October 13, 2017
Modern beauty: Westbank’s Horseshoe Bay
Project set to change the design of the West Van village
By Shawn Conner
A peek inside the proposed boathouse at Westbank’s Horseshoe Bay West Vancouver development.Westbank founder and CEO Ian Gillespie and friends.Alberni by Kuma is a 43-storey residential tower at Alberni and Cardero designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma for Westbank Projects Corp. in Vancouver.From the Fairmont Pacific Rim to the Woodward’s building and Telus Garden, Westbank has created some of the most innovative landmarks on the Vancouver skyline—“highrises with a podium,” in the words of the company’s founder and CEO Ian Gillespie.
Now the Vancouver-based real estate developer is transforming a choice piece of local oceanfront into a celebration of West Coast modern design.
Construction has begun on Westbank’s Horseshoe Bay West Vancouver project, which upon completion at the end of 2019 will comprise 158 suites across six buildings, none higher than 11 storeys. The suites will range from one to three bedrooms plus den, and approximately 800 to 4,000 square feet.
“What’s really interesting about Horseshoe Bay is that it’s a low-rise development,” says Michael Braun, director of marketing and sales for Westbank. “This is a different form for us. And we’ve never worked with West Coast modern as a style.”
The company is working with Vancouver-based architect Paul Merrick, whom Braun calls “the last of the West Coast modernists,” a tradition that includes Ron Thom and Arthur Erickson.
It was Dan Sewell, the owner of Horseshoe Bay landmark Sewell’s Marina, who first approached Merrick about developing something on the marina’s parking lot. The two then went to Gillespie and Westbank. As it turns out, Merrick and Gillespie had worked together 20 years earlier on the Jericho Tennis Club.
“Paul actually sketches and does watercolours,” says Braun. Today, almost all architectural drafts and blueprints are done on computers. “He developed a watercolour for what the site could look like, and that’s what Dan brought to us. That painting is what sold Ian on partnering up with Dan on the project.”
The final result will be “quite similar” to Merrick’s original conception, which was at least partly inspired by Portofino, the picturesque hillside fishing village that overlooks a small harbour on the Italian Riviera.
What interested Gillespie about the project was the chance to design something on what the Westbank founder calls “true waterfront.” “There’s nothing between your home and the water aside from the boardwalk,” says Braun. “You’re on the waterfront, on the ocean. You’re not on a river or a lake.”
The boardwalk will be one of exciting new features of the project. “Right now, Horseshoe Bay has a waterfront park that ends where the parking lots are,” says Braun. “The park is going to meld into a boardwalk. And there’s a small island that you can walk out to at low tide. That will become part of the boardwalk.” Another feature will be a new boathouse, which was Gillespie’s idea, inspired by memories of his grandparents’ boathouse. The design will be based on the parabolic arch, and at night, when lit, will look like a lantern. “We want it to be one of the best amenity spaces in Vancouver,” Gillespie says. “If, in 10 years, you Google ‘10 best boathouses in the world’ and it doesn’t come up, we will have missed our opportunity.”
Whatever the outcome of a Google search 10 years hence, Horseshoe Bay West Vancouver is destined to be another striking addition to the Westbank portfolio. Vancouver represents about one-third of that portfolio, including in-development projects such as Vancouver House (completion date 2019) and Alberni by Kengo Kuma (2021).
But Gillespie doesn’t want people to consider Westbank just a developer. “The things that concern us, our attitude to the city, and our own internal priorities are not those of a developer,” Braun insists. “That category is far too narrow and maligned to contain the essence of what makes us move forward.”
Gillespie has already partly defined his philosophy in his 2012 book Building Artistry. He will soon publish a follow-up, Fight for Beauty. The new book “is a candid perspective on the past, present, and future of Westbank and the fights the company has undertaken to build cities and culture,” Braun said.
Along with the book, Westbank is putting together an exhibit to illustrate these ideas. The exhibit will be held in the plaza at Fairmont Pacific Rim from Oct. 14 to 17 (fightforbeauty.ca).
“In an era of short attention spans, of North Korea, of Trumpism, of all kinds of isms, people have put beauty to the side as a luxury we can’t afford,” Gillespie said at a recent presentation. “My thesis is that that’s a false choice. We need to have it all. To push beauty off to the side is to say that you’re not going to be happy. Civilization is not going to advance. We need beautiful moments.”