April 7, 2017
Project Profile: The scoop on 1550 Alberni
Vancouver’s streetscape is about to get a lot more exciting with dramatic new tower
By Kathleen Freimond
With its striking “scoops” and reflective shingles, Westbank Projects Corp.’s 43-storey 1550 Alberni tower is set to be a landmark in Vancouver. Although it isn’t expected to be completed until 2020, already the city’s design-savvy community is fascinated by a building design inspired by the philosophy of “less is more.”
“The building appears to be carved out of its maximum volume, and we seem to lose a lot of potential retail space by including a garden, but the result is a larger presence,” says Michael Sypkens of Tokyo-based Kengo Kuma Architects.
He adds that the unique building slated for the West End/Coal Harbour neighbourhood is a response to the city’s cosmopolitan attitude, diversity and progressive, open-minded attitude to design: “It couldn’t be too subtle, but it was important for us that the building be very Japanese, and we’ve achieved that.”
In addition to creating space in an otherwise dense site, the design also opens up views for the existing buildings in the area. The tower, with its dramatic scoops or recesses, appears to cantilever over Alberni Street.
“If you’re coming from downtown along Alberni Street, the building frames Stanley Park and connects you to that view. If you’re coming into Vancouver on West Georgia Street, it frames the city at the entry to downtown,” says Sypkens.
“If you moved this building one or two blocks away, it wouldn’t make sense anymore. That level of specificity was really important, and that was something that we derived directly from the built environment and the conditions of the views there,” he says.
“To complement the scoop on the other side, we carved out the upper floors. That was to provide these big terraces and balconies to the apartments above facing English Bay and the sunset.”
Sypkens says the balconies, which range from 100 to 300 square feet, are an extension of the interiors as the minimal glazing makes the two spaces appear continuous. The material for the balconies is engineered wood and metal, imprinted with a wood design, chosen for their durability.
“If we use real wood on the outside, a year later [it] appears different: the colour goes. It’s not just about how the building looks when you take the photographs after it’s completed. It’s about how it looks over time. We have an engineered wood deck that ensures its durability. The soffit, where the building is scooped out, appears to be wood, but that’s actually metal,” he says. “It’s not so much about material as it is about materiality. It may not be real wood, but it certainly evokes wood.”
The significance of linking nature to the building is evident in the two intersecting domes at the base of the tower where, instead of designating the area for retail space, the developer and architects opted for a traditional Japanese moss garden.
“We have the vegetation, we have the sprawling woodwork [ceiling] inside that’s trying to evoke this idea of Japanese joinery and serenity of the garden,” says Sypkens.
Vancouver-based PFS Studio is responsible for the landscape architecture and Tamotsu Tongu of Toko Garden Design in Coquitlam will also contribute. “(Tamotsu) knows where to get these plants, how they thrive and how to plant them,” says Sypkens.
Interior design for the 188 mostly two-and three-bedroom homes at 1550 Alberni is also by Kengo Kuma Architects. “It was important for our philosophy that we start from the inside. What we tried to do in the interiors is to create space that really is evocative of Japanese and minimal esthetics.”
In the living areas floors are oak, lightly painted white, while in the kitchen quartzite countertops, vibration-finished stainless steel backsplashes and oak-veneer cabinetry complement the minimalist esthetic. The major appliances are by Miele.
In the bathrooms, porcelain tiles and travertine will combine to present a peaceful and serene space.
There are also plans for the building to include a retail component, a Japanese restaurant and six levels of underground parking.