Regular commenter Alex Botta responded extensively to the Return of the Icepick in a post below. But his remarks deserve this separate treatment, with updated illustrations:
This thing keeps popping up like Dracula’s curse, first on hand then a body emerging from the ground. Cue the night moon, mist and pipe organ. A stake needs to be driven into its heart once and for all. I’m not convinced the Heritage Commission has enough sway to do that, though the majority certainly drove home the message that the Icepick will destroy any sense of heritage preservation with its gross intrusion.
This project cannot be compared to other singular buildings (e.g. The Exchange) because the context is completely different. The proposal is also too clumsy and inelegant by comparison to other stand-alone heritage conversions. The old CPR Station, which will be pierced by the Icepick, resides at the terminus of a preserved low-rise 19th Century streetscape. The closest high rises are separated from the Station by the 26 metre-wide Cordova Street. Moreover, it overlooks the low-rise waterfront (with the exception of the intrusive Granville Square tower). Context is everything.
There is also the conflict between public use (transit) and private use (the Icepick is a private office development as part of Cadillac Fairview / Ontario Teacher’s Pension Fund). The Station is a privately-owned public use space, which seems superficially contradictory, but a dominant public use relationship that could be protected with strong long-term leases. The Icepick will be 100% private space. This is symptomatic of the confusion between public and private, and a diminishment of the role public space has in our economy. Public uses are stabilizing forces while the private economy chugs up and down the market’s peaks and valleys, occasionally getting knocked to its knees by tectonic occurrences, like pandemics that put the question to the need for so much enclosed office space. My view is that good science will win the day and allow indoor social gatherings again, but that still doesn’t justify the Icepick from a design and use perspective.
Guest links to London’s Shard development, which I am familiar with. The Shard is not a good comparison because it was part of an overall development that resulted in a major improvement to public use: transit. The Icepick doesn’t improve a single thing, let alone transit or public space. The Shard does not squash or pierce a heritage building. The Icepick does just that. What these developments do have in common is their form: vertical planes of glass with unusual angles set in a largely heritage context. However, The Shard is well-placed within a development that was designed around it. The Icepick is and always was a jamb-it-in job from from inception.
The new juxtaposed with the old in London is very common and resulted mainly from the millions of tonnes of WWII ordnance dropped during the Blitz, creating craters and piles of rubble on one street while the next street filled with 19th Century tan brick buildings remained unscathed. The bombing was especially bad near the Thames, in Docklands and in the East End, but the bombing maps do indicate widespread damage to various degrees almost everywhere in London. This helps explain the abrupt transition from 18th and 19th century buildings to 20th and 21st century in places like Shad Thames and Spitalfields. And London Bridge Station.
Vancouver has no such history and no justification for clumsily poking holes into its rare enough historical buildings — Class A buildings at that — and heritage districts, thereby eroding its architectural legacy.
So is it possible to place ultra-modern structures into or next to protected heritage buildings without negative consequences? Absolutely! Turning to a couple of London references again, the Kings Cross project uses a steel skeleton and glass to create a half-dome to wonderful effect, essentially creating a great public space used as the functional central ticket hall. St. Pancras Station just across the street used a renovated glass barrel vault train shed (the largest in Europe) for the Eurostar service to Paris. The Great Court at the British Museum was glassed over with a brilliantly-executed split dome by Foster + Partners 20 years ago, and in my view is one of the finest public spaces in the world. In all these cases both the heritage and new are treated with respect and enhance each other.
The above examples were rendered with horizontal, suspended glass domes hovering within a reasonable scale of the heritage rooftops, and enclose magnificent gathering places. Verticality has its place, but certainly not on this site. This could be the alternate design inspiration for a new mid-century Waterfront Station, one that decks over the railway tracks and creates thousands of square metres of new station floor space sheltered by glass domes and wooden arches, new local transit and regional commuter and intercity rail services, possibly a high-speed rail terminus for a West Coast line from Seattle and points beyond, an expanded SeaBus terminal, possibly a new underground platform for a North Shore SkyTrain line, and a high-capacity BC Ferries passenger-only service to two or three Island cities and the Sunshine Coast.
This vision would make Waterfront Station one of the most diverse hubs on the continent. It should not entertain privatizing any space or function, and in fact should ideally be owned eventually by Port Metro Vancouver.
Keep public space public.