Tower gives sky­line dose of drama

Unique, strik­ing Van­cou­ver House to wel­come its first move-ins soon

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - Sources in­clude Glot­man Simp­son. kev­in­grif­[email protected]­

Van­cou­ver House is more than just an­other condo high­rise, it has be­come a build­ing that al­most ev­ery­one has an opin­ion about.

Some love it for stand­ing out in a sea of rec­tan­gu­lar cuboid tow­ers, oth­ers hate it as a sym­bol of the city’s real es­tate ma­nia.

The first res­i­den­tial move-ins are ex­pected next month, four years af­ter con­struc­tion be­gan in 2015.

From the start, the 60-storey Van­cou­ver House hasn’t been a typ­i­cal condo project.

The dif­fer­ences that set it apart in­clude how the unique chal­lenges of the site were solved by a Dan­ish ar­chi­tect and the con­tra­dic­tion be­tween look­ing un­steady but be­ing built to with­stand dou­ble the most ex­treme earth­quake pre­dicted for Van­cou­ver.

The site is one of a hand­ful sin­gled out by the City of Van­cou­ver for spe­cial treat­ment.

Sit­u­ated by the south­bound Howe Street on-ramp to the Granville Street Bridge, it was des­ig­nated for a tall, dis­tinct build­ing at a gate­way to down­town.

But the par­cel of land at 1480 Howe St. had one big draw­back: Its rec­tan­gu­lar shape was re­duced to a tri­an­gle be­cause of a 30-me­tre safety set­back from the bridge.

Ar­chi­tect James K.M. Cheng worked on a de­sign for al­most a year-and-a-half for West­bank Corp., the Van­cou­ver-based in­ter­na­tional prop­erty de­vel­oper be­hind Van­cou­ver House.

“We were think­ing, what could be done as a tri­an­gle build­ing?” he said. “You need a big­ger build­ing to make it fi­nan­cially eco­nom­i­cal. By the time you fin­ish the el­e­va­tors and exit stairs, you have noth­ing left to build con­dos.”

In Metro, Cheng ’s work is a dom­i­nant pres­ence.

He has de­signed as many as 60 high­rise condo tow­ers in Van­cou­ver, and vir­tu­ally in­vented the typ­i­cal tower-and-podium de­sign as­so­ci­ated with Van­cou­verism, the con­tem­po­rary ur­ban de­sign de­vel­oped in the city that em­pha­sizes pub­lic space and walk­a­ble neigh­bour­hoods.

For West­bank, James K.M. Cheng Ar­chi­tects had al­ready de­signed sev­eral high-pro­file tow­ers, in­clud­ing Shangri-La, Fair­mont Pa­cific Rim and the Shaw Tower.

Cheng was strug­gling with the site when he heard Bjarke In­gels, a ris­ing in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tec­ture star, give a talk at the Ur­ban Land In­sti­tute in 2010.

Cheng re­mem­bered sit­ting in the au­di­ence and think­ing, “This is one of the smartest young ar­chi­tects I’ve ever lis­tened to.”

At that time in his ca­reer In­gels hadn’t de­signed a high­rise condo tower. That didn’t bother Cheng.

He was con­fi­dent that In­gels would come up with a suc­cess­ful de­sign and help push lo­cal ar­chi­tec­ture be­yond the con­ven­tions of Van­cou­verism.

He sug­gested to Ian Gille­spie, pres­i­dent and founder of West­bank, that they give In­gels a chance.

“If you like it, use it,” Cheng said to Gille­spie. “If not, I can still do the build­ing for you.”

When In­gels went back to his of­fice in New York af­ter vis­it­ing the Van­cou­ver site, up­per­most in his mind was the 30-me­tre set­back from the bridge and not cast­ing a shadow on the park to the west.

He said the usual process with his firm is al­most Dar­winian: Many op­tions are ex­plored be­fore a fi­nal de­sign emerges.

That didn’t hap­pen with Van­cou­ver House.

He met with his team on a Sun­day. In­gels took a rec­tan­gu­lar piece of foam used to make ar­chi­tec­tural models and drew a line in an arc from a tri­an­gle to a rec­tan­gle.

In a rare event, In­gels cut the foam him­self.

He was sur­prised when the crude model stood on its own even though it looked un­sta­ble.

