s best-known townhouse residents begs to disagree. Larry Beasley, who as head of planning steered the city’s central-area development through the two decades after Expo 86, almost single-handedly created the downtown townhome. Beasley, who spent his toddler years in Savannah, Georgia, was imprinted early with the power of that form to create a sense of intimacy on the street. When he went to Europe in his 20s, he fell in love with rowhouses again. In Vancouver, as the condo boom got under way, he badgered developers to build townhouses at the base of their towers. A few developers tried them and saw that they sold, and they became part of the template for downtown housing developments.

Beasley agrees that they don’t necessarily foster a magical explosion of neighbourliness. But then, no housing form does by itself. Suburban developments can be just as anonymous, with their garage doors facing the street and their families isolated inside their McMansions and fenced yards.

“I think it’s an unrealistic expectation anywhere that you will know your neighbour just because you live next door,” says Beasley, who bought one of the first townhouses developed downtown, a 2,100-square-foot, three-storey spot on Hornby Street, which he has turned into something resembling a tiny, perfect Italian art museum. “We live in a community of interest and a community of geography. In these times, we’re more compelled by the community of interest.”

It’s important, he believes, that you have a sense of who your neighbours are—it helps reduce the sense of anonymity—but will those neighbours necessarily become part of your social circle?

As it happens, Beasley knows one of his neighbours well enough to have him over for dinner from time to time. As for the woman who’s lived two doors down the other way for the past 15 years, they wave and make nice, but he still doesn’t even know her name.

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Lincoln Logs or Pick Up Sticks?

Called “Interlace”, this proposed complex of 31 interconnected six storey blocks stacked in hexagonal configurations around communal gardens is to hold 1,040 apartments in Singapore. Designed by OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) for CapitaLand Residential Singapore and HPL, this proposal puts yet another spin on “rearranging the blocks”.

OMA is also the architect for the CCTV (China Central Television) HQ in Beijing, another structure recognizable for its rearrangement of a basic elemental form.  The bottom image is a close-up view of a cluster of the Interlace buildings.


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What is a Vancouver Special anyway?

Some say it derives from the “rancher” turned sideways, to adapt to Vancouver’s narrow (33′) lots.  Popular in their time, inexpensive and quick to build, thousands of “Vancouver Specials” were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s in neighbourhoods all over the Lower Mainland and today remain a dominant housing form in Vancouver.  Reviled by many, but loved by their owners for the simple building form that maximizes every square foot of buildable area allowed at the time, the sheer number of Specials and their adaptability is making them desirable once again.

The tour runs Saturday, September 26, 2009 from 12 to 5.  Tickets are available at

For a visual “compendium” of Vancouver Specials, visit

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