- new 90 unit, 9 storey development by Concord at 100 blk. Powell
staff knew Smart buy when they designed one
Saturday, January, 27, 2007
Peter Busby knows good design
-- and, he hopes, a good deal. When Smart, which he designed, went on sale last
weekend, he was among nine members of his architectural practice who bought an
has never happened in 23 years of running this business -- we've never had buy-ins
like that," he says of the contribution of buyers from Busby, Perkins and
Will to the sale, in less than five hours, of all the Smart apartments.
Design, location and "four-years-ago"
prices all contributed to the spirited acceptance by the market, David Negrin
of Concord Pacific says.
"Your access-ways are
on the exterior which leaves more space inside which creates a bigger unit,"
he says. "Also, [there are] lots of courtyards because people who live downtown
want to feel like they can just walk outside and use the courtyards so they're
not contained in their suites."
The mixed neighbourhood
has everything close at hand from shops to restaurants to galleries, Negrin says.
"It's downtown living
and that's sustainable living. You can walk everywhere. You don't need your car,"
The prices were a function
of when Concord Pacific purchased the empty lot at the eastern edge of Gastown
about six years ago.
getting prices that were really about four years ago in the market," Negrin
was a driving force behind Smart, Negrin says, all involved tried to make most
of the residences larger than 600 sq. ft.
Busby said a completely
new approach -- opposite from a typical Concord property on False Creek -- was
needed for the design. After all, the location, lower price point and the assumed
buyers were completely different.
"There is no view.
There is no park. There is no water. So we said 'well what can we create that's
nice to look at?' So the building has circulation on the outside and the spaces
look inside," Busby says of the south-facing homes built around the courtyard
where gardens and shrubs will be planted.
are noisy. There's lots of nightlife so by turning the building inside, to be
introspective, we control all that ... There's a bunch of new ideas."
The buyers Concord thought
might be interested in Smart don't mind if conventions are broken, Busby says.
"The [buyers are] the
urban brave -- the people who are not afraid to live downtown," Busby says.
"They're edgy kinds of people. So we didn't want to give them conventional
plan allows light and air to travel from the exterior entranceways to the windows
facing the central courtyard. Inside, clouded glass door panels slide, meaning
the living space is flexible too.
"We wanted a big open
plan. Even your bedroom, you have big sliding doors. So when it's open, it makes
the space seem higher and wider and that's important," Negrin says.
Space makes a big difference
in the lives of the homeowners, he says: "You don't feel crammed in little
Inside, discerning home
owners will find modern interiors with bamboo-patterned laminate flooring throughout.
In the kitchens, white cabinets
and an "earth-wash" laminate countertop keep things simple and clean-looking,
says Negrin. This can be upgraded to Avonite and under-cabinet lights can be added.
In the bathroom, things
are distinctly turned out with a custom vanity with a "rattan" pattern.
An over-basin, vessel sink and ceramic wall tile reflect light. All suites come
with a soaker tub and shower combination.
Negrin says people who buy
downtown care about style.
"There are two types
of purchasers that buy here. One are here to settle here. The others are here
for their first investment. When their family grows bigger, they'll move,"
says Negrin. "You want something that you'll be able to get your value from."
While he's pleased with
the design of the building and the reaction he's got from buyers, the project
cost a lot more to build than Concorde Pacific expected.
"We learned that a
smaller building is more expensive to build," says Negrin. "It's an
expensive building. When you build less square-footage your building costs go
He says they also learned
about the merits of using exterior space to their advantage and about building
in the city's heritage neighbourhood.
Gastown, also known as the
"birthplace of Vancouver" is named after "Gassy Jack" Deighton,
a saloon keeper who was good at spinning a yarn. The area's come a long way since
the late 1860s. With its cobbled streets, the area has always lured tourists and
trendy shops and galleries. Now it is one of the last frontiers for downtown housing
Down the street from Smart,
Bryan Adam's Warehouse Studio -- the oldest brick building in Vancouver -- stands
as a musical landmark, where musicians like Elton John and Sarah McLachlan have
created albums. Further down Powell Street is Richard Kidd, the glass cave of
hipster style. Across the street from Smart, Four Sisters co-operative provides
Building in Gastown involves
challenges though, says Negrin.
"There's a heritage
committee and you have to meet the heritage committee guidelines," says Negrin.
"They want the building
to look like the older buildings but have a modern image to it."
On the city's online documents,
the heritage committee commented favourably on Smart's use of new building materials
and the red-painted concrete facade. The city's design panel agreed this was a
"good-looking building" but stressed the need for light to the courtyard
in the design and expressed concern over the street-level's retail frontage before
approving the plans.
"The key to this site
was getting light to the interior courtyards," says Negrin. "These are
see-through units, which was really important."
Cornices had to run horizontally
and vertically to fit in with the area. Negrin says: "In Gastown you get
a very vertical and horizontal web."
From an architectural perspective,
the project was exciting to work on because of the location and the heritage requirements,
"This is totally different.
It's a bit of an experiment for Concord I think," says Busby. "When
they came along with this project, we got very excited about it. We see it as
a prototype for future buildings. Mid-rise buildings are the future of the city.
We're built out downtown."
They had to work with the
scale of the street and the look of the area, while keeping in mind what new homebuyers
are looking for.
"We put a lot of brain
power into it and came up with a very interesting solutions," says Busby,
describing how floor-to-ceiling windows open thanks to Juliet balconies. The process
was "productive" and fun, Busby says.
And while Smart stands out
from the old facade of its neighbours, Negrin says, modern, high-quality material
like concrete and stone will help the new building grow old gracefully: "When
you compare it to other architecture in Gastown -- it's a modern, historical design."
Now that's smart.
Vancouver Sun 2007