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'Origami' Waterfront office tower rejected over lack of 'respect' for historic buildings

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DH Vancouver Staff Jan 29, 2015 10:13 am

The so-called ‘origami’ Waterfront Tower designed by internationally renowned Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture was rejected during its first attempt into the City of Vancouver’s Urban Design Panel (UDP).

Cadillac Fairview is proposing to build a 26-storey, 127-metre tall office tower at 555 West Cordova, a ground-level Impark parking lot between Waterfront Station public transit hub and The Landing office building – both of which are heritage buildings.

The tower would be built on a small site next to Waterfront Station, with some of the tower’s lower floors overhanging over the former CPR station with an origami glass facade. The overhang gap between the station and the tower also allows for an unique inner courtyard public amenity.

The building is closely situated next to Waterfront Station so that part of the site next to Steamworks can be used for a road extension for the city’s future Waterfront Hub precinct.

However, the UDP members stated they had concerns with the close proximity of the proposed tower to the 1914-built station in an effort to provide sufficient clearance for the City’s future road extension. In essence, they felt the tower did not “respect” the historic buildings on either side of the site and had concerns over how it would be integrated with the public realm.

This includes the public’s ability to use the current parking lot site to view the mountains, although this seems to be an odd issue considering that additional urban development and road infrastructure is slated immediately north of the area over the rail yard.

555 west cordova street
Image: Google Maps Streetview

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

While there were many concerns over subjective aesthetics, most of the UDP panel members had no issues with the density or height of the project given that it is located next to the region’s central transit hub. It also fits within the parameters of the City’s Waterfront Station Transit Hub Redevelopment Plan.

The tower’s size and design was approved by the City’s Vancouver Heritage Commission and Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee (GHAPC) in 2014.

The project’s future

The UDP is a group comprised of local architects, engineers, one development industry representative, one urban planner and one artist. It serves as an advisory board to City Council on development proposals and rezoning applications, but it does not approve projects.

If the panel had supported the proposal’s design elements, the project would have proceeded to the Development Permit Board in March. Public consultations will not be held as the project’s scale does not require proponents to undergo the rezoning application.

Proposals submitted to the UDP are often rejected and resubmitted with revisions or even a complete redesign based on the feedback received. Unfortunately, revisions and redesigns often lead to timid designs lacking individuality for a city that is already known for its cookie-cutter seafoam glass jungle.

Some negative feedback from the local architectural community, whose members sit on the rotating UDP, could also be indicative of a systemic issue that prevents developers from building designs that are worthy of this city. In the Vancouver Sun, local architect Michael Geller deemed 555 West Cordova’s first iteration a “geometric blob” while former city planner Ray Spaxman called the lower level’s origami facade “a horror” and “a complex of inhuman mechanical glass shapes.”

They also decried that the design created far too much contrast with Waterfront Station, but is this city not in desperate need of more contrast? Is the design not worthy of such a prominent area in the Central Business District? Would the design not leave visitors with a lasting impression after they step out of Waterfront Station?

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, which also designed Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower, already faced numerous barriers with designing a modern sophisticated design that is also economically feasible for the project’s relatively small size. It is a small site with view cone limitations, public realm setbacks and a future road that will go through it.

To require an architectural firm to go back to the drawing board after completing such an intricate design is exorbitantly expensive to the developers who contract these firms. It could very well be a signal to other local developers that this city is not ready for architectural designs that reach the next level.

In the past, developers tended to submit designs with elements that they knew would likely be given the green light. After all, why put in all the time and resources, including hiring a renowned international architectural firm, only to have the unique design denied simply because it does not agree with the group’s personal preferences?

 

First design of 555 West Cordova a.k.a. “Waterfront Tower”

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

Waterfront Tower 555 West Cordova - 21
Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

Waterfront Tower 555 West Cordova - 11
Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

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Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

Waterfront Transit Hub Redevelopment Plan

waterfront station hub vancouver
Image: City of Vancouver

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Image: City of Vancouver

 

Feature Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

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DH Vancouver Staff
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