“It was lit­er­ally one of the few times in my ca­reer where we had a hole-in-one,” he said. “We just knew that this was the idea.”

In­gels re­al­ized the 30-me­tre set­back didn’t ex­tend all the way up­ward.

Once the build­ing cleared the bridge deck by 30 me­tres, it sat­is­fied the city’s safety re­quire­ment.

What the ex­pand­ing tower also did, Cheng said, was give West­bank more valu­able real es­tate at the top, where the views are the best.

By grad­u­ally grow­ing the area of each floor rather than abruptly ex­pand­ing out to the full rec­tan­gle once the tower rose above the safety set­back, the in­no­va­tive de­sign cre­ated an el­e­gant form.

In­side, it cre­ated floors that are a dif­fer­ent size on each level. Most res­i­den­tial tow­ers have 12 dif­fer­ent suite de­signs; Van­cou­ver House has 220 de­signs for just un­der 400 suites.

The dis­tinc­tive pix­e­lated fa­cade not only makes Van­cou­ver House look con­tem­po­rary, it also cre­ates deep bal­conies with over­hangs that act as pas­sive cool­ing to shade suites from the sun.

It was up to struc­tural en­gi­neers to trans­late the un­usual ge­om­e­try into a func­tional build­ing.

Ge­off Poh is the project en­gi­neer with Glot­man Simp­son, the Van­cou­ver en­gi­neer­ing firm that has a history of work­ing with West­bank.

He ex­plained that a typ­i­cal high­rise tower rises straight up with floors on top of ver­ti­cal col­umns.

The load­ing, due to grav­ity, is ver­ti­cal and down­ward.

The ge­om­e­try of Van­cou­ver House, how­ever, means it also has per­ma­nent lat­eral load­ing, a hor­i­zon­tal force that varies in in­ten­sity from floor to floor. En­gi­neers com­pen­sated for that out­ward push, which in­cludes tak­ing into ac­count wind and seis­mic events, by cre­at­ing a su­per-rigid core for the el­e­va­tors and stairs off­set from the cen­tre of the build­ing.

A big part of cre­at­ing that rigid struc­ture in­cluded adding a big­ger con­crete foun­da­tion weigh­ing sev­eral mil­lion kilo­grams un­der­neath the seven storeys of un­der­ground park­ing.

In most high rises, the foun­da­tion would ex­tend about three me­tres around the el­e­va­tor core. In Van­cou­ver House, the foun­da­tion is al­most 90 per cent of the area of the top, rec­tan­gu­lar floor.

Em­bed­ded in the west wall and con­nected to the foun­da­tion are

11 strands of 6.35-cen­time­tre (2.5inch) rods screwed to­gether in 12.1-me­tre (40-foot) lengths.

They’re com­pressed to deal with the ten­sion loads in a way that project ar­chi­tect Vance Har­ris from DIALOG com­pared with the taut strings of a vi­o­lin.

The rods are es­ti­mated to be about three times stronger than stan­dard re­bar of sim­i­lar size.

On the north side are a se­ries of walk­ing col­umns of vary­ing widths that are off­set rather than on top of one an­other.

They start as a sin­gle col­umn that, as Poh said, “branches and grows out like a tree into five sep­a­rate col­umns when you get to the roof.”

Glot­man Simp­son has tested Van­cou­ver House un­der ex­treme sce­nar­ios us­ing ad­vanced com­puter sim­u­la­tions.

The build­ing with­stood dou­ble the ex­pected max­i­mum quake.

“This is what I’ve been telling all the tours that vis­ited the site and the de­sign team,” Poh said.

“This build­ing is ar­guably the most ro­bust in Van­cou­ver in an earth­quake.”


The 60-storey Van­cou­ver House is ex­pect­ing its first ten­ants next month af­ter four years of con­struc­tion.


De­sign­ers of Van­cou­ver House near Granville and Pa­cific had to get cre­ative to fit the 60-storey con­do­minium high­rise into a unique tri­an­gle-shaped lot.


The build­ing has 11 strands of ver­ti­cal post-ten­sioned high-strength threaded rods an­chored to the foun­da­tion.


Van­cou­ver House’s lot be­came a tri­an­gle be­cause of a safety set­back from the Granville Street Bridge.


The walk­ing col­umns of vary­ing widths used in Van­cou­ver House are vis­i­ble on the left near the top.

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