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Water Street Revitalization, Vancouver, Canada

Wednesday 07 Nov 2012

A Dialogue Between New and Old

Acton Ostry Architects Inc. (photos: Nic Lehoux, Martin Tessler) 
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Renewal in Vancouver’s Historic Gastown 

The (EURO) 36.5 million adaptive re-use of the historic Alhambra, Cordage, Garage, Terminus and Grand buildings, revives the dream of Vancouver’s earliest settlement, located in the city’s Gastown Heritage District, that was manifest through successive economic waves that followed the Great Fire in 1886, the arrival of the transcontinental railway in 1887, the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896, and a construction boom at the turn of the century. Completed in 2009, the urban revitalization of five of Vancouver’s oldest heritage buildings has energized a symbolically signi?cant area of the Gastown historic neighbourhood as a vibrant quarter for living, working, socializing and commerce.

The development program called for a mixture of residential and commercial uses with a 100% increase in density. The project deliberately avoids masquerading as “new heritage” and instead establishes an authentic dialogue between new and old. The five adjacent sites were renewed incrementally to retain the existing historic street-level character, and collectively, to establish a critical mass for revitalization. The Terminus now links with the Grand, the Cordage interconnects with the Garage, and the courtyard and mews of the Alhambra amalgamates with the others to form a new piece of urban fabric within the historic Gastown neighbourhood. New building area is strategically distributed to strengthen and reinforce the compositional character of the existing heritage streetscape. New upper additions are set back from robust masonry historic street-fronts with contrasting steel and glass structure, or are built directly upon traditional facades with contemporary, solid-faced concrete and masonry structures.

The location of existing structure and turn-of-the-century window openings determine the position of new floor plates and the demising of units, which results in a wide variety of unit types, including interlocking 3m wide by 20m long units. Sliding glass panels modulate space, privacy and light. Commercial uses are oriented toward Blood Alley to enliven a previously neglected public space. Existing building materials, including masonry, heavy timber columns and beams, and wood windows were salvaged and reused. A combination of geothermal systems and high ef?ciency heat pumps exploits the commercial and residential occupancy cycles, designed to consume less energy than conventional neighbours. Green roof systems reduce storm water services and create a cool microclimate and air cleanser in the gritty urban environment.

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Acton Ostry Architects

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