February 19, 2018

When the Mountain View Needs To be Trimmed~City Says Three Overheight Towers ARE the View

Mike Howell at the Vancouver Courier has written an an evocative column on why the City says it is  “ok”to build three over height towers (one 18 storeys above the established view corridors) and erase out the natural views of the north shore mountains from Cambie and Broadway. Price Tags Vancouver has quotations from  Mike’s article here.
Well you may or may not have heard the view will change sometime within the next 20 years—likely a lot sooner once and if council approves rezoning applications from provincial Crown corporation PavCo and private developer Concord Pacific.
The developers want to build three really tall residential towers—Concord two and PavCo one—that will partially obstruct your view of the mountains from that spot at 10th and Cambie, which is what the city refers to as a view corridor.”
“If you followed the debate around the Northeast False Creek plan, you heard that one of city staff’s recommendations was to amend the “general policy for higher buildings” to allow for the consideration of three towers at what will be the new Georgia Street and Pacific Boulevard intersection.
That’s, of course, once the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts are demolished and a new sloping grade is built to connect Georgia to Pacific. That intersection will be known as the “Georgia Gateway.”
“Green Party Councillor.Adriane Carr told me the other day that she and the rest of council received “hundreds” of emails in opposition to having tall towers at that intersection.
Carr voted against staff’s recommendation. So did NPA councillors George Affleck and Hector Bremner. What was Carr’s rationale?
It’s a real move down a slippery slope,” she said. “If you allow amendments to the higher buildings policy and the intrusion in to the view corridors once, it sets the ground for other exceptions —and there goes your view corridors.”
“Then, as the decades past, a forest of bland highrises grew up and around it, giving us the skyline we have today. Some would say that’s just the inevitable evolution of a city at work—that buildings get built, views get taken away.”
“We felt this was the best way and the place to achieve the density needed to achieve the financial objectives of the [Northeast False Creek] plan,” ( Chief Planner Gil)Kelley told council. “That is to say the cost of the infrastructure and amenities, parks and affordable housing that are being delivered as part of the plan.”He said “bunching the extra height at one point” delivers on three urban design objectives. One, he said, is it limits the incursion of the height to the least intrusive area of Northeast False Creek; second, is it creates “a more interesting skyline from that view, frankly, than a straight-line haircut would do.”
So there you go—no boring straight-line haircuts, we’re going to create magic celebratory moments in the sky and we continue to just say no to big bulky buildings.
Before I conclude, I should emphasize that council approving the plan Feb. 13 does not guarantee rezoning applications from PavCo and Concord will get the green light for increased height for the towers…But it was made clear the Northeast False Creek plan “is a guiding policy framework, but council always has to review rezoning applications with an open mind at public hearing.”
Until then, enjoy the view.
You can read Mike Howell’s full text here

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  1. Maybe those three building should follow the angles of the mountains behind them. The middle one being shortest and the others tall to match what’s behind them. Even angled roofs to go with the mountain ridge.
    Just thinkin’…

  2. Given that there is a 25 km long south shore i.e. view from Burnaby all the way to UBC via downtown to northshore ANY pretense that there are view corridors that ought to be maintained is a total joke.
    Of course, you take any ONE location, say city hall, or QE Park, or UBC, or Cambie Street at 41st, or Mount Royal and you will get and/or can maintain a view corridor.
    Which view matters though ? The one from city hall ? to which mountains ? Cypress ? Grouse ? Seymour ? Or all three at 3 different angles ?
    I think we should all accept the fact that downtown will be built higher, far higher, and that as such views will be impeded, unless one looks down a straight street (and there are MANY of them) !

  3. Why is it that we always pretend to be breaking new ground here in Vancouver? “Oh brave new world! — no more boring hair-cut skyline.” This is not the first city with a height restriction bylaw and no, when Paris did it, it didn’t produce a boring city. It stopped the continual arms race (actually a square foot race) of bigger and bigger buildings for no other purpose than to make more money for their developer. I have designed buildings in Vancouver for 40 years and every year there are new buildings proposed that are going to be so exceptional, so iconic, that they will become the “gateway to the city.” How many of them have lived up to that hype? A tiny percentage. If we are going to give away view corridors for exceptional buildings, I suggest that we at least hold out for exceptional architecture.

