For years, the unusual shape of the building site in the 1400-block of Howe, in the shadow of the Granville Street Bridge, stymied developer Westbank. Site restrictions, including a 30-metre setback from the bridge, left only a triangular chunk of land measuring just 6,000 square feet.
And that, as architect Bjarke Ingels said Thursday, was too small for a condominium tower.
Ingels, of Danish company Bjarke Ingels Group, with offices in New York and Copenhagen, approached the problem differently.
If the intent of the city’s regulation was to provide a minimum setback from the bridge for residents of a tower, what would happen once you rose 100 feet above the bridge? Residents would be well above the bridge sightlines.
If that was the case, then a design solution would be to start the building on a triangular base and slowly change the form into a rectangle as it climbed higher.
The simple and elegant design freed up the upper building envelope for development. In essence, it found unused developable space in thin air.
“Behind any rule or regulation, there is intent,” Ingels said in an interview. “There is the letter and the spirit. If you understand the spirit, then there might be ways of addressing those concerns that are the underlying reasons why the code is the way it is.
“In order to bend or break the rules, you have to master the rules. We don’t believe so much in the idea of thinking outside of the box. We try to find all the space available within the box — maybe like bending the membrane of the box without destroying it.”
Ingels said the unique design came out of the very first meeting his architectural firm had on the project, which is now known as Vancouver House.
The distinctive 52-story residential tower, with 407 condominiums and 95 rental apartments, is being built by Ian Gillespie’s Westbank Projects Corp. and is expected to be finished by 2018.
The project includes public art on the underside of the Granville Street Bridge in the form of backlit photographs in lightboxes and a spinning 18th-century chandelier by artist Rodney Graham.
Although Vancouver House has been called a twisting tower, Ingels doesn’t describe it that way. He says it is an expanding tower that spreads out to fill the building’s rectangular footprint as it rises.
The striking form comes out of a practical response to the site, Ingels said. There is also the added bonus that the design not only increases the amount of space by 50 per cent, it also creates more valuable units with views and sunlight.
“I think there is this misunderstanding that creative people should run wild,” said Ingels.
“We always say: give us all the parameters. Criteria that you get at the beginning of the process become like ingredients you can cook with. Criteria that come at the end become like obstacles or show-stoppers.”
Ingels was in Vancouver for the media preview of Gesamtkunstwerk. Pronounced Geh-ZAHMPT-kunst-verk, it’s a German word that means a total work of art where everything is considered and chosen so that all the parts work together to achieve whatever effect is intended.
The exhibition records the seven-year process of designing and developing Vancouver House and how the tower fits in with the development of Vancouverism, a residential building form that matches a thin vertical tower with a horizontal podium of townhouses. Vancouver-style residential towers are now being built all over the world.
Trevor Boddy, the exhibition’s curator, dates the beginning of Vancouverism to a pencil drawing from 1955 by Arthur Erickson when he was an architecture professor at the University of B.C. The sketch shows twisting, 30-storey, terraced towers in the West End and Kits Point and a bridge linking UBC with West Vancouver.
Boddy said the drawing is being shown publicly for the first time.
“This is an amazing anchor drawing,” he said. “I think the key ideas of Vancouverism were anticipated in this single sketch.”
The exhibition Gesamtkunstwerk at 1460 Howe is free. It’s open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to Sunday, May 18. Visit www.gwerk.ca for more information.
Read the full article at the Vancouver Sun.