Another look at a controversial housing project.
By Elsa Lam, editor of Canadian Architect Magazine.
Back in 2018, Lloyd Alter wrote about a development in Vancouver designed to look like a stack of shipping containers. Local architect Steve DiPasquale recently revisited that same development—Strathcona Village—in a review for Canadian Architect.Alter was skeptical about the “fake shipping container” look, but DiPasquale says that’s it’s appropriate for Strathcona Village. That’s because the mixed-use development, designed by GBL Architects, straddles between domestic and industrial spaces.
It’s located at the intersection between an established residential neighbourhood and the city’s gritty port zone. The area is a red-light district, and a centre of the city’s opioid crisis. Its program is directly informed by this context: it contains 280 market units and 70 social housing units, which rent for well below market rates.
Instead of the familiar parade of retail spaces, Strathcona Village’s ground level (as well as a lower level, which opens onto a back lane) are designated for light industrial use. That aims to give space to small businesses who produce goods locally. So far, tenants include a juice producer, millwork shop, animation studio, and interior design firm BYU (Bob’s Your Uncle) Design—which also, incidentally, designed the interiors of the entire project.
As for the shipping container look? Here’s what DiPasquale has to say:
“It is clear that the project architects have taken considerable care in designing this expression, especially in the residential towers. The push/pull operations of the curtain wall glazing, subtle shifts in window placement from floor to floor on the metal-clad faces, and yet more radical shifts in the relative placement of the balconies all make for façades that oscillate with interest without ever deteriorating into noise.”
But, on the other hand, he feels the look may have been taken too far:
“Extending the material palette could perhaps have highlighted the critical recalibration of domestic and industrial character evident in the project. If residential towers can bear the countenance of industrial containers, what is an appropriate persona for a contemporary production space?”
It’s a question that’s worth asking, as creating walkable cities and reducing car and truck traffic is key for human health, and for lowering greenhouse emissions. Mixed-use towers—like Strathcona Village, with its unlikely, but synergistic combination of residential and industrial spaces—are an important tool for pushing cities in that direction.