One of Vancouver’s most renowned architects Bing Thom passed away unexpectedly in a Hong Kong hospital on Tuesday after suffering from a brain aneurysm.
Thom, 75, was known for a number of high-profile projects in Metro Vancouver and around the world, including the UBC Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, Central City which houses SFU Surrey, Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, Xiqu Centre performing arts venue at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, and Arena Stage in Washington DC. He even designed master plans for entire communities and Expo World’s Fairs.
More recently, his namesake firm was responsible for the design of Guildford Aquatic Centre in Surrey and a soon-to-be-built five-storey expansion of SFU Surrey next to Central City.
To celebrate his career and impact on the architectural community, particularly designs that may have been forgotten, here is Daily Hive’s selection of five highly unique planned or never built Bing Thom projects:
Status: Never built
Thom had his own vision for the renewal and expansion of historic Hotel Georgia at the northwest corner of West Georgia and Howe streets in downtown Vancouver.
Approximately 15 years ago, he proposed a 600-foot-tall, 56-storey tower for hotel owner Peter Eng which would have undoubtedly created a photogenic landmark at the heart of the city. At the time, he likened the design with a glass ‘finger’ structure on the rooftop as a crystal that disappears into the sky.
There would have been 100 hotel rooms on the lower floors and market residential units on the upper floors. A rooftop “sky lobby” publicly accessible garden space enclosed by glass windows would also have been a part of the hotel.
However, the municipal government did not approve Thom and Eng’s desire to ‘lengthen’ the building so that it could enhance the skyline. City Council had already approved a 506-foot-tall version of the building, but it was unwilling to permit Thom to increase the height of the building by raising the ceilings of the residential suites and adding six floors.
At the time, city planners had maintained that its regulated height limits designed to protect views of the mountains were inflexible.
In 2007, after years of inactivity with the project, a shorter 532-foot-tall version of the design was proposed again but later canceled in favour of a design that better optimized floor space.
A significantly simpler, generic design by another architectural firm was built after the Olympics, but it did retain Thom’s design of a swimming pool with a partial glass floor with one end of the pool cantilevered over to the facade of the historic hotel structure.
Status: Never Built
A 1995 proposal by Thom provided the provincial government of the day with an alternate concept for expanding the city’s convention centre facilities.
Instead of building on the site of Waterfront Station’s SeaBus terminal or Burrard Landing, he envisioned a major retrofit and expansion of BC Place Stadium that would have turned it into a convention facility.
Raising the stadium floor would create underground exhibition halls with 30-foot-high ceilings, but in the process the stadium’s seating capacity would be reduced from 60,000 seats to 50,000 seats. Altogether, the proposal called for the creation of 800,000 square feet of meeting and convention space in addition to the existing stadium floor area.
Then-undeveloped sites surrounding the stadium would have been used to integrate the stadium and new meeting and exhibition space with Rogers Arena and Queen Elizabeth Theatre. A 1,250 room hotel building with public spaces, shops, and restaurants were also key to the project.
To further distinguish the area as a vibrant events and entertainment district, Thom incorporated a large fountain and lighting feature in the middle of False Creek into his proposal.
However, the provincial government ultimately favoured the idea of a waterfront expansion with a mountain backdrop and chose the Burrard Landing site to directly expand the Vancouver Convention Centre at Canada Place.
Status: Proposed (vision)
There has been much speculation over what will happen to Robson Square’s old courthouse building after the Vancouver Art Gallery vacates the facility for its new purpose-built home at Larwill Park.
Although such visions are beyond preliminary, the most prominent and thoroughly considered vision to date is Thom’s idea of converting the gallery spaces into a multi-purpose concert hall complex.
A concert hall with 1,950 seats would be constructed deep under the Art Gallery’s North Plaza, and the historic Annex building facing Robson Street would be turned into a 450-seat multipurpose dance, music, and theatre venue.
Access into both theatres will be through the main historic building, which will be converted into lobby spaces for the theatres, restaurants, boutiques, and other cultural uses. Long escalators with skylights will carry patrons from the lobby area down to the subterranean concert hall.
The ground-level plaza would also be retrofitted as a part of the project, although construction is now well underway on a separate City-supported project that will transform the plaza into an event-friendly space.
This conversion project is spearheaded by Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society, which has a board of directors comprised of leaders in Vancouver’s cultural community such as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Status: Proposed (active; rezoning application)
If approved, this could finally be Thom’s signature skyscraper in downtown Vancouver’s skyline.
Last year, working with developer Westbank Projects, his firm unveiled a zebra-like design for a 550-foot-tall, 56-storey project for the ground level parking lot of First Baptist Church on the northwest corner of Burrard and Nelson streets.
The tower resembles four abstract organ pipes that slightly overlap on the inner edges. The gap in the core of the building envelopes reduce the building’s heating and cooling energy usage by an estimated 15% and uniquely provides open communal spaces for residents.
There will be 295 market residential units on the upper floors and community amenities in the lower floors. A separate 8-storey building on the site will be purposed for 75 ‘below market rate’ rental housing units owned by the historic church, which will undergo a complete restoration and seismic upgrade.
The project is currently going through the municipal government’s rezoning phase.
Status: Never Built
Bing Thom Architects was a finalist in the international competition to design the master plan for the Expo 2010 World’s Fair site in Shanghai. The firm was just one of six firms selected to submit master plans and the only Canadian architectural firm chosen.
The 5.8-square-kilometre plan spanned the waterfront areas along the Huangpu River and strived to address environmental concerns, the long-lasting future use of hte site, and balance contemporary design with traditional Chinese culture. The ambitious design’s structures bridged both banks of the river.