The Flat Iron Building & The Urban Room

14 months after Vancouver City Council approved the 2010 Mount Pleasant Community Plan, a hearing was held to re-zone a key site in the neighbourhood to 5.5 FSR (floor space ratio). Neighbours who had participated in the planning process were joined by other citizens and professionals to decry the recommendation to move beyond the mandated 3.0 FSR. In order to illustrate the 3.0 FSR opportunity, and working in consultation with members from the Resident’s Association of Mount Pleasant, we developed a scheme in keeping with local traditions.


Continuity of the Streetwall

Perimeter Site Massing

An “Urban Room” in the centre of the block

Reference to Local Landmarks

Density & Height

Building 1 on Kingsway: 90,000 s.f. (6 storeys — 70 feet)

Building 1 on Kingsway: 25,000 s.f. (-15 — subway concourse level)

Building 2 on Broadway: 21,500 s.f. (3 storeys — 36 feet)

Building 3 on Watson: 21,500 s.f.  (3 storeys — 27 feet)

Building 4 on 10th: 1,500 s.f. (1.5 storeys —27 feet)

Total Area: 159,500 s.f. (3.0 FSR)

The “scale” of the buildings in this scheme is in keeping with structures in the immediate vicinity. They match, but don’t exceed, the footprint and the height of important buildings in the area. Distributed along the perimeter of the site, buildings shape an urban room, or public square at street level.

Design Element 1: Flat Iron Building  (6 stories)

An iconic (landmark) Flat Iron building (70 feet tall)  stands at the corner of Broadway & Kingsway, responding in scale to the open space of the intersection. The footprint of the Flat Iron building matches a precedent  set one block to the north by a 2-storey 1940s building. Below ground, at subway concourse level on the future Broadway Line, the Flat Iron building has 25,000 s.f. of commercial retail space. Lower level retail would also have a prominent entrance on the prow of the Flat Iron building, at the principal intersection of Broadway & Kingsway.

Design Element 2: The Broadway Building (3 stories)

The building fronting Broadway has 2 stories commercial, plus a residential third storey with nine 800 s.f. apartments. The apartments have front doors on the square, or urban room, and roof terraces. The local reference for the architecture should be the 1911 Wenonah Apartments at Main and 11th.

Design Element 3: The Watson Street Row Houses (3 stories)

Nine 3-storey row houses (2,400 s.f. each) front on Watson Street. Each house could have either one or two 800 s.f. mortgage helper suites providing affordable rentals in the area. The row houses have front doors on Watson, while the suites are accessed from the square, or urban room. The developer could sell these units as fee-simple properties if the legislature passes in time. There are local precedents for row houses at the SW corner of 10th and Main.

Design Element 4: The Cyclist Pavilion (1.5 stories)

A small iconic structure marks the entrance to the square or urban room on 10th Avenue. We imagine this 1,500 square foot structure could have additional facilities below ground. As a Cyclist Pavilion, it requires consultation and input from the cycling community to determine its best use. It may provide a place for cyclists to shower before hopping on transit; repair their gear; eat at a cafeteria; or socialize in a relaxed environment.

Design Element 5: The urban room 

The public open space that occupies the middle of the block at ground level is the generator for this scheme, organizing the flow and experience of the urbanism all around. Measuring 60 x 120 feet, the urban room is surrounded on three sides by buildings about 30 feet tall. The fourth and tallest building (70 feet) fronts the space with an arcade. The open but covered corridor provides a protected path from the arterial street on the neighbourhood edge to the local street in the neighbourhood centre.

The proportion of the urban room along its long axis is 36 : 120 or 1 : 3. The proportion along the short axis is 27 : 60 or 1 : 2.

The 70-foot Flat Iron Building is really too big to front the urban room. The morning sun will be blocked. Its height will dwarf the open square even as it back stops traffic noise and pollution from Kingsway. The expectation is that people using the space will sit with their backs to the ‘Big Wall’ and enjoy the panorama in front of them on the other three sides.

Access & Circulation

The central square, or urban room is accessible from all surrounding streets. It is designed to work with Watson Street to create a  Pedestrian Priority Precinct that might extend across Broadway to the “heart” block.

Parking garage access— is off Kingsway with a right-in, right-out entrance.

Truck loading for commercial retail units is market-style loading on a special area built off 10th Avenue. Markets all over the world, including Granville Island Market (55,000 s.f.), do loading from the street. Loading times are restricted to off-peak hours when neither businesses, nor neighbours will be unduly disrupted.

Street Aspect Ratio

The 3.0 FSR scheme achieves a balance between developable building area and the resulting quality of the urban space. Building heights are set in proportion to the width of the fronting open space, or right-of-way in order to achieve the desired street aspect ratio.

Along Kingsway, Broadway and 10th Avenue, buildings set back in order to achieve 3 and 6 storey heights. This kind of planning supports pedestrian activity & social mixing with human scale urbanism.


8 thoughts on “The Flat Iron Building & The Urban Room”

  1. Well done Lewis! It’s refreshing to see real alternatives, especially one that shows the actual already approved density and height. Another clear message from your scheme is that it clearly is a neighbourhood scaled complex that has an appropriate street presence on all sides.

  2. Thanks, Bill. This scheme models the consultation approach that I am recommending with the Resident’s Association of Mount Pleasant group (RAMP). So, in a real way, this is their scheme too. That’s what is really missing. We need to have the tools to take good options to the people and let them decide. I think in the final analysis the proponents would welcome that too.

  3. This is a huge improvement over the Rize proposal. Rize’s intent is to Brand Mount Pleasant as Rize rather than building to match the community. Or as noted by others, they are giving the bird to MP aided and abetted by city hall.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Don. We need to hear this over and over again. There is clearly a way to deliver a profitable project to the developer, and make a valuable contribution to the community. Mount Pleasant welcomes redevelopment. We are asking that it be in keeping with local traditions and precedents.

    1. Why not indeed! It is one of the most enigmatic and iconic (landmark) forms of our local tradition. One more thing to notice: without the urban space, and its neighbouring structures to help define it, the Europe is a diminished work of architecture. Takes more than one building to build a great place.

  4. Thank you Mount Pleasant Resident’s Association for the wonderful community building you engender. Your contributions over the past few years feel like the very authentic beginning of a democratic, inclusive urban co-creativity process for our fair city. You inspire us to be true community.

    Thank you, Lewis, for this design concept and for the gift of your talent, insights and involvement. Your sharing at the community meeting was educational, inspiring and empowering.

    1. This is an opportunity for me to thank the members of RAMP. Thanks to the public hearing on this process I came in contact with an energetic and variously and very talented people that had been living in my ‘hood all this time. They are a hard-working bunch. I am going to try to help them as much as possible in projecting a clear, fair and balanced vision for the community’s development. We are also building bridges to the other community organizations. Maybe we can bring community planning back down to the grass roots.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s