From the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:

In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26 storey office building at 555 Cordova, shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver. Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station and the proposed building site has been the eastern access and parking lot for the Station since it opened in 1914.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The building, dubbed the Icepick, was turned down at City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original. Responding to design objections, the developer rotated and pushed the building a little further west and north, slightly reduced its footprint, and made it possible to see and walk through the ground floor.

With these changes, the developer seems intent on getting approval at a Development Permit Board Meeting scheduled for May 25, 2020.

The proposed building is not consistent with the existing 2009 Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework. In October 2017, Council approved a program to update the Framework and resolve implementation issues. This work has only just begun.

Does it make sense to put approvals before planning? Should a private developer be able to sabotage a public planning and design process?

The proposal does not conform to planning guidelines for the area. The most recent proposed building is more than twice the suggested height of 11 stories, and six times the recommended floor space. It overwhelms heritage buildings on either side and provides an uninviting gateway to Historic Gastown.

Most disturbing, Cadillac Fairview has not agreed to an extension of Granville Street to the waterfront. The developer owns the parkade at the foot of Granville. Removing part of the parkade’s top level was a central concept of the original Hub Framework. It would open the street to the waterfront, and provide an opportunity to build a public walkway connecting Stanley Park, the waterfront, Gastown, Chinatown and False Creek.

As the most important transportation hub in the region, this site is critical to the future of the city.

Surely Vancouver, which prides itself on progressive planning, can find a better solution.

Approving Cadillac Fairview’s latest proposal will preclude the current planning process and seriously undermine future options for the City’s waterfront.

Icepick 2 must to be stopped.


Community Open House & Feedback Session

Tuesday, Feb 18

3 –7 pm

Fairmont Waterfront Hotel
900 Canada Place, Mackenzie Ballroom





  1. Wow. It just gets uglier. And uglier.
    A public park at the bottom of the street would be the most logical use of the land.

    1. That’s one opinion. I think it’s a fantastic comprise of space and an improvement over the original plan. And until (or if, ever) the rail yard is capped, any “park” proposed for this site isn’t going to be much bigger than the plaza already rendered. The surface footprint of the building is fairly small.

  2. Can any of you planner/design folks actually put in words what it means for “It overwhelms heritage buildings on either side”.

    I see this sort of language all the time, and it feels like it’s just taken for granted that everyone should understand what that means, and shares the aesthetic preferences that seem presumed by the statement. Why is it too big? What public purposes will be harmed by having more transit-accessible work space on a site that is already designated for more transit-accessible workspace?

    How will it be an ‘uninviting gateway’to Gastown? Are people expected to be craining their necks upward to be overwhelmed by the extra 15 stories above the already envisioned 11 while approaching gastown from the north?

    In terms of the planning complaints about this project that are not a horror of bigger newer things being next to smaller older things, such as the granville extension clear on the other side of the station, this would seem to be a great opportunity for the city to address them, no?

    1. Imagine you see 2 blocks side-by-side, but the blocks are different sizes, shapes, and colours. Now imagine perceiving the aesthetic mismatch as a violent assault to the order you have placed upon the world, the only order that allows you to function as a sane, contributing member of society. It is an existential gouge and a mockery of the notion that you will ever have any semblance of control over your life ever again. It must be terribly unsettling. This is why some planners and members of the public stress over contextual appropriateness. What’s in the blocks doesn’t matter as much as maintaining their aesthetic symmetry.

    2. All of the desirable attributes you mention can be achieved within the context of existing heritage and scale. Jamming an out-sized private building into the Station is so not necessary. They are seeking justification for their additional office floor area by appropriating these public access amenities and “owning” them whereas they are arguably achievable through many other more appropriate means.

      The best way to destroy the value of unique heritage (the DNA of Vancouver) is to eat away at it. The original historic CPR terminus site is already buried 10 m below the Cordova x Howe viaduct. There is no marker, no acknowledgement of the importance of that site to confederation other than a couple of historic photos in the Archives of the arrival of the first CPR train on May 23, 1887.

