Caron Field Trip: Architecture of Vancouver, BC

Vancouver Tour

Last month we had the opportunity to visit several exciting built and newer projects under construction in our cosmopolitan neighbor to the north, Vancouver, BC. We looked at both residential and civic designs that address the current challenges of the city's housing needs, while embracing the range of opportunities to increase density within Vancouver's distinctive neighborhoods and create a strong sense of community for its diverse population.

Our focus for the trip was on seeing how Vancouver has continued to meet the needs of its citizens and also integrate advanced designs into the city’s fabric. Following this approach, we visited the in-progress Vancouver House by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and DIALOG, the Aperture Apartments and South Creek Landing building by Arno Matis Architecture, DIALOG's mixed-use Central development for Onni Group in the South False Creek area, the recently-completed Kensington Gardens by Henriquez Partners Architects in Kensington-Cedar Cottage, and Patkau Architects' Newton Library in Surrey, southeast of downtown Vancouver. Each of these buildings and mixed-use developments provides its own unique answer to the continuing necessity to seamlessly blend residential, commercial, and social elements into a cityscape where spaces constantly flow into and overlap with each other to create an active urban environment.

Our focus for the trip was on seeing how Vancouver has continued to meet the needs of its citizens and also integrate advanced designs into the city’s fabric.

Three buildings that are currently in the early stages of construction, but promise to contribute significantly to Vancouver’s community once they are complete, are Shigeru Ban’s Terrace House project, The Butterfly trio of high-rise residential towers by Bing Thom Architects (now Revery Architecture), and Merrick Architecture’s LEED Platinum-targeted Office Building at 400 West Georgia Street. Terrace House will provide 20 downtown residences in the Pritzker Prize-winning architect’s first project in Canada. The 19-story mass timber tower is designed to complement and extend the form of Arthur Erickson’s iconic Evergreen Building on the neighboring property to the west, with its landscaped terraces wrapping around from the older building to the new one. Its central location will also be a primary appeal, as the site sits only a few blocks from Coal Harbour, Stanley Park, Canada Place, and the convention center. The Butterfly site adjoins the city’s historic First Baptist Church, and its new towers will both contrast and consistently interact with the older building through its podium levels and galleria’s close integration. The church itself will provide spaces for a range of community uses and social programs. The sustainably-designed office tower at 400 West Georgia will feature a series of stacked 4-story office blocks interlaced with green spaces woven throughout its interior areas and angular façade.

Each of the projects we visited asserts its design intent and community-oriented purpose through unique elements. There were a number of highlights to our tour of the city, including, for many of us, BIG and DIALOG’s expansive mixed-use Vancouver House development next to the Granville Street bridge. The project’s close proximity to the bridge’s surface and its required setbacks dictated that the building needed to fit onto a limited triangular footprint at ground level and remain pulled away from the roadway as it rises toward the upper floors. Impressively, the intended effect of a curtain being pulled aside, as described by the architects, is clearly – and boldly – realized, with successive floors along the tower’s east-facing façade gracefully reaching further out until they have articulated the building’s full rectangular form high above the street. At ground level, a range of public spaces and three extensively fenestrated podium complexes fill out the site around the surrounding concrete infrastructure, creating the strong sense of a private-public connection between inside and outside that is carefully placed in context.


The scale and vision of these developments is all the more remarkable for the thoughtful ways in which each one blends into the existing fabric of the city’s exceedingly dense urban environment and will contribute in their own ways to its ongoing growth and development. When those projects that are now beginning construction are complete, they will undoubtedly also create their own marks on the landscape of Canada’s third largest city.

We were inspired by seeing these innovative solutions to complex site requirements and programming issues, and we look forward to continuing to incorporate leading design ideas into our own work in Seattle and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Our trip north of the border has given us several new ideas for discussion that we are excited to continue to explore and potentially implement in future designs.