Major changes will be made to a development proposal at 555 West Cordova, dubbed the ‘origami’ office tower next to the historic Waterfront Station, in downtown Vancouver.
Earlier this year, the 26-storey glass and steel design was rejected by the City of Vancouver’s Urban Design Panel (UDP) due to the issues with the building massing, particularly with the lower portion of the structure and how it overhangs and ‘obscures’ the old CPR Station building.
The design was created by internationally-renowned Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the designers of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower, with input by Vancouver firm B+H Architecture for commercial developer Cadillac Fairview, the project’s proponent.
“When we slid the building towards the station, we then found ourselves in the predicament of having to basically manipulate the structure and architecture in order to get a feasible floor plate that can rise above the station and become a tangible project,” Gordon Gill told Vancity Buzz. “We did that and tried that, but the UDP basically said stop. This is too close to the station, it’s crowding it, it’s uncomfortable and we don’t like it.”
After the rejection, James Cheng was brought into the project on an advisory capacity and subsequently created new urban design principles for the Gill’s team to follow.
“I helped them identify the nature of the site,” said Cheng. “It’s the junction of downtown and Gastown and we should recognize its unique location. It also has a unique view for the public to see the water. These are very important attributes.”
Within the constraints of the new design principles, the building will be pushed back towards the rear of the development site next to Waterfront Station and rotated 90 degrees to open up the space on the West Cordova Street frontage to create a large plaza area. With the rotation, the building is positioned in an east-west axis instead of a north-south axis.
In addition to the shifting and rotation, the design of the building’s lower floors in relation to the cornices of both Waterfront Station and the adjacent Landing office building have changed. The ground level is now porous, as requested by the UDP, so that the public can walk through the site and see views of the harbour and mountains.
The overall footprint touchdown area of the project is now very similar to what was actually in the original Central Waterfront HUB Framework, a cluster of dense developments around an expanded Waterfront Station, established by the City of Vancouver.
But there is a significant reduction to the density of the project to allow for the modifications: The developers will be forfeiting a substantial floor space ratio (FSR) of two FSR to accommodate the changes. Under existing zoning, a FSR of nine is permitted for the project. It has not been determined whether the reduction in density will affect the feasibility of the project’s iconic architectural elements such as the inclusion of an origami-like podium facade. Density generally supports the financing of high-quality architecture.
“We still have the problem of getting to a useable floor plate, but we said let’s look at the regulating lines and the contextual relationships within the first seven to eight floors that relate to the heritage building in terms of the station and the Landing,” Gill continued.
“So we picked up on the regulating lines of the ground floor, cornice of the station, and the cornice of the Landing. We’ve manipulated the lower portion of the building to address the first floor, which is set back.”
Further changes to the design will be made over the next several months after the developer has acquired feedback on the new massing of the structure based on Cheng’s design principles.
“We didn’t want to design a building, have the building come out, and have people not like it, have our ideas not resonate with the public leading to then have to redesign or try to make their concerns work with the building,” Cadillac Fairview’s Matthew Cavanaugh told Vancity Buzz at an open house. “Tonight we wanted to come with a blank slate and take the public’s ideas and use those ideas to develop a building, because that way we have buy-in from the public and all the stakeholders from the start.”
Cavanaugh says the new plaza created by the new design principle of moving the core back further into the site has the potential to become an incredible public space.
“What we really like is the plaza here where you have three different distinct architectural styles,” he said, referring to the historic brick facades of the Landing to the east, Waterfront Station to west, and Harbour Centre to the south.
“When you’re in that plaza you’ll be looking at a multitude of architectural expressions and I feel like it will be a very unique plaza for Vancouver where you will be surrounded by brick, glass, ocean and centuries of history.”
555 West Cordova’s scale and workable floor plate configurations are restrained by a number of City policies, particularly view cones and height restrictions, the need to maintain lines of sight of the mountains from Seymour Street, and the heritage considerations of being next to Waterfront Station and on the fringes of Gastown.
The reduction in density due to the requested changes in design goes against the principle of economies of scale for not just the project itself but also for the wider Waterfront Station precinct.
There is an opportunity to allocate more employers and their employees next to transit services, and with such a location height and density should be encouraged and policies should not be strictly enforced. This supports not only transit demand but also aligns with the City’s much-stated green policy.
Flexibility in density and height is offered in other areas of downtown Vancouver through the “General Policy for Higher Buildings.”
Additionally, as the new design principles call for a more porous design to allow the public to see the harbour and mountains, these elements will eventually become completely obsolete when the Waterfront Transit Hub, as guided by the Central Waterfront HUB Framework, is fully implemented.
There will be an expansion of Waterfront Station through the construction of a “Transit Concourse” behind the historic station building and 555 West Cordova. More office and commercial tower developments, supported by an extended street grid over the rail yards, are also planned.
These future developments will be built on property owned by Vancouver Whitecaps FC owner Greg Kerfoot. They were purchased nearly a decade ago for the purpose of constructing a 15,000-seat soccer specific stadium over the rail yards and other commercial developments.