      Once started on today’s 1916 Station it will be tempting to continue the erosion until it’s gone. This project is so tragically out of context in this location, a stab to the heart. Move it elsewhere where it will rightfully enliven the yawning mediocrity of the tower architecture over the last 50 years and utter lack of urban design articulation of the CBD closer to the centre.

      One vision would be for Ports Canada to purchase or lease the site from CF and devote it entirely to current and future public transport uses in perpetuity. The railyards and waterfront road are already partially decked over below Waterfront Centre and Canada Place Way. Just continue in that vein. Imagine a continuous platform at about 14 m elevation (level with the Station finished floor) extended to the SeaBus dock. A plethora of public good can be built on the platform, whether station structures, parks, plazas and fountains. Let’s not give any space to further private development or cars, save for the extension of Granville and Canada Place Way to a meeting point at the NE corner of Granville Square, mostly for buses and drop-off access.

      Out of all the hub stations in the Metro, Waterfront is the most viable point on the map where various highly efficient rail, bus and ferry connections can be made. More SeaBuses to Deep Cove and Ambleside, passenger ferry shuttles to the Island and Sunshine Coast run by BC Ferries, a Hastings subway, more commuter rail like the WC Express, downtown light rail, several more bus routes, perhaps a high-speed rail station to Seattle …. these public amenities and more would be completely viable together on this site, as should be as harmonious as a symphony. All pedestrian movements from one mode to another could even be entirely indoors or under cover.

      Let’s not wreck the opportunities and potential there with misplaced and highly disharmonious private towers that arise only because of the lack of a strong long-term vision and weak place making for one of the most important places in the nation.

      1. This is kinda what I’m getting at – Why is it out of scale, and what worth while public end does it accomplish restricting this to scale? You’ve asserted that there’s a scale problem, but you haven’t defined it and you certainly haven’t convinced me why it matters.

        Moreover, the scale is itself a desirable attribute – it’s an opportunity for many more people to work in a transit accessible location, and with no parking it’s necessarily one. The last mile is much more important than the first for driving journey to work transit usage, so what could be more useful than in the station?

        Furthermore, existing plans already contemplate a tall building on this site, just not one quite as tall. Otherwise, everything else still fits, including the intact waterfront station headhouse that it’s absurd to think anyone going to be allowed to alter itself.

        1. The scale is a big problem when considering the top drawer heritage context. It’s literally a jam job into the back roof of the highly-valued 1916 CPR building. It is a precedent. Do it here in one of the most important heritage sites in Western Canada (i.e. the Western terminus to the railway that completed confederation) and what’s to stop some other outfit from proposing the same insanity for any other less historic (but still beautiful) piece of 19th Century architecture anywhere in Gastown? Where does the Gastown Heritage Precinct end exactly? At an invisible curtain drawn in the parking lot between the Landing and The Station? And justifying it mostly on the public access attributes is disingenuous. That can be accomplished in any number of ways.

          What this is about is money. In this case CF is doing geometric conniption fits with all its might to shove all that extra floor area into a constrained site where a mere “old building” happens to be in the way.

          Lastly, using transit access as justification for this future-blocking imposition is a weak argument. There is nearly 400,000 m2 (100 acres) of the CBD density within a 5-minute walk of Waterfront Station, and over 1.5 km2 within a 10-minute walk.

          This awkward tower shouldn’t be eliminated, but certainly relocated elsewhere nearby. Perhaps the city, TransLink and the Port can help identify a suitable trade in sites.

  3. I get that there would be benefit at the ground plane in extending Granville Street, but it comes a the cost of virtually wiping out a large and popular semi-public space at Granville Square. Nobody ever seems to talk about that. And that could be okay if it were replaced by similar and more accessible public space in behind the station where yet more roads(!) and buildings are proposed for the long term. But it does not. It would just be a net loss of important open space with great views of the mountains and out over the harbour.

    The new proposal converts most of the existing parking space to a public square – right where there should be a public square that welcomes people to Gastown. Unfortunately much of this would revert to road(!) space if and when the new development takes place over the railway yards. So the current proposal gives us citizens more public space and fewer roads and less surface parking. What’s not to like?

    Personally, I am beginning to like this new design as it shows more respect for the surrounding heritage buildings, creates much more open space and is more transparent at ground level. I don’t have a problem with a jarring transition from heritage Gastown to what would become a cluster of modern office towers to the north. If that is ever built. I have my doubts.

