### theglobeandmail.com Tuesday, 10 July 2012, 1:07 PM EDT
Last updated Tues, 10 July 2012, 1:15 PM EDT
High time for more low-rises
By Nadani Ditmars
The traditional “Vancouverist” model of a tower and podium may well be headed for a civic sea change. In the midst of controversy over proposed new towers – like the Rize Alliance development in Mount Pleasant that continues to draw significant community opposition despite being approved by council – several new “low-rise” projects are quietly making their mark on the urban landscape.
Call it the “slow-rise” revolution if you will, but the model that is gaining ground is one that evokes an earlier era and a more human scale, with uniquely contemporary design. Centred around Vancouver’s historic neighbourhoods, projects like Gastown’s Paris Annex, Chinatown’s Flats on Georgia and Mount Pleasant’s Collection 45 offer modernist architectural values that respect the surrounding built-and-social environments in a way that the city’s growing number of cookie-cutter towers do not.
Developer Robert Fung, whose six-storey Paris Annex building will be completed this summer, and has already sold out, contends that “our region needs density – it’s crucially important. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be exclusively through high-rises.” He notes that Paris, one of the densest cities in the world, achieved that density largely through the six-storey walk-up typology.
While he believes that high-rises can be designed with sensitivity to their environment, low-rises offer certain advantages, says Mr. Fung, “They increase light in an area,” he notes. “They offer a strong sense of identity and individuality, but at the same time make it easier for neighbours to get to know each other.”
Because of the low-rise’s need to be “strongly contextual to where they are,” he says, “that can often mean a higher level of design, and greater attention to detail,” noting that “our historic neighbourhoods tend to offer greater opportunities for this, as the buildings have to have a greater sense of engagement with their environment.”
He notes that some towers in the area, like the Woodwards one, tend to be “inward looking” with a lack of “street-front engagement.” Low-rises by nature have a greater engagement with the street and tend to go against the grain of the “commodity ubiquity towers” that proliferate around, say, the False Creek South area.
The Paris Annex is a conjoined fraternal twin of sorts to the next-door heritage conversion (and former HQ of Paris boot-makers) Paris Block. Both buildings, designed by architect Gair Williamson, share service core infrastructure.
“You have to walk through the old 1907 building to enter the new one,” notes Mr. Williamson. “Every day, residents are literally moving through history.”
The elegant 35-foot building of glass and steel will contain 2,500 square feet of retail on the ground floor and mezzanine, with 17 market residential units on the upper floors.
The constraints of these “character sites,” as Mr. Williamson calls them, “make them unique. When you work on a 25-foot site, you have to respond with integrity and be hyper-aware of the surrounding environment.”
Posted by Elizabeth Kerr