'Can a building give back in a different way to the city, rather than just be another tower?'

CBC News Posted: Sep 14, 2015 8:04 PM PT Last Updated: Sep 15, 2015 6:29 PM PT

  • A slew of innovative new condo towers are being proposed for Vancouver, in an attempt to put the 'Wow!' factor in architecture in the B.C. city.
  • A slew of innovative new condo towers are being proposed for Vancouver, in an attempt to put the 'Wow!' factor in architecture in the B.C. city. (Gregory Henriquez/Vancouver House/Büro Ole Scheeren/KKAA)
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A slew of innovative new condo towers are being proposed for Vancouver, as the city aims to take its arguably boring architecture to the next level.

Architect James Cheng is among those working on a signature building for 1445-1455 West Georgia St.— a 50-storey tower with an 80-foot glass jewel at the base, and walls that resemble the Seattle Library.

"We're saying, 'Can a building give back in a different way to the city, rather than just be another tower?'"

Cheng was inspired by repairs to the Washington Monument, which took on a whole new look when it was covered in scaffolding and then lit up.

Cheng's tower will also be lit, whether or not anyone is home.


Along the street, at 1575 West Georgia, local architect Gregory Henriquez is proposing a mixture of a traditional condo tower with origami balconies.

In between, at 1500 West Georgia, another dramatic building has been proposed by German architect Ole Scheeren, who takes his inspiration from the game Jenga.

Meanwhile, a block away at 1550 Alberni St. is a Westbank project by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, quite unlike anything Vancouver has seen before, swooping up into the sky with open gardens and sleek interiors.

Twisting tower turned tide

Vancouver's move into adventurous architecture arguably began back in 2013, when Danish architect Bjarke Ingels revealed his design for twisting tower Vancouver House, which is now under construction.

These latest projects may just be beginning to make their way through the city's approval system, but it's a direction backed by Brian Jackson, Vancouver's planning and development manager.

"It is time that we have a few buildings along significant corridors to gateway locations that cause people to just stop and say, 'Wow! That is extraordinary architecture,'" said Jackson.

If approved, construction on these new condo towers could begin in just over a year.

With files from CBC's Kirk Williams

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Construction on Vancouver House beginning

WATCH ABOVE: Ground was broken on a new downtown Vancouver tower that will change a skyline that some say could use a facelift. Ted Chernecki reports.

When asked what his goal is for Vancouver House, the twisting 59-storey tower that has begun to be built at the foot of the Granville Street Bridge, Bjarke Ingels has a simple response.

“We hope to make a contribution that adds a little bit of diversity to an otherwise beautiful, but very homogeneous skyline,” says the architect of the project.

When told it’s a polite way of saying Vancouver’s skyline is boring, Ingels laughs.

Nonetheless, there is plenty of hope that Ingels, a renowned Danish architect, can bring some diversity to the city’s downtown towers. He was in Vancouver today for the official groundbreaking of the project, which was approved by the city last year.

The massive development features 600 units, along with planned commercial space and public amenity space under the Granville Street bridge. The tower portion will be 52 storeys tall, along with several low rise buildings adjacent to the bridge.

The residential portion of the development will be a mix of ownership and rental housing.

- With files from Peter Meiszner

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Vancouver House Condos - Howe & Beach Tower





Project Details

Howe Street & Beach Avenue
British Columbia
SALES CENTRE PHONE #604-893-8958
SALES CENTRE ADDRESS1460 Howe St, Vancouver BC
SALES CENTRE HOURSOpen daily: 11am – 5pm 
Thurs/Fri: Closed
UNIT SIZESFrom 1739 Sq Ft To 3676 Sq Ft

$ Prices

From $549,800
$316 per Sq Ft avg

Project Summary

From Vancouver House: 

A total work of art 

Think of Vancouver House as a giant curtain, at the moment of being pulled back to reveal the world to Vancouver and Vancouver to the world.


