Reviews positive for Westbank’s S-shaped office building
Project includes upgrade of existing steam plant
Naoibh O’ConnorVancouver Courier
March 12, 2019
Reaction to Westbank’s proposal to build a distinctive Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)-designed office building adjacent to BC Place stadium appeared largely positive at a March 11 open house.
The project involves a site at 720 Beatty St., which Westbank purchased for $32 million in 2014.
The plan is to build an S-shaped, 17-storey commercial office building and upgrade the existing stream plant on the property, now owned by Creative Energy.
Westbank is a 50 per cent owner of Creative Energy, while the remaining portion is owned by InstarAGF, a mid-market, infrastructure-focused private equity fund based in Toronto.
Vancouver’s HCMA Architecture is acting as the executive architect on the project for BIG, which is based in New York and Copenhagen.
Monday’s open house wasn’t crowded but Martin Cherry, who owns an apartment building nearby the site being considered for redevelopment, was among those who attended. Cherry is “generally supportive,” of the rezoning application and described the height of the proposed building as “not overly obtrusive.” He said it seems to fit in well with surrounding developments.
“Generally, they seem to be making an effort to integrate it,” Cherry told the Courier, adding he likes the design. “It’s not really big and overpowering.”
Aleah Chaytor, who lives in the area, dropped by the open house to keep informed about upcoming developments.
“We haven’t seen a building like [this] in Vancouver, I don’t think,” she said.
“I really like it. It’s well designed. I think it fits within the public realm. What I really like about it the most, is that it has a lot of opportunities to help foster economic growth, [to] foster cultural growth and community growth.”
Another visitor said the project enlivens the neighbourhood, but Carmen Serban, who lives across the street from the site, said she doesn’t think another tall building is needed in the area. She’d prefer to see green spaces such as parks.
Serban said if more office space is needed in Vancouver, it should be created elsewhere in the city.
Organizations such as the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and CBRE, a commercial real estate firm, have, in the past, highlighted the need for more office space downtown.
Jacqueline Garvin, one of the development coordinators on Westbank’s office tower, said the project is still in the early stages, but if everything goes as planned, construction could start at the end of 2020.
But city council would still need to approve rezoning following a public hearing, after which the project would require development and building permits.
Garvin noted that aside from creating office space, the proposed building also features retail space at ground level, while a breezeway would allow pedestrians to travel between Beatty Street and BC Place.
A five-storey retail pavilion is also planned next to the office tower, but it will be part of a separate development permit application.
Craig Lane of HCMA Architecture said the main driver for the design was building around the existing steam plant, which has been supplying low-cost energy to the downtown core since 1968.
“It’s how to build around, over and above that building, and to achieve a certain square footage that’s needed for the business model. They had to take, basically, a rectangular building and then fold it in on itself to make that square footage fit on the site,” he said. “…By taking that form and rotating it into an S-shape, it breaks down the visibility of the massing so that when you look at it from the different perspectives, it actually looks like two smaller buildings rather than one massive slab.”
Lane added that Georgia Street acts as a parade route through the city and the idea is for the new building to “participate in the scenography of that parade route” looking towards the waterfront and towards BC Place. “Then,” he said, “it reacts to the setbacks at BC Place to ensure that it doesn’t fully block BC Place.”
While the project is still under design development, Lane said the plan for the exterior is “to create a very light feeling.”
Kieran McConnell, vice president of projects and engineering for Creative Energy, said the steam plant serves 215 buildings downtown, providing heat and hot water, but a lot of the equipment is reaching its end of life since some of it is now 51 years old.
“Frankly, the equipment needs to be replaced and the structure where the equipment sits is not current with modern seismic building code,” he said. “The plant needs to be upgraded substantially and this redevelopment that Westbank is doing creates an opportunity to do something with the site, incorporating the steam plant within the redevelopment.”
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