Neighbourhood Coal Harbour
Year Built 2005
Developer Westbank Projects
Architect James KM Cheng
Interior Designer Robert Ledingham
Total number of residences 130
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For major seafront cities hemmed-in by mountains—like Hong Kong or Vancouver—there is an inevitable push to increase buildable sites by dumping land-extending fill into bays. While our natural shoreline more or less followed Cordova Street, the area from the foot of Burrard Street west is partly land reclaimed from the sea, the remainder a former railyard for the CPR.
Vancouver architect James K M Cheng was the key urban designer for this new addition to the downtown core, then went on to design a half dozen residential or mixed-use towers along Cordova Street, from Burrard to Jervis. The anchor for this massive transformation of the central Burrard waterfront is the Shaw Tower, which has a highly prominent location opposite the west wing of the Vancouver Convention Centre.
This land was originally earmarked for solely office uses, but Cheng’s re-zoning submission convinced City Council to approve a different kind of hybrid tower than the hotel-residential Shangri-la or Pacific Rim—an office building topped by condos, which required an increase of permitted building height from 300 to 489 feet. The residential floors have a private street entrance and lobby.
Westbank is the developer, and several floors of the office section are home to their corporate headquarters, with the Jimmy Pattison Group head office on floors above them. These are some of the few new office spaces built in downtown Vancouver in a decade, and are supplemented by live-work zoning for some of the residential units.
The Shaw Tower is unusual in being clad in curtain wall construction, rather than the factory-made window-wall components more typical of Vancouver residential towers. Accentuated through some form-defining modernist cornices and canopies, curtain wall ensures the visual continuity of the architecture, despite the quite different functions contained within the building’s top and bottom halves. The difference in form between the blocky office building at bottom and the trapezoidal residential tower on top of them is a marker of the attention Cheng’s firm pays to shaping highly livable housing.
The form of each residential floor is splayed, turned towards the ocean so that nearly every unit has a more direct view to water. The layout of units is ingenious, with most of the key view-sensitive rooms such as living, dining and master bedrooms stacked along these long building sides. Second bedrooms are often found in the squared end of the tower along Cordova, with kitchens, bathrooms and dens set further inside each floor plan, closer to the building’s elevator and stair core.
With all of these there is very little wasted space, and a minimum of corridors. James Cheng has earned an international reputation for the finesse and attention to small scale detail in his residential floor plans. Unlike many Vancouver condo towers, where unit plans are awkwardly pushed into a pre-determined sculptural building form, Cheng’s building shapes instead emerge inside-out, being set by the daily needs of residents within.
Seen from all around the harbour, the Shaw Tower is one of the most prominent and vigorous high rises in Vancouver, so much so that it was named The Vancouver Sun’s “Building of the Year” for 2004. The prominence of the Shaw Tower is accentuated by its public art. All the way up the tapered ‘prow’ of the tower on the waterfront side, a continuous set of LED lights have been installed, which switch from green to blue. The creation of Los Angeles light artist Diana Thater, this is now one of Vancouver’s most visible artworks, clearly seen throughout the harbour basin.
Upon opening, Shaw Tower was very successful in the marketplace, establishing that there was demand for highly original and refined architecture at the downtown peninsula’s most prominent locations. In this, Shaw Tower set the standard for the buildings by Cheng, Henriquez and their colleagues from around the world that followed over the next decades.
Vancouver tall towers – Shaw Tower held the title of the tallest building in Vancouver until the opening of the Shangri-La approximately 3 years later.