Bing Thom's 56-storey pipe-organ tower to be considered by Vancouver City Council

Jul 18 2017, 7:12 pm

One of the last architectural designs influenced by the late famed Vancouver architect Bing Thom, who suddenly died last fall, could be considered by Vancouver City Council as soon as tonight following a public hearing.

First Baptist Church at the northwest corner of Nelson Street and Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver has partnered with local developer Westbank and Bing Thom’s namesake architectural firm to develop its parking lot.

In its place would be a 57-storey tower with 331 market residential units and a seven-storey podium building with 61 units of social housing co-owned by the church.

View of the proposed tower from the Sheraton One Wall Centre across Burrard Street. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

Artistic rendering of the entire development, with the social housing building on the left, the tower in the middle, and the heritage church on the right. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

A formal rezoning application for the site at 969 Burrard Street and 1019-1045 Nelson Street was submitted to the municipal government last year.

The tower will have a height of 556 ft, making it the third tallest building in the city. Although the tower will be shorter than the Shangri-La Vancouver Hotel and the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, it will appear taller than it actually is in the skyline because of the site’s high elevation approximately 120 ft above sea level.

Blue indicates the proposed development while yellow indicates potential future developments. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

The church has strategically chosen to use the redevelopment as an opportunity to restore and seismically upgrade the 1911-built stone building, while also expanding its spaces to better serve its own community and the community at-large.

There will be new church ancillary spaces such as a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, church offices, and a cafe.

One of the amenities that residents will have access to will be a long two-lane, glass-roofed swimming pool built into the third floor of the tower facing the laneway.

Artistic rendering of the glass-roofed swimming pool. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

Artistic rendering of the glass-roofed swimming pool. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

Ample ground-level public spaces with significant landscaping and water features are planned.

But the most interesting part of this project revolves around its unique design as it has a contemporary flair that the city has never seen.

The form of the tower takes inspiration from church pipe organs, and there will be open common gardens on each level to provide opportunities for residents to interact with their neighbours.

Artistic rendering of the ground-level plaza and facade design. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

“The patterns and fenestration on the tower will further distinguish this building as a dynamic addition to Vancouver’s skyline,” wrote Thom in the application, adding that the gardens are “effectively a kind of ‘front porch'” as they will “provide space for personalizing suite entries common gardens, seating, and perhaps even bike storage.”

“We anticipate that this will allow subcommunities within the larger strata to form and break down the social barriers that are associated with high rise living.”

Artistic rendering of the tower from Nelson Park. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

The project’s proposed Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) are staggering and could potentially set a record for the City.

Approximately $100 million in CACs could be allocated by the developers, including an in-kind value of $21.7 million for the church restoration portion of the project and a $63-million cash contribution to the municipal government.

“At this juncture in its long and distinguished history, the Church is looking to adapt to the current social needs and demands of the city by undertaking an ambitious and logical program of rehabilitation and change,” continued Thom.

“The First Baptist Church understands that the creation of a transformed facility that simultaneously provides services to the community and a welcoming, architecturally distinguished physical environment is essential… The FirstBC project represents a bold new chapter in Vancouver’s development.”

The project falls within height restrictions and densities of City Council’s West End Community Plan, which calls for taller towers along Burrard Street, and abides with the View Cone Policy.

Artistic rendering of the tower from the Sheraton One Wall Centre. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

Artistic rendering of the ground-level public space and the social housing building. (Bing Thom Architects / Westbank)

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