Fairmont Pacific Rim
Neighbourhood Coal Harbour
Year Built 2010
Developer Westbank Projects
Architect James KM Cheng
Total number of residences 175
It is perhaps surprising to learn that the hotel-condo hybrid tower that when it opened in 2010 the Fairmont Pacific Rim was the largest building ever constructed within the city of Vancouver, by floor area. The 813,000 square feet developed by Westbank here is even larger than the west wing of the Vancouver Convention Centre across the street. The average size of a typical Vancouver condo tower floorplate is around 6000 square feet—those of the Fairmont Pacific Rim are triple this figure.
Understanding the architectural features of Vancouver’s biggest such tower reveals the evolution in thinking about residential living here. The design approach allowing architect James K M Cheng to craft so elegant and so large a hotel-condo tower was to think of this as three or four towers compressed together. The clue to this architectural composition is in the differing treatment found on each of the tower’s four elevations.
For example, the section of the tower at the intersection of Burrard Street and Canada Place is covered in lighter, off-white-coloured spandrel panels and different window mullion details than the rest of the tower. In contrast to the darker or more silvery treatment of the rest of the flanking sides of the building, it reads as a single thin tower, wrapping around the corner.
Moving from ground up along the Burrard side of the tower, the windows of the Fairmont hotel floors lower down have a much different treatment, with the floor slabs projecting out to add strong horizontal shadow lines, and the three-dimensional letters of a text-based artwork by British artist Liam Gillick set on top of them.
When the hotel floors end and the condo floors start, the elevation treatment changes again, to eight floors of white concrete elevations and a clear less-reflective glass, making the corner two-storey ‘loft’ style units highly visible. Why is this the only location of loft units in the Fairmont Pacific Rim? The thinking behind this design feature came out of an analysis by condo marketers, who indicated that these—the lowest of the residential floors without strong ocean views—would be the most difficult to sell.
By having two-storey loft units with internal stairs set here and here only, sales were sparked for buyers wanting these features, balancing the amenities and desirability of different portions of the building, ensuring there were no hard-to-market ‘dog’ units. This is a paradigm example of how interior apartment layouts, exterior architectural expression and condo marketing march hand-in-hand.
There are some extra design and construction costs in building four different façade treatments for each side of a tower like this, but the visual benefits of reducing perceived scale and creating a variety of interest are huge. This detailing makes the Fairmont Pacific Rim a better neighbor to the Art Deco Marine Building across the street, and the Westbank-developed Shaw Tower just west of it. For example, the Fairmont Pacific Rim was situated on its site to maintain harbour views (and views from the harbour) of the 1928 Marine Building, one of the city’s architectural gems.
Moreover, the new tower is not rectangular, but is angled along its western edge, the side with the best views of Burrard Inlet and the North Shore mountains. This has the effect of ‘turning’ the residential units along this side of the building towards the most desirable views. Without this splay, living and dining rooms would look directly at the adjacent Shaw Tower, not out to sea.
Careful design thus results in residents not having to stand at the glass and crane their necks to catch alpine views, but rather these become part of their daily lives. Between the layouts of hotel rooms and the condo suites above, James Cheng’s firm has devised no less than 45 different layouts. In the hands of a skilled designer, even a large building can provide a huge range of options for comfortable urban living, and it can be settled into the skyline in a more creative manner.
Art and architecture – While many buildings incorporate public art, few possess the boldness of Fairmont Pacific Rim. The most commanding being Liam Gillick’s 2010 installation, descriptively entitled Lying on top of a building the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street, adorning the exterior of levels 5 through 22. The uppermost floor demarks the transition from the hotel to the private residences. For those interested in typography, the font chosen by the artist is Helvetica Bold.
Fairmont offers a podcast for a self-guided tour of the art woven into the fabric of the building. Interestingly, the architect himself contributed to the artfulness of the building with the translation of one of his photographs of a westcoast forest into the steel screen wrapping the south west corner of the building. A casual glance may not realize the subtle artistry.
A glimpse into Vancouver’s history – Cafe G at Fairmont Pacific Rim features one of Fred Herzog’s photographs, Elysium Cleaners, which shows The Marine Building in the background. He’s an important local artist for having beautifully captured Vancouver’s street life around the 1950s. Herzog’s represented by Equinox Gallery, a leading local gallery and one of our community partners. We’ve co-hosted an evening of Art + Architecture for clients in their space.