Controversial ‘origami’ tower proposal revised

Critic questions short notice of public feedback session

Cadillac Fairview’s controversial Waterfront Tower is being re-imagined to be more sensitive to the historic Waterfront Station and The Landing heritage building, which flank the site, according to urban design consultant James Cheng of James K.M. Cheng Architects Inc.

Cheng was brought in as a project advisor after an avalanche of criticism derailed the original proposal last January. Cheng helped the design team develop new design principles and guidelines on which the latest scheme is being based.

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The tower’s placement on the property, which is located at 555 West Cordova, is being pushed back towards the harbour in the revised plan to create a larger public plaza fronting Cordova Street. This shift also means the facades of Waterfront Station and The Landing will be completely visible, Cheng said.

Whether the design is moving in a direction that satisfies critics, who include prominent planners, remains to be seen. A public meeting is scheduled for Dec. 3 to gather feedback.

The original proposal envisioned a 26-storey, modern glass office “origami” tower that would overhang part of the station.

B+H Architects and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture submitted the application on behalf of Cadillac Fairview. Its approval was conditional under existing zoning.

After the Urban Design Panel rejected it in late January, the application’s appearance before the Development Permit Board was cancelled to give time for a re-design.

UDP members raised various concerns including the location of the tower, its proximity to Waterfront Station and that not enough sustainability measures were featured in the project. They also questioned the relationship between the property’s private and public realm.

Cheng said the design team will reveal several massing options on Thursday and that the session is meant to be an open workshop, which will allow participants to offer written input and/or sketch suggestions.

“This is to get feedback. Then [the design team] will go back and finalize their design,” he said. “There are some ideas. It’s not just empty words, so when people come they will be able to see what the design team has done based on the design guidelines — how they responded to the station, how they responded to the cornice line of The Landing.”

Along with being pushed back, the building has been rotated 90 degrees — it was previously oriented in a north-south direction, now it’s oriented in an east-west direction.

Cheng said the public would still be able to go to the back of the site to look at the view and the design team is considering providing an additional viewing plaza in the tower that’s accessible to the public at the level of The Landing’s cornice.

Former city planner Ray Spaxman was among the original proposal’s critics. He questions the short notice for the public feedback session, but he’s hopeful some major concerns have been addressed.

Spaxman is a member of the Downtown Waterfront Working Group, a citizens’ group whose members include former planners and heritage activists. The group wrote to council arguing the plan for the tower jeopardized the future planning of the waterfront.

Spaxman noted the developer wouldn’t meet with the group.

“There is a concern they want to push it through before there are too many changes at city hall that might change the positive attitudes that they met with previously,” he said.

City manager Penny Ballem was fired earlier this year and head planner Brian Jackson retired. Neither position has been filled yet.

Spaxman said he hopes the design team recognizes the importance of the waterfront hub in the new proposal and that the tower’s design has been changed significantly to accommodate the hopes and expectations for the hub and that it’s also sympathetic to the two heritage buildings.

Spaxman maintains if all the property owners in the waterfront hub area cooperated, they could do a better job than if they work individually.

“That’s where we’re looking for leadership from the city as well,” he said.

The public meeting runs from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Mackenzie Ballroom at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel at 900 Canada Place Way on Dec. 3.

noconnor@vancourier.com

@naoibh

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