Tower rejected for falling sort of ‘architectural excellence’

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

A design for the city’s second-highest tower does not meet public standards, panel finds

Frances Bula

VANCOUVER – Developer Simon Lim’s dream of building Vancouver‘s second-highest tower — a 167-metre building with a forest garden encased in glass on its roof — suffered a surprising setback Tuesday.

One of the two international experts brought in to help evaluate the design said the tower proposed for 1133 West Georgia did not give the public enough benefits for the doubling of density Lim was seeking. The second said its aim of being a “green” skyscraper was flawed because the architectural team from Musson Cattell Mackey appeared to be planning to try to add sustainability at the end of the project instead of building it in from the start.

At the end of the morning’s discussion the city’s urban-design panel, comprised of local people and experts from abroad, voted unanimously not to support the design that would rise 550 feet.

“I don’t believe the 100-per-cent density increase is balanced by public amenities and architectural excellence,” said Peter Ellis of the prominent Chicago firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in an unusually blunt assessment.

He pointed to the 195-metre Shangri-La tower across the street, the city’s tallest, as a building that did give Vancouver citizens a lot back for the extra height it received: an outdoor public art gallery, excellent design, heritage restoration of a neighbouring church, a roof garden, and a series of public spaces.

“To me, that satisfies the equation of exchanging density for meaningful long-lasting public good,” he said.

Lim’s tower, if approved, would have become the most dense building in downtown Vancouver, with floor space 17.5 times the size of the lot, almost double the normal rate.

Most buildings in downtown Vancouver are allowed floor space at nine times the size of the lot. The Shangri-La received the right to build at 13.5 times the size of the lot.

Matthias Sauerbruch, an expert in “green” buildings from the Berlin firm of Sauerbruch-Hutton, said he didn’t get a sense that sustainability had been a part of the fundamental design concept. As a result, it was hard for him to tell how green the building really was, since important design elements like the amount of glass — which can have a huge impact on a building’s energy use — hadn’t been decided.

In general, many of those on the panel said the overall design still needed significant improvement.

The building’s architect, Mark Whitehead, described the concept as a vase-like podium at the base that cradled a crystal form, and he said it was designed to be “deferential” to the dominant Shangri-La tower across the street.

But Vancouver architect James Hancock, who was another special guest invited to the urban-design panel just to review this building, said the base of the building was “disappointing — it seems to Vancouver, so ordinary.”

The decision and remarks came as a disappointment and even a shock to Lim, who paid for the evaluation, including the cost of the bringing in the international experts.

He said he had hoped for a more positive response and that he does not know what his next step will be.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005


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