Two shorter towers could replace the 42-storey, 394-foot-tall Empire Landmark Hotel building in downtown Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood.
Plans by the proponents, Hong Kong-based landowner Asia Standard International Group, posted on the City of Vancouver’s website on Friday illustrate the design of the 28 and 30-storey tower at 1488 Robson Street. Both towers will be approximately 300 feet tall.
There will be 280 residential units, split into 223 market units and 57 social housing units. The project falls under the West End Community Plan and allows developers extra density if a social housing element is incorporated.
The towers sit on top of a three-storey podium that will be predominantly streetfront retail units along the Robson Street side and social housing units facing the alleyway. The second level facing Robson is slated to be used as office space, amounting to about 32,000 square feet. Four levels of underground parking will be accessible from the alleyway.
The retail levels will be clad with stone such as granite or limestone, and the corner balconies on the residential levels will have an alternating orientation on each floor. Other facade features include bronze-coloured decorative fins and floor-to-ceiling glazing for the residential floors.
Closeup on the facade of the proposed residential towers.
“The projecting floor edge profile extends to the balconies to further articulate the façade,” reads the architect’s design rationale. “The balconies are designed with structurally glazed balustrades with a bronze handrail cap. The soffits to the balconies are finished in a timber effect aluminium panel giving a warm colour when viewed from the street.”
PDP London, the project’s lead architectural firm, which has an office in Hong Kong, is working with local firm Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership on the development application. No rezoning is required for the project.
Love it or hate it, the Empire Landmark Hotel is a landmark in the city. It had been one of the tallest buildings in the downtown skyline, and certainly the tallest in its immediate neighbourhood, since 1973 when it first opened as the Sheraton Landmark Hotel. It is also Vancouver’s tallest standalone hotel tower.
There are 357 guestrooms, 13,500 square feet of meeting and convention space, and a public rooftop revolving restaurant – the Cloud 9 – with its panoramic and relatively unobstructed views of downtown’s urban landscape, Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park, and the North Shore mountains.
All of this could be replaced by two shorter towers that would be a significant downgrade from what is currently found there. The Empire Landmark essentially occupies an entire city block, and given the scale of the site there is so much more potential than what has been proposed.
Comparison of the existing Empire Landmark Hotel tower and the proposed residential towers.
This isn’t to say that the Empire Landmark should not be torn down, but something that would replace it should ideally be better than what has been concocted. While the design is better than the average condo tower design in Vancouver, nothing about it stands out, and there is no equivalent replacement public amenity for the loss of the rooftop revolving restaurant.
The proposal’s height is shorter than the current tower, ironically due to the West End Community Plan’s height limits, and the design is bland, uninspiring, and easily forgettable within the sea of cookie-cutter concrete and glass buildings in the city. But this could be a result of the high cost associated with demolishing the existing tower, resulting in less investment towards a more architecturally unique design.
With Cloud 9 turning into dust, the only remaining operational rooftop restaurant in the city will be at Harbour Centre. The Pinnacle Hotel Vancouver Harbourfront also has a rooftop restaurant, but it is no longer operational and the space functions as an extension of its meeting and convention space options for events held at the hotel.
At the very least, a redevelopment of the site should consist of a new hotel that draws people and jobs to the area, in addition to the already-proposed retail that will flank the Robson Street side of the building.
There is ample space on the city block adjacent to the tower at the Empire Landmark Hotel to add residential towers while also providing the hotel with a major retrofit, which in fairness could be expensive considering the age of the building. Comparatively, the structure is only three years older than the Four Seasons Hotel on Howe Street, but reinvestments to renew the Empire Landmark were not made after the Sheraton chain vacated and sold the property.
Alternatively, a renovation of the existing hotel could be financed and accomplished by converting the top floors boasting the building’s best panoramic views into luxury condos.
Empire Landmark’s closure, possibly as early as next year, would be timed with the opening of Trump International Hotel & Tower this fall, as well as the JW Marriott and The Douglas hotels at the new Parq Vancouver casino-entertainment complex next to BC Place. The hotel marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive, putting the Empire Landmark and its dated and tired accommodations at a major disadvantage – unless its owners were to choose to move forward with a major renovation, of course.
Renderings of the proposed towers.
Diagram of the proposed towers showing usage: Red – retail; Blue – office; Purple – social housing; Yellow – market housing.