City of Glass: Under Construction
The other day I took a walk to photograph some of the high rises under construction around the neighborhood. The photo above is the view facing East from the Howe Street on-ramp to the Granville Bridge. I did the same thing two years ago and it's interesting to see which projects have progressed rapidly and which have languished in (I can only imagine) the land developer version of bureaucratic Purgatory. You can see my 2015 photos here and the 2017 photos here and you can read the 2015 post here.
I'd be remiss if I didn't start out with an update on the yellow house that used to be the entrance to Il Giardino restaurant. It's still here, and the now empty lot next door has been cleared, seeded and set up as a "pop-up" park, which is this odd thing that Vancouver does sometimes with lots that are slated for future development. If it's going to take a year or so for the project to move forward, the developers will sometimes turn the lot into a temporary park, with the understanding that it will eventually become a building or whatever it's going to be.
What looks like a photo in the middle above the street map, is an artist's rendering showing the yellow house relocated so it sits on far back corner of the empty lot on the corner, facing Pacific Street, with its right side paralell with the alley between Hornby and Howe Streets.
This will allow the developers to combine the empty lots on either side of the house into a single parcel, on which a 39-story high rise has been approved. You can see one of the artist's renditions below—this view is taken from the perspective of Pacific Street, as if you were hovering ~30 feet above the opening to the alley looking North. You can see a slideshow of these aspirational images and read all about the project plan on the developers' website. I especially like the tile work on the alcoves that break up the water feature (moat?) along Pacific street in the picture below. It reminds me of the Elektra building's lobby. I'll be really impressed if it actually looks like that.
This is as good a time as any to shift gears and talk about a few of the new buildings that have cropped up in the last couple of years and what I hate about them... For the record, I am PRO- density, pro-buildings—the taller the better, in fact—and generally pro-progress. Yay, futurism, etcetera! However, architecture has its fads and trends just like fashion. Some buildings are destined to age gracefully and become classics, symbolic of but not bound by the times in which they were created. Others, you just know it's only a matter of time before they look like the 40-story equivalent of a 1970s avocado refrigerator.
More and more buildings have started appearing in Vancouver with these colorful glass panels in crayola shades of red, blue, yellow, green, or varying tones of orange and rust brown. At first, it seemed like the only buildings that had it were social or subsidized housing, but now you can see it everywhere—on "market rate housing," normally overpriced condo developments and commercial buildings alike.
I have nothing against adding a splash of color—and I've been railing against the uniformity and lack of imagination in our green-tinted glass cookie cutter condos for years—BUT. Does anyone actually think these cheesy color panels will age well?? Not sure? If you're on the fence, here's a little thought experiment. Imagine this trend had come into vogue not in the early 2010s but 25 or 30 years earlier. So picture the exact same panels, only glazed in shades of pastel turquoise, lemon yellow, mauve and electric blue. While we're at it, let's throw a Cultural Revolution-sized Patrick Nagel mural on the side of the building?
Alright, enough said about that. Here's another common theme with high rise buildings—OUT: grand, high-ceilinged lobbies sparsely decorated with non-threatening artwork mounted high enough to discourage vandals. IN: the well-meaning water feature FAIL.
Not obvious from the photo above is the fact that this residential building sits in the last block of Howe Street before it turns into a Granville Bridge on-ramp, and therefore has no reasonable expectation of foot traffic. The thin, shallow moat filled with blackish water featuring a ledge of nondescript ("hardy") vegetation, backed by an 8 foot high fence made up of two mismatched styles of metal grating. On the other side of the fence—which, from the inside, provides neither privacy nor a clear view out—is what will pass for some poor (rich) bastard's backyard, a concrete strip about 6 feet wide by 14' long. Just past the vegetation, there's some backless bench seating and a handful of oversized, spiky, dandelion puffball-looking "art" things.
I love water features done right, which is why I find these failed fountains so annoying, especially at a brand-new building. Down the street, taking up about a third of a block, is an empty monument to well-meaning fountains past, its manicured greenery providing little distraction from the mocking blue of the tiles at the bottom of the long-dormant pool.
But enough bitching about what Vancouver is doing wrong... Let's look at one building that's set to take the skyline to a whole new level, especially for anyone entering downtown via the Granville Street Bridge, like I did—well, technically the second but the first time in living memory—in 1996. Driving into the city from the south you get this amazing panoramic view that's also a timeline of high rise living, from the concrete beachfront apartments of the '60s in the West End to the still-booming development of the Expo lands (and before that, logging-industrial wasteland) that make up today's Yaletown.
Sprouting up in the dead-center of the skyline is Vancouver House. Construction is finally underway on this highly anticipated 52-story (or 59, depending on which source you believe) building that will soon be literally towering over the Howe Street on-ramp to the Granville Bridge. This first photo was taken from Pacific Street, looking towards the bridge with the on-ramp visible on the far left. In the foreground you can see the artist's rendering of the tower, as viewed from the same perspective. The metal gridwork and crazy, angled roof-looking thing belongs to one of the adjacent low-rise buildings that will be used for retail space, galleries, grocers, etc.
[Above left: From the side/back on Pacific St. Above right: Approaching the Howe St. on-ramp.]
Walking up the top of the on-ramp to take these pictures, two things became evident to me that otherwise might not have. First, that the Granville Bridge—unlike the quaintly formal Burrard Bridge to the West of it—was not designed for pedestrians. Even walking to the end of the on-ramp is an extremely unsettling experience, made all the more so by the presence of this several-stories deep trench being excavated underneath. This will soon be filled in with low-rise multi-purpose buildings in the same complex as the tower, which will be seeded to create green rooftops. But in its current state, the whole area feels inhuman and forbidding. The second thing that occured to me, staring up at the massive cranes looming over the construction site, is that when this building is finished, its going to look absolutely fucking insane.
See the rest of my pictures here, and check out the marketing brochure to learn more about Vancouver House than any normal person could want to know... but be warned, its silhouette might start appearing in your dreams like it has in mine.
(I also have to "shout out" a great blog called What was there before, which tracks construction projects in Vancouver and posts excellently researched articles with details about the developers, architects and, often, what was rejected in the original design proposals, in addition to Before, Proposed and After pics.)