    1. When people think of Paris, they think of the central area that was planned after Baron Haussmann razed half the city, and hasn’t changed much changed since then. And that’s perfectly fine for Paris (although that has also meant that only the rich get to live in the centre and the poor get pushed to the suburbs.)
      But Vancouver was never one of the world’s largest colonial-era capital, and trying to metastasize it in its current 80s-glass-wall skyscraper form doesn’t do it any favours. Yes, many proposed buildings have often not lived up to their hype, but several rounds with city planning normally does a good job of cutting out any uniqueness to their design.
      So maybe in a city with the population of Portland but the housing prices of Hong Kong, it might be worthwhile to stop looking at any new housing development as an unwelcome addition to our snow-globe-ready boutique city’s “haircut line”, and instead focus on how citizens would interact with it (at street level, or as a place where someone would live.)

      1. I find it somewhat hard to view Vancouver as a city that views any new housing development as an unwelcome addition to our snow-globe-ready boutique city. This city’s a developer’s dream and it hasn’t stopped prices from skyrocketing, nor do I expect three overheight towers to solve what hundreds of others weren’t able to solve. No, those buildings will not be affordable, so bringing up affordability as an argument in favour doesn’t exactly make sense to me.

        1. Indeed. Affordable exists further out, in New West, Burnaby or Surrey. I wish politicians would actually say that and not promise anything unrealistic !
          The ONLY way to make Vancouver affordable is more land leases at 0 cost to owners/developers, or outright building subsidies, or forced rentals subsidized by tax payers or other condo dwellers.
          Downtown is very small, and as such ought to be HIGH. Any pretense of a “view” corridor over high buildings is dumb. Plenty of views from the water’s edge, various higher vantage points throughout the city south of False Creek, or down straight roads. PLENTY !

    2. ….every year there are new buildings proposed that are going to be so exceptional, so iconic, that they will become the “gateway to the city.” How many of them have lived up to that hype? A tiny percentage. If we are going to give away view corridors for exceptional buildings, I suggest that we at least hold out for exceptional architecture.
      Well, there might be a big one, and an excellent precedence at that.
      But even here the city just can’t seem to get it right. The beautiful Marine Building has recently been allowed to become overpowered by the much blander building behind it, and this diminishes any semblance of a protected urban ‘interior’ view corridor to a meaningless collection of words. The Guinness family could have negotiated a density amenity with the city in exchange for the air rights in the view shed immediately behind the Marine Building and not be allowed to build a bland glass curtain wall above the Marine Building roof line, which happens to be part of Vancouver’s genealogical DNA. The Marine Building, with its splendid regionalism and exemplary proportions, is our grandmother.
      As previously iterated, in Paris the view corridors are OF the city, and therein the Arc de Triomphe is the focal point of the view which is comprised of a large horizontal volume of open space edged and defined by the trees and building walls lining the Champs Elysees. In Vancouver, the city is pretty inconsequential to the mountain view beyond. Therefore, view policies composed by the city to date are not actually of the city, and are therefore one-dimensional.
      This town really needs to turn its attention inward and garner a much deeper sense of what urban design really is. Better architecture is part of that, but that is not the only story. This is not meant in the navel gazing or self-centred sense, but in offering better city design using buildings, open space, landscape treatments and street corridors intelligently as an inheritance to residents and a gift to visitors.
      The long view, the short view, the axial view, the open spaces between buildings and architecture are five instruments in this concerto. Being deaf to any one of these components will result in disharmony, or at best in an incomplete work that elevates the setting and therefore diminishes the city.

  4. We do not seem to be giving away view corridors for exceptional buildings as the Chief Planner has explained to council, ‘we’re going to create magic celebratory moments in the sky’. Translation anyone? As explained by the Chief Planner it is the best place (in the middle of a view) to pay for ‘the cost of the infrastructure and amenities, parks and affordable housing’.
    Like most folks I thought that developers were already required to pay for all those things while staying out of view cones.

  5. There’s a line in Durrell’s ‘Spirit of Place’ to the effect: “two paces east or west, and the whole scene changes”.
    I see that view down Cambie St a handful of times in a year. Nice. Total viewing time – maybe five minutes. If there were more buildings, would that diminish the quality of my aesthetic urban experience; for all of those five minutes. No. How much time does anyone spend looking at this particular view. Usually I’m on a bicycle on the Cambie Bridge looking east to Science World, west to Burrard Bridge, and down at the water. The mountains? Not so much.
    The Marine Building is scarcer as something worth looking at – one of the few buildings in Vancouver that an architectural critic like Paul Goldberger would bother commenting on. I love that building and have taken my son inside a few times but, honestly, I haven’t looked at it in years. If it was pancaked, I wouldn’t miss it. Re. the glass wall behind – kind of makes it pop – like the juxtaposition.

    1. With that flat glass building in the background, the Marine Building is more visible as the nostalgia piece it has become — sort of like a Christmas tree ornament we take out of the box once a year and marvel at.

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