    To me that is the bigger risk – that The Ice Pick remains a single expression lost and excluded from the modern city. Perhaps it should be a condition (with real teeth) that the remainder of the site over the tracks be built out and include major contributions toward the proposed transit hub that also may never be built without outside financial help.

    And lets get way more creative to avoid ever having a road carve through that plaza.

    1. If they’re going to put around across the rail yards, it should be a pedestrian street.

      In fact, any future Waterfront Area should be a pedestrian precinct.

  4. The factor that people tend to forget when considering this building in isolation (i.e. its ugly, it’s too big) is that there will eventually be a number of other tall towers (hopefully much taller, but likely stiffled by view cones)to the north of the station over the railway tracks, like the much vaunted Hudson Yards project in New York.
    All of these towers would be placed at the biggest transportation hub in the city (like the Salesforce Tower in San Fransisco).
    It would be a waste not to make best use of it – otherwise you’d be building duplicate or additional transit capacity in another location (and there would, of course, be a big fight about densifying at that secondary location too (i.e. Broadway Corridor or Commercial & Broadway)).
    There’s an argument to keeping office space in the downtown core and downtown Vancouver is running out of space to built it.

    1. I would rather see a full exploration of all the necessary design feasibility requirements of highly viable transportation assets before carving any of the air space over the tracks with private towers. Ports Canada already owns the Waterfront Road and the filled land to the shore behind the SeaBus docks. If there is any site that requires a deep think 50 years in advance, this is it. If high-speed rail to Seattle (400 m platforms) or a 1000-person BC Ferries passenger shuttle (SeaBus docks in steroids) to various Island and coastal destinations is ever to be made to the downtown harbour, the foundations and entry vestibules to said private buildings built 30 years prior would be an egregious barrier that resulted from adopting ideas from other cities without regard for Vancouver’s history and the site constraints. Shortsightedness on a stick. There is lots of space for all kinds of towers elsewhere in the CBD.

      1. There is also the necessity to preserve the industrial Port activity namely with rail at grade. That will continue to function even with any kind of deck over it, and will constrain the foundations of future buildings. However, the industrial function will certainly be impacted by sea rise. The latest estimates are potentially a half metre above mean tide by mid-century and 2 m by the end of century. That is but one average human lifetime away.

        An extension of a deck to the existing water’s edge from the back of the Station, roughly ~14 m geodetic, could buy 200+ years for anything built on the deck (with caissons extended deep to bearing rock below), which would join to a tall seawall at the shoreline. As the tides get higher by the decade, the industrial function below the deck would be incrementally removed or relocated to other sites on Vancouver’s threatened working harbour. Meanwhile, the SeaBus docks float, so all that would be required is to attach a transition structure to the outside of the seawall and direct circulation up to the deck level, not dissimilar to the current elevated walkway.

        My point is that a simple extended elevated deck offers major opportunities to accommodate more ferry facilities, a high-speed rail terminal (horizontal glass building, not vertical) and much more, including aesthetic viewing and park / plaza amenities, with all the attendant functional aspects such as multi-level offices, ticket halls, circulation, multiple street access points, border control / security, customs, baggage handling, restaurants, champagne bars and so forth without fear of rising seas for a long time. Moreover, multiple mode network connectivity will be very efficiently controlled and channelled by being in close proximity.

        This is climate adaptation in action, something we’re not even beginning to address yet. Nor are we fully addressing the potential of this site, or respecting its history with projects like the Icepick. All this project is is the first real proposal for this site after a very limited study on the Waterfront Hub was completed without one single thought to the question: What is this site supposed to be after 2050? S proposed, it will only be a collection of private towers (albeit one somewhat dramatic) obscuring the heritage and occupying space that is arguably better occupied by continental-scale public transport amenities? Is that all we have? Pretty weak, in my view.

        1. You make some good points, Alex, but I think you overstate the heritage issue. The Ice Pick isn’t “obscuring the heritage”. Whether it hurts the aesthetic is a matter of opinion in my view. It hink ut would be out of place in the middle of Gastown, but in this transition space I don’t buy it myself. Whatever happens north of The Station is likely to have a modern aesthetic and is likely to comprise development of significant scale to cover the enormous cost of building over the railway. I just don’t see a big open public space happening there.

