Architecture
April 19, 2021

Starchitect Designed Vancouver House Floods Itself: Should Radical Design Be Rethought?

Everywhere around the world the tall buildings are called marvels of engineering, providing custom work and employment for the Hollywood deck of designer darlings called “Starchitects”. Of course those same buildings overshadow parks and other buildings and usurp tons of resources. They also are being associated with a whole bunch of problems because they are so big, different, and house so many units.

It was Kenneth Chan in the Daily Hive that revealed the news:  starchitect Bjarke Ingels’ designed Vancouver House had a “severe failure of the building’s water systems, causing a deluge of water to pour out of pipes, into the condominiums, and out of the elevators.”

And it’s bad. There’s a series of videos documenting the water dumping from the 30th  floor area impacting nine floors below that, blowing out the elevators which are not not operational, meaning everyone is schlepping up the stairs.  A side note: replacing elevator cable subjected to water can cost $60,000 per cable. The units impacted are not livable: the degree of water infiltration elsewhere in the structure has not yet been assessed.

There are images of residents sloshing in water over their toes, and of course with no elevators they have to rely on stairs to get out of the building. Sadly there was water gushing down the emergency exit stairway as well.

And there’s more.

This seems to be the tipping point event that has made residents go public, with Mr. Chan receiving a photographic tome of building deficiencies, cracks, peeling exterior surfaces, and discoloured walls. As Mr. Chan carefully puts it, the graphic litany produced by a frustrated strata owner “highlighted alleged inconsistencies with the final product compared to the marketing materials, alleged building design and system deficiencies, and alleged damage from contractors moving equipment and materials in and out of the building for construction during the occupancy period.”

This water failure will cost millions of dollars to remediate, and will impact owner insurance rates for the 480 units, 105 which are market rental.

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In case there was any doubt, this is going to be a hard-fought (and long) civic election.  At least one set of gloves has come off.

Ken Sim (undoubtedly the mayoral candidate for the ABC party) has taken aim at John Coupar (mayoral candidate for the NPA) if not head on, at least to the source of his identity.

Here’s the latest from Sim:

Today I am announcing my first policy commitment:

If I am elected Mayor of Vancouver, I commit to abolishing the elected Park Board and rolling it back under the authority of City Council, where it belongs.

If I am successful in securing a nomination from an electors organization, I will also be looking to recruit candidates to run for Park Board alongside me, who will be committed to being the last elected Park Board Commissioners.

It’s a bold move.  There has always been a belief by many that, on one hand, the Park Board is an anachronism – redundant and (to City Hall) annoying.  On the other, many believe it reflects a profound priority of this city and its culture: a deeply rooted love of nature and the importance of parks, community centres and the social supports they offer.

Historically the existence of a separate political body for parks has meant we were green before it was capitalized.  No Council, regardless of its ideological positions, can easily erode that commitment – so long, it’s argued, as an elected Park Board is there.

Pragmatically, it just hasn’t been worth the constitutional struggle to abolish it, likely requiring an amendment to the Vancouver Charter – hence provincial approval.

But it is no coincidence that Sim’s first major policy statement (effectively responding to the criticism that he hasn’t any) takes dead aim at the primary identity of John Coupar, long-time Park Commissioner, a board chair, proudest of his support for the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, and even his opposition to bikeways in parks.

By the time you read this, Coupar will likely be responding.  And it won’t be as mild as the persona that Coupar cultivates.

 

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Veronica Reynolds is the sustainable travel advisor for Milton Park which is a one square kilometre office and industrial park with 7,500 employees and over 250 organizations near London. She’s been very successful at getting people to look at other options besides motor vehicles for commuting, and has installed new walking paths and connecting cycling bridges around highway infrastructure. I previously wrote about her implementation of the first autonomous public transit shuttles in Great Britain to service the park.

Veronica asked me if I knew “what3words”.  I did not.

What3words is a geolocation technology that looks at the world made up of squares of three meters by three meters. That makes a whole lot of squares, and each square is given an address with three words. The addresses are translated into 43 different languages, and yes the addresses are not the translations of the same words.

Vancouver’s City Hall’s three word geolocation is putty.averages.closets.

