by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)
Almost a decade ago, a young(er) Bjarke Ingels was commissioned to take on the challenge of designing a building among Vancouver’s labyrinth of roads and ramps. Today, when you drive across Granville Bridge into downtown Vancouver (a stretch that crosses False Creek, a body of water opposite to Vancouver Harbor), what catches your attention isn’t the sparkling sea or the snow-capped mountains in the background, but a 493-foot cantilevered residential tower that twists and turns as it stretches toward the sky.
While the exterior is essentially completed, there are just a few panels left before Vancouver House is done. It sits between the spaces where Granville Bridge trifolds, the building’s expressive form a direct response to the environment around it.
For its design, Ingels had to consider a long list of concerns, including restrictions on the building’s silhouette such as ensuring enough daylight on a neighborhood park. Put this and other restrictions together and the solution expresses itself. The result is a 59-story tower that appears turned upside down, but actually rises out of a tight triangular floorplate and curves away from the bridge, gradually transforming into a rectangle by the time it reaches the top. Ingels describes Vancouver House as a “contemporary descendant of the Flatiron Building in New York.”
The setting presented Ingels with the opportunity to get creative and turn negatives, such as awkward bridges and near-constant annual rain, into positives. “People think that there are certain things that merit effort in architecture, and then there are other things that don’t,” says Ingels, describing a “back of house, front of house” approach that has been a detriment to the urban landscape of cities around the globe.
Where we park our car, the underpass we cross on our way to work, where we drive on the highway—these are the things we accept as if they were not part of our everyday existence. “But in the end, that’s where we probably spend most of our lives.” Ingels’s approach to Vancouver House was that there was no “back of house.” That type of thinking wouldn’t have worked with the restrictions the architect was dealing with.
“We had a chance to really play with this idea of saying, what if the underside of the bridge is an umbrella, what if it’s a Sistine Chapel,” says Ingels. Walk into a European train station or church and you often look up. And if the ceiling is a canvas that grabs our attention, then the building is just a shape that stretches the canvas. “If you look at Vancouver House and see these triangles that the building is wedged between, you start to understand how the bridges have given shape to these forms,” says Ingels.
With a triangular site restricted by setback requirements from the bridge ramps, the team at BIG worked with limited buildable land in the design of the vancouver house development. the solution to the difficult conditions results in an entirely new, unique set of buildings, with a typology which embraces the shape of the site. while the vancouver house tower itself stands alone as a landmark design, the entire project has been master planned by bjarke ingels, with each component serving to create a complete community called the beach district.
Each facade of the tower is different: the north and east because of the incremental cantilever, and the south and west in response to solar conditions. South-facing loggias and west-facing balconies are boxed with thick frames for shade and privacy; and where the facade elements of neighboring towers are mostly light and delicate, the scale of Vancouver House’s facade pattern holds up to that of the bridge and its steel-truss substructure and constant flow of traffic. In fact, the proportions of solid and void in the building’s elevations resemble those in some of the struts helping to keep the roadway aloft.
BIG creates two additional buildings for workspace and retail that have equally been designed in response to the vancouver house site. shaped to fit the sites between bridge’s off-ramps, the buildings complement the tower and connect by way of rooftop terraces to the granville street bridge’s pedestrian walkways, extending the total work above and below the bridge and completing a new neighborhood at the beach district.
The tower’s distinctive silhouette and prominent site have made it the focus of public attention, but the project’s great surprise is the urban contribution made by the angular six-story “podium” buildings that are part of the complex. Three glassy prisms inserted between the tines of the bridge’s fork comprise residential rental units, commercial space that has been leased to a private university, and street-level retail. Formally, the wedge-shaped buildings respond to the constraints of the raised roadway, the need to get light to the public spaces beneath it, the sloping topography, and the dense and intense urban context.
Bjarke Ingels Group…/architecturalrecord.com
take a virtual tour…/designboom.com