Location Vancouver, BC
Size 368,270 ft²
Program Residential apartments and condos
Unless tragedy strikes, a skyline isn’t changed overnight. For Vancouver, the recent addition of what is now its second-tallest tower took almost 10 years. The Private Residences at Hotel Georgia, at 48 stories and 515 feet, is beat only by the 62-story, 659-foot-tall Living Shangri-La. Architect Alan Woolf of IBI/HB Architects explains the Private Residences’ inspiration, the adjacent historic hotel, and the challenges of designing a green building of this size.
gb&d: What was the impetus for the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia and how did your firm get involved?
Alan Woolf: The project was first initiated about a decade ago. A firm of architects prepared a schematic design that received much publicity for its innovative design and contribution to the urban fabric, but it lay idle for several years. Thereafter, the developer approached our office (now IBI/HB Architects) to design the tower and another firm, Endall Elliot Associates, to design the restoration of the adjacent Hotel Georgia.
gb&d: Tell me about the hotel, which, in a way, was key to this project because of its significance.
Woolf: The historic 12-story Hotel Georgia—located at 801 West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver—opened in 1927 and is a registered cultural heritage site in Canada. As a result, the exterior of the building and some of the interior was protected by the City of Vancouver. There was a tremendous effort put into the restoration with the size of the upgrade. Toronto-based design firm Munge Leung was responsible for the interior design.
gb&d: What went into the design of the new tower?
Woolf: The residential tower includes everything you would expect of a modern multiuse building: 156 units of living space, office space, and underground parking, and the look is modern. One of the most notable design elements stems from its use of passive solar shading. The floors are cantilevered outward from a set floor-plate dimension as the building rises from levels 14 through 38. So the building is inclining outward and providing some degree of passive shading. Then, at level 38, it reaches its maximum floor plate and starts to recede inward as it rises upward for the last 10 floors.
gb&d: The two buildings look so different visually, so how did you connect the modern elements of the tower to the historic look of the hotel?
Woolf: The buildings are [physically] connected. Eight floors of the parking for the residential tower extend underneath the hotel’s lower floors. On some of the upper levels, there are interconnections between the residences and the hotel. That was important because residents of the tower can use certain hotel services, such as the spa and swimming pool, located on the fourth level. On that level, a horizontal interconnection between the residential tower and the hotel leads into a magnificent hotel-roof garden bistro, designed by Endall Elliot. It’s like an urban oasis surrounded by large downtown buildings. So while the buildings are architecturally distinct, an interesting design arose from the juxtaposition of the two buildings.
Architect IBI/HB Architects
Client Delta Land Development
Construction Manager Scott Construction
Mechanical Engineer Cobalt Engineering
Structural Engineer Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers
Electrical Engineer Nemetz (S/A) and Associates
Landscape Architect Perry & Associates
Interior Design Mitchell Freedland Design
Certification Not applicable
Site Urban renovation
Energy Passive solar shading, photovoltaic cells, geothermal heating and cooling
Water Rooftop water tank, low-flow water fixtures
Materials Low-VOC paints and adhesives, energy-efficient lighting
gb&d: What were some of the challenges you faced because of the enormous size of the tower?
Woolf: In the early construction phases, there were huge challenges to the eight-level excavation, as the site was surrounded on two sides by existing hotel buildings, on the third side by Howe Street, and on the fourth side by a narrow lane and a high-rise office building. It was a shoehorn site. The building fills most of the footprint, and it was another challenge for the construction crew to bring materials to the site and crane them to the various floor plates. The 2010 Winter Olympics also presented some challenges through temporary street closures, which slowed delivery of heavy materials.
gb&d: Did you go for LEED certification for the tower?
Woolf: No, but it was built with several green features. There is passive solar shading, as noted. Photovoltaic cells on the exterior curtainwall, which is south facing, return a certain amount of energy to the building grid, powering motorized blinds and other things. The building incorporates geothermal wells, which contribute to heating and cooling. There is a rooftop water tank, which, when combined with the swimming pool on level four, acts as a possible backup fire suppression. There are low-flow water fixtures and energy-efficient lighting.
gb&d: Is this building a sign of a rejuvenating Vancouver housing market?
Woolf: The design was resurrected in 2006 and drawings were issued for construction in 2008, preceding the downturn in late 2008. At one stage, there was contemplation to build in two phases, the first being the hotel and the lower 11 stories of the residential tower, which is commercial office space. We designed a temporary roof in case the project would be stopped for a period of time, but after the 2010 Winter Olympics, the developer announced that it would continue with the entire project. That spoke to the confidence of the building’s success in the marketplace.