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Take a walk on the Fraser River Trail Greenway which is the perfect thing to do on a brisk spring day. You can start at the south foot of Blenheim Street, and you can go west where the private Point Grey Golf Club has worked with the City to create a publicly accessible trail along the Fraser River.

There was one section of the Fraser River Trail Greenway south of the Point Grey Golf Course that was inaccessible due to a large stream embankment. The Simpson Family in Southlands who had lost a son in an accident in the armed forces chose to honour his memory and paid for the public bridge which is accessible to walkers, rollers, cyclists and horse back riders. You can continue on that trail that proceeds west through the ancient territory of the Musqueam First Nation, and that trail joins up to Pacific Spirit Park at Southwest Marine Drive.

 

But let’s say you choose to go east on the City of Vancouver’s Fraser River Trail which was approved by Council in 1995. There is a footpath on city public lands, and you then can follow the Fraser River beside the city’s McCleery Public Golf Course. It’s a wonderful walk beside the Fraser. And then you run into this:

And there is the obnoxious, anonymous signage:

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When technology and economy come together, that’s usually called a revolution.

You can get one of these electric scooters for a few hundred bucks at Canadian Tire:

 

Joe Sulmona says you may soon be able to get one of these if you need  more carrying capacity.

Bigger battery too.  From Euractiv:

Advances in technology mean that battery-powered heavy trucks can go up against their fossil-fuel counterparts on price and – with better charging infrastructure – on range, according to the study, conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), an independent research institute.

“A tipping point is in sight for electric trucks,” said Björn Nykvist, lead author and senior researcher at SEI. “Battery technology is very close to a threshold that makes electric trucks feasible and economically competitive. All that is missing is one companion component: fast charging.”

If you’d like to know more the evolution of one-person electric transportation and its impact on urban transit as a whole,  here’s a more definitive piece from Boundmotor:

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In the 1960’s Jim Wilson bought a house in Dunbar at 3253 West 24th Avenue. Twenty years later in the mid 1980’s Mr. Wilson razed the house, and built a new house faced with stone, with an elevator, and an attic. The attic, as shown in the drawings approved at city hall was not to be accessed, but was just to be “there” to ensure that  Mr. Wilson’s new house was within the calculation of liveable square feet.

Like many homeowners of the time who were also required to have half height basements (full basements counted as floor space), Mr. Wilson  made his own decision to open up the attic of his new house, and use it as a spare bedroom for his aged parents and as a games room. All was good with this unapproved use until he installed large dormer type of windows in the attic, which alerted the neighbours that Mr. Wilson was using unauthorized attic space. Even worse, he had built a correct stairway and an elevator instead of a  ladder to access that attic. The neighbours called the city.

The evening edition of the Vancouver Sun on January 14 1987 screamed “Attic Builder Defies City” and had a photo of Mr. Wilson wearing what really looks like a vintage housecoat. In that article by Ben Parfitt Mr. Wilson stated he had spent $40,000 to jazz up the new attic with “wall to wall carpeting, a pool table, a guest room, a bathroom, and a window providing a spectacular view of downtown Vancouver. He also had installed an elevator to service the three floors of his house.

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Thursday, April 15

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. PDT
Free REGISTER NOW

The SFU Vancouver Lunch ‘n’ Learn series hosts a two-part virtual series on the future of the downtown waterfront on Thursday, April 15th and Thursday, April 29th (Noon-1pm).

 

The downtown waterfront – the area surrounding the Waterfront Station – could well be the most important and most exciting urban redevelopment opportunity in Canada. Much of the land lies “in waiting” as either parking lots for cars or for freight trains. The Waterfront Station, with its 50,000 passengers a day, is the ideal nexus for what could be a creative renewal of this important area.

The first session on Thursday, April 15th (Noon-1pm) is designed to raise the profile and awareness of the array of opportunities: future transit needs for the City/Region, the role of the historic Waterfront Station, cultural and educational opportunities, walking/biking, public space, tourism, and office and commercial business.

Sarah Ross, Director, System Planning, Transportation Planning and Policy, Translink

Larry Beasley, former city planner, author and international consultant on urban design

Norm Hotson, prominent designer and architect, helped design Granville Island

Gil Kelley, former General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability, City of Vancouver

 

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