Metro column: City skyline nearly as bleak as markets

January 5, 2009

The chaos on Wall Street that rocked investors and companies globally during the latter half of 2008 continues to pummel the economy in the New Year.

In Metro Vancouver, another signature of the economic boom years — so-called starchitecture — is about to take a major hit.

Construction financing is harder to get these days. And uncertainty and confusion are prevalent in the real estate business. Which means some inspired building designs, drawn up by celebrated architects, are on the verge of going down before ever getting the chance to, quite literally, go up.

What a shame.

The West Coast could use more iconic buildings.

Historically, many folks in the Lower Mainland have grumbled about the vanilla look of condominium towers sprouting from the ground.

The harshest critics maintain that Vancouver’s skyline is less breathtaking than it is boring. In a media interview, internationally renowned architect Arthur Erickson once referred to it as “blah.”

That reputation for banality changed, to some extent, with several sleek construction projects slated for the region – including one created by Erickson himself.

Dubbed “Vancouver’s Turn”, the Residences at Ritz-Carlton tower was designed by the locally-based architect — who created a 59-storey building that appears to be twisting on its vertical axis.

But the downtown project is now suspended, pending “design changes.”

Unfortunately, it’s not just Erickson’s skyline contribution that is in peril. Another eye-catching highrise, this one in Vancouver’s downtown heritage district, is also in construction limbo.

The Jameson House, designed by celebrated UK-based architect Norman Foster, has been on hold since a major lender pulled out of the project last November.

The 37-floor glass tower, designed to exceed environmental design standards, involved the restoration of one heritage building, and the retention of the facade of another.

The economic meltdown can’t take all the blame for this bad news, mind you.

Last year, Vancouver-based Henriquez Partners Architects put forth plans for a sleek, 400-foot residential tower for the North Vancouver waterfront.

The building’s design was inspired by the Princess Louise, a luxury passenger liner built in the area’s bustling shipyards nearly a century ago. But instead of embracing it, a group of area Nimbies – focused more on views than community improvement – made enough noise to quash the project.

When it comes to inspired architecture in Metro Vancouver, it seems, if nervous accountants can’t kill a project, neighbourhood activists most certainly will.

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Filed under Architecture, Environment, Heritage, Industry, Neighbourhoods, Nimbies, Real Estate, Vancouver

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