Developing Story: 'Skybridge' part of unique Main Street project

The mass of scaffolding stretching between two multi-storey buildings under construction at 1553 Main St. south of Terminal Avenue is hard to miss. The scaffolding obscures eight, four-foot in diameter columns supporting an eight-storey skybridge under construction, which will connect the two mid-rise structures on the 70,000-square-foot site.

The skybridge will house residential units, as will the 11-storey building positioned on Quebec Street, while the one on Main Street will be a seven-storey office building. (Its fewer storeys than the residential one because of higher ceilings.)

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Onni Group is behind the $110 million development, which its dubbed Central.

We were looking to try something unique, explained Beau Jarvis, Onnis vice president of development. It was a central site that was going to stand out. You drive by it, you see it and we wanted to do something outside of the box. There were a number of different iterations that were bantered about and we ultimately settled on this and I think the city was quite excited about it as well. Nobodys seen anything like this in Vancouver and were really excited about it taking shape right now. Its going to be pretty cool. Really cool, actually.

Jarvis expects construction will be completed in the summer of 2014.

Martin Bruckner of IBI Group is handling the execution of the project, but Dialogs Bruce Haden was behind the design concept and his firm took the project through the rezoning stage.

Haden said theres a certain degree of architectural similarity when you look across the downtown core in terms of the pattern, size, scale of residential towers built over the last 10 or 15 years.

So we were very interested in trying to test a slightly different model one that was a little bit more design ambitious and just distinctive in the skyline, he said. The other thing is we saw the site as a bit of a transitional zone. The historic Main Street corridor is mostly mid-rise buildings of a certain scale like the brick building at Main and Broadway and then there are the older ones in the Downtown Eastside. The scale of the block on Quebec and the block on Main are really designed to reflect that sort of scale and grain and street texture.

The skybridge actually aligns with the overall city grid and is intended to have more of a kind of conversation with the skyline, according to Haden.

Main and Quebec are slightly angled at that point, so what happens is the two lower parts align directly with the streetscape on the adjacent streets.

A landscaped courtyard with public access is planned for between the two blocks underneath the skybridge.

Jarvis said a public art piece is being included in the design called The Ninth Column, which will look like a Douglas fir.

Bruckner said Central will be a unique addition to Vancouvers skyline.

I think its a fantastic concept and its going to be a fantastic building when its finished. Its a spectacular space, he said. It will bring something brand new [to the city] something never seen before. Architecturally, its just unique.

Haden is curious about how the project will turn out.

What were hoping it will do, certainly, is encourage more experimentation and different ways of thinking about residential buildings relationships to the ground plane all these kinds of things, he said. Much of the work that was done in the last 10 or 15 years is very, very high calibre. Its just that we need to have more models that are a bit more adventuresome.

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