Dolce & Vita

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Address 535 & 565 Smithe Street
Neighbourhood Downtown

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Introduction

This is a matching pair of 32 storey towers set on a retail and townhome base occupying half an entire city block. The project’s name alludes to the Orpheum Theatre just up Smithe Street, the late 1920s movie palace converted into the permanent home of the Vancouver Symphony. Inspired not by musical notation terms such as “adagio” or “allegro,” the marketing names for the two towers are references to the 1960 Federico Fellini film “La Dolce Vita.”

Dolce and Vita have their almost identical main entrance lobbies designed by Insight Design facing each other just into the lane, entered off Smithe Street, with a sign reading “Symphony Place” spanning the bottom of four levels of bridges linking the two halves of the development. The bridges are flanked by small stair towers, with their vertical detailing and glass helmet-like roofs making these seem like stoic soldiers guarding the entrances. These are welcome mid-block architectural markers, locales often ignored elsewhere downtown, and celebrates Symphony Place’s lane-oriented entrance and porte-cochere. The ‘sweet life’ promised by Dolce and Vita means a prime location in downtown’s cultural and theatre district.

In keeping with the retail and entertainment-oriented buildings nearby, Symphony Place has a four-storey base, not the two or three more common in nearby Yaletown. This base is largely clad in brick, and has a continuous cornice wrapping around the corners on all three sides. The architectural detailing of this base (not really a podium) is so refined and convincing here that many think this is a conversion of a heritage building, not all-new construction. In keeping with its downtown core location, the townhouse units along Seymour and Richards are unusually high, with ceilings heights up to nine feet four inches, and with the Smithe side residences on the second to fourth floors, were marketed as “loft units.” The towers are set back from the street-edging cornice, meaning that most fifth floor residences have private gardens. There is also a garden for all residents there, and the amenity area is the equal of any downtown.

There is a reason why the architecture of Symphony Place settles so comfortably into its urban setting. The designer chosen by Solterra Developments is Paul Merrick, one of the great lions of West Coast design. Merrick learned the craft and art of designing amenable, resident-inspiring housing while working for Ron Thom. Following the ideas and examples he learned from Thom, Merrick believes that contemporary architecture can make abstracted reference to traditional styles, and that a rich palette of textures and materials, even sculptural decoration can take their place in an efficient and urban contemporary development. Merrick is perhaps best known for the Medical-Dental Building on Georgia, the UBC Medical Library on West 12th, and the extravagant Shoal Point development on Victoria’s harbour.

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