Mount Pleasant, one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods, has also become one of its trendiest in recent years. Eclectic and hip, the area boasts cafés, bars, gastropubs, independent fashion boutiques, and shops that cater to the outdoor lifestyle of the mild coastal city. Thanks to its age, the neighbourhood is rich with old architecture and heritage homes, repaired and restored from various states of dilapidation in the gentrification boom of the 1990s and 2000s.
Condo developments have become a necessary solution to population density and housing shortages in Mount Pleasant, as they have in other metropolitan hubs across Canada and, indeed, all over the world. The inherent challenge of such developments often stems from a resistance to infusing contemporary aesthetics in pockets of heritage housing, and to the paradoxical shift of gentrification that occurs when trying to provide affordable housing in downtown areas.
The Duke, designed by Acton Ostry Architects Inc., is a new residential development in Mount Pleasant, made possible by changing municipal policies that allow for the re-zoning of strategic sites. Greater building heights have become permissible in said areas with the stipulation that developers provide and operate rental properties for a period of 60 years (or the lifespan of the building) in order to accommodate increasing population densities. According to the firm, it responded to these challenges by taking its cues from new rental developments in England.
This 14-storey, mixed-use development sits at the busy corner of East 11th Avenue and the Kingsway. The façade was designed specifically to create a welcoming space that transitions from public to private, with a large public art sculpture suspended in a recessed vertical slot on the south elevation. Its presence lends artistry and visual interest to the exterior, while its effects are further enjoyed inside; this slot bathes the interior atrium with natural light that takes on soft rosy hues, thanks to the pink of the sculpture.
Of the 14 storeys (a height restriction imposed by the city), 12 are residential. 25% of these are two-bedroom units to accommodate young families in the area, while the remaining units are one-bedroom and studio configurations — perfect for young professionals and couples. The rental units were inspired by European architectural design, with unique design elements in the compact, light-filled living spaces. Details include laminate wood flooring, Friul Intagli kitchen cabinets, quartz countertops, and ceramic wall and floor tile.
“The rental units are oriented outward,” the firm explains in its book Acton Ostry Architects: Twenty-Five Years, “with a staggered elevational treatment that reflects the shifting nature of the traffic pattern passing by on the adjacent arterial thoroughfare.” Juliet balconies in the studio units and larger projecting balconies in the family units provide a connection to the outdoors, possible thanks to the configuration of the building, with units pushed to the perimeter of the lot lines. This was a choice made to provide a greater number of units on the site.
The by product of this design created a void at the centre of the development, which would become a key design element of the Duke (and one unique in Vancouver). This empty footprint was transformed into a soaring atrium, providing an open-air circulation space that would serve as access to the units. “When an architect’s dreams are as tall as the sky, they create some astounding concepts, like our atrium,” Edgar Development Corp. has said of this detail. The trapezoidal shape of the site makes for a dynamic spatial quality in this rosy-toned atrium, where bright colours further punctuate the minimalist whiteness of the walls and railings with brightly-coloured doors to the individual units. And residents and visitors can’t help but have the eye drawn upward in this vast space. “A high-tensile steel and Teflon membrane structure is suspended above the open-air atrium,” the firm explains, “to protect the space from the elements, with portions extending past the void to shelter portions of the extensive rooftop communal terrace.”
This rooftop communal terrace is one that has been met with “overwhelming” response from the public. It offers a children’s play zone, urban agriculture, a dog-friendly space, and a barbecue area with seating for social gatherings. Inside, these community-focused amenities are continued in two rooms on the uppermost floors.
To learn more about this project and to see other works by Acton Ostry, visit the firm’s website. Hungry for more Vancouver architectural eye candy? Read our piece on the award-winning 430 House. Hungry in the literal sense? Check out our Vancouver foodie itinerary.
Photos courtesy of Acton Ostry.