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A Major Building Spree Is Rising at the Edge of Vancouver’s Oldest Neighborhood


At Revery Architecture’s neighboring 1684 Alberni, designs for double-height balconies and organic architecture offer flowing forms also inspired by surrounding nature.

A new tower design by Robert A.M. Stern Architects at 1468 Alberni, featuring historical masonry and crowns, feels much more Manhattan than Pacific coast and the latest design by London’s Heatherwick Studio for two towers joined by a common podium with large curvilinear balconies has an almost sci-fi feel.

But in a city that often stands in for others in “Hollywood North,” can the slew of “look at me” buildings, competing with one another Dubai style, really reflect Vancouver’s design identity?

In the same Coal Harbour area, partially finished luxury condos by Shigeru Ban stand as both a cautionary tale about Vancouver’s Wild West development world, and also an example of how to respect local architecture. Right next door to and connected designwise to Arthur Erickson’s iconic Evergreen building—the late great Cornelia Oberlander was contracted to extend the cascading terrace design seamlessly into the new tower—the Terrace House project has recently been resurrected midconstruction.

The Pacific and its Victorian neighbor.

Image: Courtesy of The Pacific by Grosvenor

On the West End’s Eastern edge with Yaletown, Grosvenor’s The Pacific building, designed by ACDF Architecture and IBI Group with new ground-plain mosaic works by the Vancouver artist Lyse Lemieux, incorporates another Victorian survivor. The Pacific complex, whose subpenthouse recently sold for $9,250,000, also comprises an original Victorian yellow house now moved to the laneway. “Leslie House is one of the oldest remaining houses in downtown Vancouver and is a reminder that this neighborhood was once filled with many other homes such as this,” says Michael Ward, the senior vice president and general manager in Vancouver for Grosvenor Americas. The area is now largely full of luxury towers.

And The Butterfly, a tower designed by Vancouver’s own Revery Architecture that recently won Canadian Architect’s 2021 prize for excellence, incorporates the 1911 First Baptist Church into its unique mix of luxury condominiums, affordable rental/social housing, and heritage restoration.

The mixed-use project comprising a 556-foot-tall, 57-story tower with shared outdoor garden space, a new seven-story social housing building, and a podium integrating a daycare center, and expanded church and community programs, is designed in the form of abstracted church organ pipes, especially at the base, where the cylinders are cut back to enhance the public realm. Only ten of the LEED Gold Tower’s market suites remain unsold and range from $1 million to $30 million.  

The Butterfly by Revery Architecture.

Image: Courtesy of Westbank

But the reality is, as with many North American historic city cores, the new towers of Vancouver will likely be purchased by offshore investors—in spite of recent legislation—and the people who actually live downtown will be the few in subsidized and market rentals.

Meanwhile, the old Victorian house on Alberni, originally owned by a Liverpudlian steamship engineer who sailed to Vancouver in 1906, when the West End was known as “New Liverpool,” keeps silent watch as towers impose a new civic vision. In an old railway town once known as Terminal City, it seems the sky’s the limit.


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