The corner of Dunsmuir & Homer Street are about to get a beautiful makeover as B + H Architects Inc. have applied to the City of Vancouver for permission to develop 401 West Georgia with a 9 storey commercial building. The proposal includes retail and office use on the ground floor and office use on the second to tenth floors, 13,621.3 sq. m (146,618.5sq. ft) of floor area, building height of 42.5 m (139.4 ft), two levels of underground parking accessed from the lane and retention of the existing commercial building on the south portion of the site.
Under the site’s existing DD zoning, the application is “conditional” so it may be permitted; however, it requires the decision of the Development Permit Board.
The project is envisioned as a 151K, 10-storey, Class A office tower built on the North side of the existing block. The tower will feature floor plates ranging from ~14K SF to ~19K SF and be massed in 3 clusters (3 floors, 3 floors, 2 floors). The tower’s ground floor will feature at-grade bicycle facilities, a lobby designed to encourage public-gathering, and retail suited for Food & Beverage uses to improve service levels on the block. The tower’s second floor will feature 6,600 SF of amenity space, including a 2,300 SF conference centre, and 4,300 SF of Fitness and Change room facilities designed to service both towers.
The design is inspired by the urban loft and industrial conversions. Vancouver is undergoing a market renaissance with a strong growth in the tech sector. For reference, Colliers estimated that in 2015, ~50% of headlease and sublease deals were in the tech sector. These tech clients are looking for industrial style, creative design, but also modern amenities and building efficiencies that older retrofits simply cannot provide. Oxford believes an urban loft is a good concept for this location and tenant type. Further, the site itself is surrounded by a mix of heritage industrial and commercial buildings including the Canada Post Building and the 100-year old Labor Temple building at 411 Dunsmuir Street.
The inspiration is reflected on both the interior and exterior. The building provides for large, open floorplates, a size more typical of conversions than typical Vancouver office towers. The interiors on these floors are inspired by industrial heritage, but are given modern treatments: polished concrete floors, open-ceilings with custom HVAC, and hanging linear LED fixtures. Three volumes of varying floor plate sizes are organized in stacked boxes; strong horizontal and vertical mullions with windows clustered into groups of three and six,
mimic typical “warehouse” design while tipping a hat to the surrounding fenestration.
The tower is massed to be sensitive to surrounding context. Floors are architecturally clustered into groups to relate to the strong datums of surrounding development. The clusters are then intentionally stepped away from the existing tower. The stepping provides increased access to daylight for tenants in both the existing and new tower and allows for the creation of usable South and North-facing terraces. The upper box set back along Dunsmuir opens and frames views of the Cathedral spire. The height of the tower and the set-back of the top floor maintains views to the mountains for the existing tower’s tenants and minimizes shadow impact on the park adjacent the Development.
Landscaping is improved and made more usable. Current landscaping is dated, features dark materials, and is oriented predominately as a large, rectangular thoroughfare, designed more for access through the site than for use by tenants or the public, in general. The new design addresses each of these issues. Landscaping is consolidated into an intimate courtyard, offering better opportunities for gathering while providing a cluster
of different outdoor spaces. The current dark porcelain and stone is replaced by softer elements including wood, sand-blasted gravel, pressed concrete pavers, and brighter natural stone. High-canopy trees are offered versus low, clustering bushes to ensure visibility through the site and to provide shade to tenants and visitors.
The tower features substantial amenity. The tower features at-grade bicycle facilities, a fitness centre, and oversized change rooms and shower facilities. The tower also features a shared conference centre; given that Oxford anticipates that most tenants will feature open floor-plate design, a shared meeting room facility will be very beneficial to ongoing operations.
The proposed building height is capped to fit into the urban fabric. The adjacent buildings along Dunsmuir Street range from low to midrise. The new 401 North tower is bookended by the Canada Post Building to the East and the Holy Rosary Cathedral to the West (refer to the adjacent street elevation diagrams). The proposed building height is respectful to its immediate context and provides a stepped transition to the existing 401 West Georgia Tower. The proposed massing is also sensitive to the Labor Temple building and the Cathedral Square Park to the North by minimizing the shadow impact.
The massing encourages daylight penetration. The stepped form on the South face allows for increased tower separation, landscaped terraces for occupant use, improved daylight penetration, and retains views North from the existing 401 West Georgia Tower.
Located within the diverse urban context of downtown Vancouver, the proposed building has been designed to both address and respect the neighbouring massing, window patterns, design features, fenestration proportions and façade treatments. In particular, attention was given to the massing and articulation of the 411 Dunsmuir “Labor Temple” building, the Holy Rosary Cathedral, and the Canada Post Building that are directly adjacent to the site.
The proposed building massing is created by three volumetric blocks. The proportions are derived from the horizontal datums created by the adjacent buildings. The 411 Dunsmuir building and adjacent Cathedral spire are used to define the base, while the taller of the two Cathedral spires and the height of the Canada Post Building establish the upper volume step back. The scale and proportions of the colonnades found in both the 411 Dunsmuir and Canada Post buildings, are also reflected at grade.
The vertical pattern of window openings can be observed as a prominent design feature on the adjacent buildings. This rhythm is replicated in the design with vertical extrusions emulating the pilasters found on the adjacent 411 Dunsmuir building. A subtle shift of the verticals is applied to each of the three volumns to emphasize movement.
Each of the window openings are grouped in sets of three. This is seen as a distinct façade element in the area, from 411 Dunsmuir to the Cathedral trefoil arch windows.
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