July 24, 2012
Victoria condos offer surprising European design
Location: Downtown Victoria
Project size/scope: A 93-unit, 10-storey residential mid-rise building of concrete and steel stud construction.
Price: from $169,900 — $389,900, including net taxes
Monthly Strata fees: estimated at $0.31 per sq. ft.
Presentation Centre telephone: 250-590-7290
Address: 729 Humboldt St., Victoria
Developer: Alpha Project Developments Ltd.
General Contractor: Campbell Construction Ltd.
Architect: De Hoog & Kierulf Architects
Occupancy: June 2013
BY SUZANNE MORPHET
Victoria is known for its British-flavoured afternoon tea, but it’ll soon have a little bit of Dutch-inspired architecture. A new residential mid-rise going up in the city’s downtown will capture the bold colours and lines of famous Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, as well as his name. Mondrian lived at the turn of the 20th century and was part of the De Stijl art movement, which advocated abstract design using squares, rectangles and primary colours, along with black and white.
The Mondrian will pay homage to the artist in strong vertical and horizontal lines, as well as the laminated red, blue and yellow glass on each of the balconies. The building’s architect, Peter de Hoog of de Hoog and Kierulf architects in Victoria is an admirer of the Dutch artist, but it was the site’s dimensions that led him to consider incorporating Mondrian’s style of artwork.
“When we mapped out all the requirements for setbacks on the site and height limitations, the building ended up being pretty nearly a cube, 10 storeys tall. It was about as tall as it was wide and long, and that’s an interesting proportion to start working with.” That cube lent itself to being divided into eye-pleasing proportions, like the ones Mondrian painted. “That’s how we ended up with these dark black strips and the different colour on the glass and some of the proportioning of the elements,” de Hoog adds.
While the design influence comes from a long way away in both time and place, the building is decidedly local in other important respects. Not only is de Hoog based in Victoria, but so too is the developer, Alpha Project Development, as well as the building contractor, Campbell Construction. The president of Alpha Project Development, Bijan Neyestani, believes being local gives him an edge with potential buyers. “The purchasers know they’re not dealing with an absentee developer. I think that creates a comfort zone for them.”
Architect de Hoog agrees that a local team can mean the difference between success or failure. He cites the example of a two-storey retail mall between Government Street and the Inner Harbour in the 1980s. The architects were from out of town and decided to locate the main doors on the water side. “Well, if you lived in Victoria, you would know that you have to put the front door on Government Street,” he says. “No one walks along the water side, everybody walks along Government Street, so the whole building failed miserably … and it had to be converted.”
Neyestani, whose company completed downtown Victoria’s largest multi-family building – Aria, with 178 units – three years ago, says this latest building will be the first of several residential projects now underway in downtown to be finished. He’s aiming to turn keys over to buyers in June 2013. Neyestani says his company took a risk breaking dirt ahead of everyone else, but believes finishing first will pay off. “A lot of people want to see the actual, physical building and go and see the unit.”
What they’ll see at The Mondrian are 93 modest-sized units with price tags to match. Homes range from 400-square-foot studios to two-bedroom, two-bathroom units, the largest of which is 850 square feet. Prices range from $169,900 to $389,900, including net taxes. Floor plans don’t change; there are 10 units per floor and they are the same on each floor. It’s part of building an efficient, practical building, says Neyestani, who keeps a close eye on the bottom line.
“It’s very essential in this business to deliver a project on time and on budget,” he says, adding that now is not the time for a lot of amenities that may be popular in places like Vancouver. “Some of these big projects you see in Vancouver, you know, lap pools, spas, exercise rooms, lounge, theatres. At the end of the day, who’s paying for these? The purchasers, and the purchaser has to pay the maintenance cost of these amenities in terms of strata fees. At Mondrian, we’ve kept amenities to a minimum.”
Architect Peter de Hoog toed Neyestani’s budget line by refraining from any design that would require going to the city for zoning changes. “If you have variance, the approval process just gets a lot more complex, and that’s what takes time. “Time is important, you want to keep it as simple an approval process, as clean as possible, without variances.”
The architect also looked for other ways to make the building efficient. “We were very careful to stay within building code parameters for glass. It looks glassy, but in fact, it has a lot less glass than you might get on a Vancouver building. What that does is it gives you more wall space, which has insulation, which reduces a lot of the energy cost.”
Neyestani didn’t cut any corners in the units themselves. They boast overheight ceilings in the living and bedrooms, quartz countertops in the kitchen and on the bathroom vanities, stainless steel energy efficient appliances, undermount sinks, soft-closers on kitchen cabinet doors and laminate flooring throughout. “Finishings are pretty good compared to the prices we’re asking,” he says, modestly. The developer also believes in helping new owners build their vertical community by finding and hiring a building manager and a strata management company.
“We try to set up everything,” he says, acknowledging that a strata corporation can be challenging with new owners who have no experience in strata living. “It’s not easy, but it can be easier if the developer is cooperative and helps them to get it started.” He points to his company’s success in that regard at Aria, where 55 of the building’s occupants volunteer, some of whom are not even owners, simply tenants.
Special to The Sun