Project Amenities

Concierge | Swimming Pool | Wellness Centre

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Ian Gillespie, left, and architect Bjarke Ingels look over a model of the 52-storey building on the site of the future project in Vancouver, British Columbia, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver House: This one’s big


Construction on Vancouver House will begin in the next four months and as it goes up, so, too, will the city’s cachet as one of those places worthy of world-class architecture.

We’ve all seen the renderings of the tower that appears to twist, and few dispute that Vancouver House is a thing of beauty. It’s also going up in a downtown location at Beach and Howe that needed a serious jolt of life, in a tight wedge of space darkened by a bridge off-ramp; a dead zone dominated by traffic and perilous for pedestrians.

Once finished, by 2018, Vancouver House will be the sort of sculptural building that lands in the pages of international architecture and design books.Sales of the 388 units began just three weeks ago, and the tower is already half-sold.

Developer Ian Gillespie believes sales are driven by the fact that the tower is unique, and has the lustre of being a Bjarke Ingels project. Since he hired Mr. Ingels for the job, the young Danish architect’s demand has soared. He and Mr. Gillespie already have other projects in the works.

“Every city needs to have some special moments that take your breath away, that say to you, ‘Okay, this is something unique. This is something beautiful,’” says Mr. Gillespie, the man behind Westbank Projects Corp. “And you can’t have too much of that, because then it’s not special. But you do need two or three or four special moments in a mature skyline, and Vancouver lacks that.”

Ian Gillespie, left, and architect Bjarke Ingels look over a model of Vancouver House. | Rafal Gerszak, for The Globe and Mail
Every city needs to have some special moments, that take your breath away, that say to you, ‘Okay, this is something unique. This is something beautiful'
Ian Gillespie

The tower appears to defy gravity, a top-heavy shape that ascends from a triangular base. It will be more than 500 feet tall and yet its foundation only 6,000 square feet.

“The total floor plate above is about 13,000 square feet, so your building is twice as heavy up top,” says director of sales Jason Dolker. “It’s the reverse of the usual building that gets skinnier and skinnier as it goes up.”

It wasn’t a creation driven by ego, or the “edifice complex” that drives development in cities such as Dubai and elsewhere, insists Mr. Gillespie.

“This wasn’t some attempt at being extravagant or trying to shock people into some crazy form,” he says. “Instead, the form came out of the constraints.”

One of the minor constraints was a parcel of land adjacent to the project, which they couldn’t buy because someone else snapped it up first. It wasn’t crucial for the tower, but it would have made sense to belong to the project because of its proximity.

“We have no idea what they intend on doing with it, as it’s very limited in its development potential,” says Mr. Gillespie. “Keep in mind our site is more than 100,000 square feet and that site is only 8,000 square feet. All in all, it wasn’t something that was worth us chasing, so we just worked around it.”

Floors 47 to 57 of the tower are “the estates,” which means they are especially luxurious. The 58th and 59th floors are two-storey penthouses. The biggest penthouse, which has yet to sell, is priced at just below $20-million. The lower-level units start in the $300,000-plus range, with sizes ranging from studios to four-bedroom. As for sales, they’ve been swift due to a long reservation list of names the sales team is working its way through.

As part of its $4-million amenities contribution, Westbank is building a market-style area under the nearby Granville Street Bridge. The project includes stores, restaurants and office space and 95 market rental apartments.

The tower will be connected to Mr. Gillespie’s own, newly acquired utility company, called Creative Energy. It has long supplied heat to the downtown peninsula, and the goal is to convert from gas to low-carbon biofuels.

There’s also a public art component, with Rodney Graham’s spinning chandelier, located at market level. Over the course of the day, the chandelier will slowly descend and at 9 p.m. spin rapidly, then slowly ascend again.

Mr. Ingels, 39 – who was introduced to Mr. Gillespie by former city planning director Brent Toderian – has been directly involved in the design of the faucets, the copper backsplashes, the kitchen islands that are shaped like the building, an infinity pool, the lobby couch that resembles stacked sand bags, and floating mailboxes designed to encourage conversation between residents.

“There is a strong link between architecture and interiors, like some of the features in the architecture repeat in the interior design,” says Bjarke Ingels Group partner Thomas Christoffersen, who met with Mr. Gillespie in Vancouver this week. “We are doing a lot of customized items, such as built-in furniture.”

Like most major projects, it hasn’t been without its controversy. Eyebrows have been raised about marketing to global purchasers. An influx of foreign money, mostly from China, has helped push Vancouver home prices so high as to make affordability an ongoing issue for a city where the average household income is among the lowest for a major North American metropolis. Locals are tired of competing with offshore money for a share of the real estate pie. It’s typical for marketers to target overseas buyers, but for locals, it’s a sensitive topic.

Westbank began its official marketing launch with real estate agent events in Vancouver in April. The company, which has offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, then marketed the tower in Asia in June. It also marketed the project in New York, London and Beverly Hills.

When asked what he thinks of the unease with foreign ownership, Mr. Gillespie is forthright. “I think it is a very provincial attitude,” he says. “And Vancouver is one of only four cities in the world where 40 per cent of the population is born outside of Canada. The second thing I would say is that the foreign buyer is buying a unit that creates hundreds of construction jobs. That buyer closes on the unit, and then pays thousands and thousands of dollars a year in property taxes, and doesn’t use infrastructure that those property taxes pay for. If that’s the worst-case scenario, then maybe we have bigger problems.”

Of the units already sold at Vancouver House, 60 per cent are local buyers, according to Mr. Dolker. Of those, about half are end-users, or people who intend on living in the units as opposed to holding them as investments.

Mr. Gillespie says we also need to define the meaning of “foreign owner.”

“The majority [of units] will sell to local residents of Vancouver,” he says. “And I don’t know where the numbers will shake out, but 35 to 40 per cent will sell overseas. And at the end of the day, most of those people already are Canadian citizens. About 90 per cent of the buyers in Hong Kong already have Canadian citizenship. Is it foreign because they don’t carry a passport? What does foreign even mean? In today’s world, what do those concepts mean?”

As for the potential empty condo issue, Mr. Gillespie says that the number of empty condos typically shrinks as the residents settle in. Wealthy global purchasers are often transient.

“These buildings mature and as they mature, the ownership of the units gravitates to people who are owner/occupiers,” he says. “I could point out building after building that has been through the same pattern. Because what happens is, you are a buyer from Singapore, and you buy a unit in Vancouver, and why do you buy that unit? They never, ever buy just on speculation. They don’t buy to flip it. Those days are gone 10 or 20 years ago. Our market doesn’t go cyclical up and down. It’s a very steady market. They buy because they think it’s going to be a second home or because they have a child who will go to UBC, or because they are thinking of leaving Hong Kong because they are worried about air pollution. And the ones who don’t end up coming, it’s because their kid who they thought was going to UBC decides to be a rock star.

Instead, they end up renting the unit out.

“But in those years they are paying property taxes, and supporting the City of Vancouver. So in the whole scheme of things in a city that will continue to blossom over the next century, why worry about something like a building not being occupied in next three or four years?”

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The first actual images of what the hotly anticipated Vancouver House condo building will look like inside have been revealed.

Designed by revered Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the twisting tower is a $200-million project that will include 500 units as well as retail space.

Local property developer Westbank recently posted some renderings on their Instagram account.

The lobby area will be designed like a contemporary art exhibition, with a "global warming" rug, which depicts a lone polar bear on a block of ice, and mailboxes made of wood and steel that "float above the ground."

Residents will be able to enjoy a 25-metre heated lap pool located on a wooden rooftop patio, and as well as the option of a private 200 sq.-ft. private storage cellar.

Apartment bathrooms will feature a brand new line of fixtures designed by Ingels in partnership with Kohler. And a kitchen's island, designed by Ingels, will resemble the shape of the Vancouver House.


Vancouver House has been working hard to capture the city's attention. It sponsored a pubic art exhibit called Gesamtkunstwerk, and unveiled an ambitious spinning chandelier set to be installed under the Granville Street Bridge as part of the downtown neighbourhood's transformation into a must-visit destination.

See more:

Bjarke Ingels' Twisting Vancouver Tower
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(H/T Vancouver Curbed)

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