Vancouver's historic RBC building could be restored by new 28-storey office tower

Mar 4 2020, 9:29 pm

Three-and-a-half years after a formal rezoning application was submitted for 619-685 West Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver, there is now new movement on the proposal, as it is expected to go to public hearing this spring.

This unique project, designed by Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, squeezes in a 330-ft-tall, 28-storey office tower into a 6,242-sq-ft, ground-level parking lot site with a narrow street front of only 120 ft.

A total of 158,387 sq. ft. of floor area will be created, with office floor plates ranging from about 6,100 sq. ft. at the base to 5,400 sq. ft. in the upper levels. This creates a floor space ratio density of 25.5 times the size of the lot.

619-685 West Hastings Street Vancouver

Site of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

619-685 West Hastings Street Vancouver

Site of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Google Maps)

The tower is broken into three masses that align with the heritage Royal Bank Building, which is located immediately west to the new tower site — at the northeast corner of the intersection of Granville Street and West Hastings Street — and is part of this project.

As well, the new building’s glass curtain wall and metal fin facade provide a contemporary mirroring of the Art Deco-inspired massing of the Royal Bank Building — a 243-ft-tall, 20-storey building with 140,500 sq. ft. of office space.

Artistic rendering of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

The new building is aiming for a LEED Platinum green building certification, with features such as a shared “light well” punctuated between the two buildings to provide natural light and air for office workers.

Heliostat mirrors installed on the rooftops of the Royal Bank Building and the new office tower will make precise movements to adjust the mechanism’s position, in order to follow the sun’s path to reflect light into this well.

Artistic rendering of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

Artistic rendering of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

As the site is too narrow to fit a vehicle ramp, 54 vehicle parking stalls within five underground levels will only be accessible by two car elevators from the laneway.

The proposal includes a restoration and rehabilitation of the exterior of the Royal Bank Building, which was built in 1931 during the Great Depression and is deemed an A-listed heritage structure in the city’s registry. Significant seismic upgrades will also be performed by physically attaching the east facade of the heritage building to the new tower — by installing a series of steel plates into the floors of the Royal Bank Building that are linked to the new structure, effectively creating a structural concept wherein the new building supports the old building.

These heritage and seismic upgrades are expected to cost the property owner $9.63 million, and in exchange no supplemental community amenity contribution will be required. But the rezoning would still mandate $3.3 million in development cost levies and $314,000 for public art.

No other upgrades are planned, as the building is deemed to be in generally good condition. However, a future opportunity for shared use between the structures will be retained, as the floor levels of the new tower will align with those of the Royal Bank Building.

619-685 West Hastings Street Vancouver

Artistic rendering of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

619-685 West Hastings Street Vancouver

Layout of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

According to heritage consultant firm Donald Luxton and Associates (DLA), when RBC acquired this site in the 1920s, it was the most valuable property in the city.

“The Royal Bank Tower is significant as an example of the westward movement of Vancouver’s financial district. Originally centred around Gastown, Vancouver’s commercial core, and similarly its financial institutions, began migrating west as the city expanded and companies grew through the Edwardian era,” reads the statement of significance by DLA, highlighting that this building was once the anchor of Vancouver’s financial district.

“Businesses began to relocate west to underdeveloped sites on one of Vancouver’s primary streets, Hastings Street, including financial institutions that constructed new regional head offices along the corridor. This continued through the interwar era, as exemplified by the prominent siting of the Royal Bank Building.”

Artistic rendering of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

625 West Hastings Street Vancouver

Artistic rendering of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

The bank’s regional offices remained at this building until 1973, when the new Royal Centre development at the northwest corner of West Georgia Street and Burrard Street reached completion. Royal Bank has retained a RBC branch on the main and lower floors of the heritage building, which “represents the company’s enduring relationship with the site.”

The building was originally designed by Sumner Godfrey Davenport, who was the chief architect for Royal Bank between 1920 and 1942. His design “echoes” the bank’s headquarters in Montreal, which had just been completed at the time.

Model of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

Model of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

Model of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)

619-685 West Hastings Street Vancouver

Basement layout of 619-685 West Hastings Street, Vancouver. This shows the old bank hall in the lower level of the heritage building, and one of the underground parkade levels accessible by car elevators in the new tower. (Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership)