A years-long vision by the architect and developer behind Vancouver House to redevelop the site of downtown Vancouver’s steam heating plant has finally been fully revealed.
Local developer Westbank and Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), as well as HCMA Architecture & Design, have submitted their rezoning application for their proposal at 720 Beatty Street — the southeast corner of the intersection of West Georgia Street and Beatty Street, located on the northeast corner of BC Place Stadium.
“Although this Creative Energy site is currently less than prominent, it will quickly become the new gateway into both the Central Business District and Northeast False Creek neighbourhoods,” reads the application.
“Now is the opportune time to redevelop this site given the timing of viaducts replacement and if both are not considered concurrently, this gateway site will become a missed opportunity and a potential eyesore. A significant portion of the Georgia Street frontage is located on this redevelopment site and the success of this is contingent on having a coordinated design solution.”
A new and upgraded Creative Energy steam plant with a relatively small 7,200-sq-ft footprint — half the size of the current utility — will be squeezed into an area near the base of the new 264-ft-tall, 17-storey, S-shaped office tower. The entire redevelopment within the 52,000-sq-ft site spans 617,000 sq. ft. of total floor area, including 515,000 sq. ft. of office space and office plates as large as 35,000 sq. ft., suitable for tech companies.
Within the ground level, the office tower also offers 18,500 sq. ft. of retail space. Pipes of the steam plant will be visible from the office lobby to “celebrate” the significance of the utility to the city.
“Instead of creating a wall within the city, 720 Beatty has a form that is dynamic and permeable to the site’s unique location and qualities,” reads the architect’s design rationale for the tower.
“As you walk up Georgia Street and turn on to Beatty, the building’s appearance constantly changes. Sometimes it appears as a slender tower, and sometimes it appears as two.”
The tower’s facade will be made of reflective glass and metal panels, with a “fluid geometry” that can “look completely opaque or completely transparent.”
“The metal panels will reinforce this condition, by creating crisp a edge to the building,” continues the design rationale. “Due to the geometry of the pleated facade elements, the reflective glass will be able to break down the scale of the building even more. The reflections of the surroundings will not be seen as in a mirror, but broken down in smaller elements.”
This same facade also provides large-scale signage opportunities for multiple companies, not just the anchor tenant, with the signage disintegrating into an abstract pattern as a passerby moves closer to the building.
As for the new replacement steam plant, it will be relocated to a new off-site facility along the east side of Expo Boulevard — across the street from the redevelopment site, within a unused void space on the edge of BC Place. This is made possible by a new partnership with Pavco, the provincial crown corporation that operates the stadium.
The new steam plant will be constructed first, before work begins on the redevelopment of the existing plant on the primary development site. Components of the new steam plant utility will also be located within the base of the new tower, when it is complete.
Also unique to this project is a five-storey, circular-shaped entertainment pavilion wedged between West Georgia Street and the stadium concourse on the south side of the building.
“This is an important transition site between the Central Business District and the surrounding entertainment/cultural districts and requires a built form capable of breaking down the scale of the area and will greatly enhance the beauty of this new gateway into downtown Vancouver and NEFC,” reads the application.
This standalone, column-free building, which includes an outdoor rooftop patio, could accommodate restaurants, sports bar, a brewery, a virtual reality sports experience, and karaoke. It would significantly enliven and add to the emerging NEFC events and entertainment district, especially events happening at the area’s two stadiums.
With layers of lighting inspired by Tokyo’s streetscape, the entertainment pavilion could become a beacon in the new district. Special nighttime lighting and signage are strongly associated with many of the world’s most vibrant streetscapes.
On the level of the Beatty Street and the future West Georgia Street extension ramp to Pacific Boulevard, the building will enhance the area’s public realm by extending the BC Place concourse into its site with public plaza spaces and a breezeway allowing for crowd movements.
The plaza floor is inlaid with a diffuse pattern of timber and gold planks to provide “cues” for pedestrian movement, helping to move crowd flows during peak events and encouraging office workers and visitors to linger in the area during a typical weekday.
During night, in-ground LED lights integrated into the patterned floor will draw visitors to the entertainment pavilion, which is the heart of the plaza.
A level further down, the building’s facade along Expo Boulevard — underneath the BC Place concourse deck — will be optimized by a new glazed facade that showcases the steam plant allows for advertising opportunities.
Four underground levels with 358 vehicle parking stalls will be accessed from Expo Boulevard.
“The facade treatment here will mimic the redevelopments above grade façade and illuminated with potential signage opportunities to animate this public realm,” continues the design rationale.
“This new facade will take the materiality of the building at grade and apply it along Expo Boulevard. A pleated facade will create a rather opaque facade, as seeing when driving while a series of perforated panels will illuminate the street without affecting the drivers.”
The project is aiming for a LEED Gold environmental certification, using green building features such as a tenant-accessible garden roof with running track, low-carbon and efficiency improvements for the steam plant, and a partnership with BC Place for the installation of a new rainwater recovery system from the stadium’s roof. This would result in a water usage reduction of over 45 million litres annually for the plant.
Westbank acquired the plant in 2014, then known as Central Heat Distribution, for $32 million as part of the company’s long-term strategy to diversify into neighbourhood energy and add another redevelopment site to its portfolio.
Creative Energy currently provides heating to over 210 buildings, totalling 45 million-sq-ft of floor area, across much of the downtown Vancouver peninsula. The municipal government says the conversion of the plant into a low-carbon energy supply will be the “largest single GHG emission reduction opportunity in the city.”
Last year, Vancouver City Council approved a rezoning application by Pavco to develop the southwest corner of BC Place — where the West Georgia Street ramp extension meets Pacific Boulevard — with a 400-ft-tall, 40-storey residential tower, with a stipulation that all of the homes must be rental units.