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CBC seeks facelift for 'factory' by Amy O'Brian

Jun 30, 2005

Source : Vancouver Sun

With 2010 in mind, the corporation wants to spruce up its digs

One of Vancouver's most distinctive -- perhaps most reviled -- buildings is about to undergo a major redesign.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "media factory" at Georgia and Hamilton streets is being re-imagined by one of Canada's leading green architectural firms, Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden.

The project is a partnership between the CBC and Concord Pacific, the Vancouver developer responsible for most of the condo towers lining the north shore of False Creek.

Concord Pacific is planning to build two residential and retail towers on the Robson side of the property, while CBC wants to create a building that will take it "into the Olympics and beyond," said Ralph Segal, Vancouver's senior development planner.

"They want a far more prominent venue for their broadcasts," Segal said.

"Rather than the introverted black box circumstance they now have, certain of their studios they really want to project to the street."

The initial plans for the project were sent back to the drawing board earlier this month by the city's urban design panel.

The project's architects will return to the panel next month for a second presentation.

The CBC building was built in the 1970s and designed by architect Paul Merrick, who won a governor-general's award for it. But its severe lines and factory-like appearance have not been popular with everyone, and Segal said Wednesday the panel is not committed to preserving the "bunker-like structures" that house some of the broadcasting studios on the property.

"Frankly, we're not so enamoured of those bunkers that we wouldn't want to see them encompassed or surrounded by something more esthetic and more active," Segal said.

"So we're happy to see those black box structures . . . covered up by something more attractive."

According to the minutes from the panel's June 8 meeting, architect Joost Bakker explained the CBC is going through a "major cultural change" in respect to the relationships it holds with Canadian communities. Bakker said the original metaphor for the building was a "media factory," and the new proposal aims to make the building more visible.

Bakker was not available Wednesday for comment, but Segal said the CBC wants to make its broadcast studios visible from Hamilton Street.

On the Robson Street end of the property -- where there is now a parking lot -- Concord Pacific plans to build two residential towers with stores at street level. Architect Walter Francl is designing the towers for the developer.

Concord Pacific will not buy any part of the property, but will have a long-term lease arrangement with the CBC, Segal said.

Overall, the urban design panel -- which includes architects, an engineer, a developer, a planning commissioner, and a landscape architect -- liked the plan, but had concerns about specific elements, such as a proposal for townhouses along Hamilton Street and the level of sustainability.

One panel member said although the CBC's is not a beautiful building, it should be treated in a manner that allows it to "stand proud" on the Cambie Street side, according to the meeting minutes.

There are others with a similar fondness for the building.

"There are those who believe it should be put on our recent landmark heritage list because it's expressive of a certain style of architecture," Segal said.

"It's not something we should do away with. Not every style of architecture is beloved by everyone. This particular form is very expressive of a particular function."

© Vancouver Sun