First United Church is proposing to redevelop its church property on the border of Vancouver’s Chinatown and Downtown Eastside districts into a new social housing and social service building.
The 1965-built church at 320 East Hastings Street — the southeast corner of the intersection of Gore Avenue and East Hastings Street — has been under-utilized in recent decades given the changing conditions and needs of the immediate area.
- See also:
According to the development application, the proposal calls for a new 130-ft-tall, 11-storey, mixed-use building with a downsized church space, as First United has “evolved from a worshipping congregation to operating community ministry programs and social services.”
“We’re so happy to see this project moving forward after years of planning and preparation and to be partnering with Lu’ma Native Housing Society,” said Carmen Lansdowne, the executive director of First United, in an email to Daily Hive Urbanized.
“Redeveloping this site will provide additional services, supports, and critically-needed housing to the Downtown Eastside community, and we’ll continue our innovative and dynamic response to the needs of the community as they change over time.”
A 39,500-sq-ft social service centre will be located within the first four levels, featuring drop-in space, a large dining room, a commercial kitchen, multipurpose spaces, a day sleeping area, a sanctuary, and administrative spaces. Current policies require retail uses on the ground level, but the proponents are seeking a relaxation of this aspect given that the dining, entry hall, and drop-in centre are along the street frontages.
Within the upper levels, there will be 105 units of social housing, including 66 studios and 49 one-bedroom units, with a mix of adaptable and accessible unit configurations.
Lu’ma Native Housing Society, which focuses its efforts on serving low-income Indigenous individuals and families, will operate the social housing component of the building.
NSDA Architects’ design for the project takes on First Nations motifs and themes, given that a significant proportion of the community served by First United are Indigenous.
A sloping wall along Gore Avenue is envisioned as a “copper” wall laid up in horizontal pattern to allude to the traditional plank houses of the West Coast. Cultural references are added to the entrance of social housing, a pair of “Welcome Figures” have been placed at the main entrance to the building, and vertical sunscreens on the west facade have custom fabricated panels with Indigenous images laser cut into them. Additionally, the colours of the building have been chosen in consultation with the project’s First Nations consultants.
There will be a four-storey glass wall placed at the entrance of the building’s prominent corner with East Hastings and Gore Avenue, which connects to the two-storey spaces of the entry hall and to the sanctuary.
“The existing church building with its unique roof expressions is an iconic building in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). First United wants to ensure that its uniqueness is not lost in the new building,” reads the design rationale.
“The task as we see it is to respond both to the uniqueness of First United and the existing streetscape and character of the DTES. We are proposing a modern urban building that avoids overt historicism but along Hastings responds to its location with the use of appropriate materials and proportion.”
A single underground level will provide 12 vehicle parking stalls and 83 bike parking spaces, which represents a proposed relaxation of the required number of bike parking spaces as “not all residents will be able to afford them and those that can will store them in their units.”
The proposed total floor area is 96,551 sq. ft., giving a floor area ratio density of 6.59 times the size of the 14,660-sq-ft lot.