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 some elevators which are not operational.  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. 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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Michael Kluckner riffs off the post from Michael Gordon below to recount the story of the building that marked the end of the highrise era in Kitsilano*.

2280 Cornwall

It was the end of ’71 when developer Ben Wosk started work on the apartment building at 2280 Cornwall, following the path set by the St. Roch at 2323 and Century House at 2370 West 2nd in 1966 (left), and Las Salinas at 2310 West 2nd and Seaside Plaza at 2324 West 1st in 1968. The earlier “highrises” are on big pieces of property, like the West End ones of the ’60s, with a lot of open space and low FSR, as were Carriage House and similar buildings erected at that time in South Granville and Kerrisdale. Very different from everything today.

People including some NPA aldermen naively believed that the height limit was three storeys at the beach, although it was actually 120 feet or 12 storeys. Bruce Yorke of the Vancouver Tenants Council led the protests – something people have a problem understanding today, that highrise apartments were equated with higher rents than the lowrise ones, and with displacement and gentrification.

(The blowback was so immediate that Tom Campbell, the NPA mayor at the time, intervened with Wosk to get a stop on the highrise proposal.)  Wosk agreed to build only three storeys “on condition the area is rezoned so that no other highrises can be built,” according to the Sun, February 16, 1972.

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One confident post-pandemic prediction: the curbside patio – or streeterie – is here to stay.  Like these on Yew Street yesterday:

Irony alert: some businesses would have opposed the loss of the required curb parking tooth and nail if not for the pandemic.  Instead, this summer we should see some creativity and upscaling of streeterie design, so important have they become in the economics of eating.  (Likewise, more debate at City Hall on how much should eventually be charged for this valuable public space to offset the parking revenue loss.)

As for the inside of restaurants, lots of lessons have been learned that will be incorporated into permanent design changes.  But there’s still a debate as to whether deliberate crowding will be avoided or desired.  From Fortune:

Warren Weixler, cofounder of creative design firm Swatchroom, based in Washington, D.C., agrees. “I think the idea of packing a bar shoulder-to-shoulder and trying to sling as many drinks as possible is a thing of the past.” …

…. some say, not so fast. Knudsen of Concrete Hospitality … predicts (temporary partitions) will be gone by the end of this year. His team is even continuing to add communal tables into their restaurant designs.

“We’re social creatures,” he says. “The pandemic has proven that we need that interaction. And you can’t replace that.” If some packed bars and restaurants in places that have lifted all COVID restrictions are any indication, Knudsen may be right.

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Michael Geller just recommended a blog by Brandon Donnelly – “Rated by the Guardian Cities UK as one of the best city blogs in the world, it generally covers everything from architecture and planning to real estate and technology.”

I’m surprised I hadn’t seen more references to him before (a Canadian blogger on cities!).  “Brandon Graham Donnelly is a city builder and blogger based in Toronto … studied architecture and fine art history at the University of Toronto … a Managing Director at Slate Asset Management and founder of the Globizen Group. … loves snowboarding, photography, electronic music, and local Ontario wines.”

First post I saw:

Just how valuable is public transit?

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Michael Gordon* explores a misconception about Kitsilano in the Seventies – that, in a reaction to what was felt to be ‘out-of-control overdevelopment’ (see West End), Kits was downzoned.  Not quite.

 

Many years ago, Vancouver’s Director of Community Planning advised me that the 1975 downzoning in Kitsilano to prevent highrise residential development was not a downzoning. Upon further researching this, I discovered to some extent he had a point.

In July 1964 Kitsilano, Fairview, Kerrisdale, Mt.Pleasant and other neighbourhoods had their apartment RM-3 zoning amended to encourage ‘tower in the park’ residential development up to 120 feet.** Previously, the maximum height was three to four storeys.  Subsequently in Kitsilano, only seven highrise residential buildings were built along with a variety of four-storey wood-frame apartment buildings.

The RM-3 zoning had encouraged large site assemblies because it was the only way to achieve the maximum density and height of 36.6 metres (or about 11 to 13 storeys). Density bonuses were given for large sites, low site coverage and enclosed or underground parking. (This zoning still applies in areas of Fairview and Kerrisdale.)  Small- and medium-sized sites were built to a lower density and three- to four-storey wood-frame construction.

Things started to heat up in Kitsilano in the 1970s when:

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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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This year the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival has again shifted nimbly during the pandemic  to provide marvellous virtual offerings of dances, haiku, and virtual walks during their annual great springtime event.

Originally planted in Stanley Park as a gift from Japan after World War One,  cherry trees do remarkable well in the Vancouver microclimate. In the 1960’s  the use of smaller scale trees was popular  in the city. That included flowering crab apple and plum trees to augment existing and new cherry trees which provide a visual spectacle every March and April.

I have written before about the cherry blossom festival and also about the unnamed street in East Vancouver that gets inundated each year by dinosaurs, costumed admirers, weddings and others for the chance to get photographed under that street’s ceiling of blossoms.

This year here are some images from a westside walk in the Quesnel neighbourhood. The backlanes here are windy and hard to navigate through.  And in those backlanes a few surprises. Look at the image below.

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