Architecture
April 19, 2021

Buildings that Changed Vancouver: 2280 Cornwall

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 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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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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It’s open!  The block in Robson Square from Hornby to Howe has been closed for about a year and a half for reconstruction (it’s complicated when you’re rebuilding a road on top of an underground building, I guess) – but now Arthur Erickson’s original vision for the square is complete.  Pedestrians (and bicycles) only.

And it’s a bigger space than I anticipated:

That means there will be lots of things happening simultaneously – demonstrations, performances, exhibitions, people hanging out, eating, ‘gramming, meeting, just trying to get someplace else.  And then being distracted by some of the best people-watching in the city.

Here’s a 360-degree video of literally my first minute in the square:

I love how the movement flows almost as if directed – the people walking and eating, the cyclists circumnavigating, the guy in the chair giving hand signals, the skateboarders performing almost on cue, the man on his laptop, and then back where we started.  Even the sirens and boarders providing the soundtrack.  None of it planned, all of it naturally choreographed.

 

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By Michael Gordon

The City of Vancouver’s housing stock stands out as having the lowest proportion of single-detached dwellings (one house/one household) of its housing stock of major cities in Canada*.  In the City of Vancouver, according to the 2016 Census, single-detached dwellings with only one household living in it make up 19 percent of the dwelling units in the City’s housing stock.(For Metro Vancouver CMA: 29 percent.)

The trend in Vancouver has been downward, with single-detached dwellings emerging as a more modest part of the housing stock since 1981.  Most dwelling starts now in the City and Region are in multiple dwellings or townhouse developments.

Many of the houses in the City have two dwellings and are counted as duplexes by Statistics Canada.  Houses with more than two dwellings could be counted as an apartment or a flat in a duplex.

I’ve seen the data from BC Assessment which would appear to indicate most floor space built in the City of Vancouver is for ‘single-family’ houses. My choice in looking at this is from the perspective of choices in homes, noticing that increasingly apartments in multiple dwellings are the largest part of our housing stock.

In any case, in our housing stock we have lots of houses but there has been an increase in the number of separate households with their own kitchen in them.

Referring to our RS zones as single-family zones is a misnomer, given the prevalence of so many houses with two or more dwellings (two or more households living within them) and now with infill houses on the lane. From a built form perspective, they really are ‘house’ districts.

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