Bjarke Ingels attended the opening of the Seattle Central Library in 2004 before driving north to Vancouver and across Granville Street Bridge.
“It was almost like a psychedelic city of glass in front of a big mountain,” he recalled of his impression of the skyline.
“You go over the water and see this dense, dense downtown of green glass towers with wide mullions. It was very, very futuristic. One of the things that still amazes me when you come to Vancouver is everything looks brand new, like you have the feeling that it’s done 10 years ago.”
The internationally known Danish architect, principal of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), appeared at Thursday night’s open house at UBC Robson Square for the proposed Westbank development designed by Ingels at the north end of Granville bridge.
He told the Courier one of the reasons he wanted to visit the city almost a decade ago was because of two of his favourite writers, William Gibson and Douglas Coupland. “So that was almost the reason — to see what was so special,” he said.
Ingels’ own star power was evident at the open house, which attracted a seemingly endless stream of Vancouverites eager to examine the scale model of the project and meet the man behind the design.
The high-profile development features a unique 52-storey residential tower that “grows,” according to Ingels, rather than twists from a triangular shape at the base to a rectangular shape at the top. The proposal envisions 407 units in the Howe Street tower and a 10-storey podium housing retail and 95 residential (market rental) units.
The Granville and Pacific Street sites include six-storey triangular shaped buildings providing retail and office uses.
Ingels said Vancouver has a very successful urban model with a residential downtown that’s walkable, which combines the qualities of a dense European city with an Asian type of city with highrises.
“Maybe architecturally it hasn’t been explored a lot. It’s very uniform the way it’s been realized. We just wanted to take this model and maybe turn the podium into a village of smaller elements, and then also the tower — that’s maybe one of the main visions of the project. Take an area that’s challenged by being under the bridge and really turn it into an attraction, trying to create a successful, lively neighbourhood under the canopy of the bridges above.”
Despite its unique shape, Ingels believes the tower fits in well with the city’s existing skyline.
“I think it is actually quite a unique project and I think it has the quality that it’s not some kind of landmark with some kind of exotic cap or spire at the top. It’s more that from some angles it looks very discrete and from other angles you realize it has this feminine aspect to it.”
Johannes Petzel who lives two blocks away from the site, agrees it would fit in.
“There are so many other developments going in that area. It’s a changing neighbourhood. The style and architecture is great for Vancouver. It’s a good break from the bread and butter architecture that doesn’t seem to change much over the years,” he said.
Scott Erdman lives in the West End and works for the provincial government. He dropped by the open house because of an interest in planning and architecture and a desire to see the 3-D model and find out more details about the project.
“I really like it. I like that it doesn’t look like any other building that we have in the city right now. It’s definitely unique,” he said. “I think it’ll make a very nice addition. It’ll stand out and it will be eye catching. It won’t look like every other glass tower that we have now.”
UBC architecture student Amanda Lwanga said she loves the way the shape of the tower plays with the eye.
“[The design] blends in well with the other buildings, but it stands out because of the different shapes and texture. A lot of the other buildings are plain glass. This one pops but it still complements the other buildings,” she said. “I think it will [fit in] because the materials he’s used are similar but the way he’s arranged them with the use of the metal and glass is very different.”
But at least one Vancouverite isn’t dazzled by the architect or his design.
A post on CityHallWatch, a site run by Randy Helten, maintains some of the elements in the proposal are problematic. The post cites concerns ranging from the tower’s height and its impact on Vancouver views to how it would withstand a major earthquake.
The City of Vancouver collected feedback at the open house and staff from various departments are reviewing details about the proposal. Kevin McNaney told the Courier earlier this week that once that work is completed, a report to council will be drafted and the proposal is expected go to public hearing by the summer.