          The Pick probably doesn’t have a major impact on the future build out of a grand transportation hub either.

          But you’re correct that development of this precinct should only be considered through the lens of sea-level rise and future transportation uses projected out to the end of the century.

          1. I don’t believe I implied that sea level rise should be the only consideration, only one of a number.

            Perhaps I was mistaken to mention a deck first, therein implying an empty “field” of concrete would dominate, like an empty canvass. In fact, a relatively uniform deck roughly level with the Station floor elevation will likely be built over the tracks but used as the “main” floor level of any and all vertical structures that will appear north of The Station.

            My sincere hope is that the Waterfront Hub is given another rethink. A big one, because I feel the last iteration wasn’t deep enough and was too weak to prevent projects like the Icepick from appearing as a serious proposal. As proposed, the entire area will become largely privatized and future assets used by thousands of people an hour arriving from Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and the US via high-capacity passenger ferries, high-speed rail, new regional commuter rail and possibly more rail rapid transit will be eliminated or dispersed to incompatibly distant sites requiring additional trips.

            The potential high-level future connectivity and superb system networking presented by Waterfront as a single site touching the ocean, rail and road transport has never been explored. I think it’s powerful force for good. The future architecture should respect that, a cathedral to transportation above all else. And most importantly mostly a public space with a powerful sense of arrival and place.

            Regarding heritage, what is the most powerful urban design clue this one site possesses? Isn’t heritage one of the most important design tools used to create the beautiful urbanism of the European and Asian cities we treasure? If Vancouver was located in practically any European nation, the original CPR terminus site would have been celebrated with a public square, statues, street grid sight lines, axes and view corridors that respect its significance by converging there.

            What do we have instead? A f*ucking traffic viaduct that buries it, and a couple of historic photos of the arrival of the first CPR train placed in a pedestrian tunnel to Canada Place. Its treatment was just as bad as the elimination of the ancient Indigenous village sites that preceded first contact. Pathetic.

          2. I’m all for eliminating regular traffic on Cordova to create a space to celebrate The Station. I don’t see what that has to do with the Ice Pick which tucks itself behind. In combination with extending Granville and the proposed square to the east it would be given the treatment even a European could be proud of. Furthermore, the transit hub proposal places a distribution concourse behind The Station which would obscure its north facade. Or it could celebrate it by making that facade internal. I can picture this being handled really well as a super modern transparent building. The latest hub iteration was much less than ideal.

            We can be nostalgic for historical buildings but we fall into the trap of stagnation if we don’t do new things in architecture. We can still build buildings we love – now and into the future. And we don’t need to give a big wide margin around every historic building of significance. Building to emulate the historical buildings is Disneyland. A modern expression in traditional materials can work but feedback on the Ice Pick called for a constrained base and more transparency which was achieved. I don’t think making it brick would be a winning strategy.

            A big deck over the tracks would only come with big development to justify it. It isn’t public land now and will remain that way. Buying the rights for a public square with transit access with little to no development is just not going to happen in our economic system. That would have to change first.

            The presentation on Tuesday had photos of several examples of modern buildings juxtaposed with historical buildings, both in Vancouver and abroad. And I admit to liking all the ones in Vancouver – a little less impressed with some of the others around the globe. Maybe we do it better than most. I don’t think modern buildings hurt historical ones if placed and designed with consideration. Clearly you think they do.

            Where does the historical district end? Personally I’d say at the end of the continuum of historical buildings. The Ice Pick slightly challenges that boundary. But so does the Harbour Centre tower and those other buildings directly across the street. For decades one was a multi-storey parkade. History was lost there a long time ago. The continuous facades in Gastown or Yaletown are at least as important even without the grand expression of The Station and they’ve mostly been dealt with carefully.

            I didn’t say sea level rise was the only consideration you mentioned. I agreed with you on that as well as your points about the expansion of transit services projected to the end of the century. I don’t agree with you on the aesthetic of mixing heritage with modern at the fringe of the historical zone.

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