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Passive highrises planned for Vancouver’s West End

Vancouver has been called the City of Glass for the tall, thin, glass condos that dominate the downtown landscape. But a new proposed project at 1400 Alberni Street may put Vancouver on the map as home of the world’s tallest passive house towers.

“We wanted to develop something that’s unique and different for the city,” said Kevin Cheung, CEO of Landa Global Properties, which has just submitted a rezoning application for the proposed development at Alberni and Nicola streets to be built with Asia Standard Americas.

“These types of buildings are the future, and we want to be at the cutting edge of that shift.”

The two-tower project — one 43 storeys and another 48 — will be built to the rigorous standards required by the Germany based Passive House Institute, which requires buildings to meet maximum energy-demand limits and air-tightness standards.

The goal is an airtight home, achieved by a tight envelope, the efficient use of sun and shade, and lots of insulation. Passive Houses conserve up to 90 per cent of the energy used to heat and cool typical buildings and have very little carbon pollution.

Eesmyal Santos-Brault, CEO of Recollective and the sustainability consultant for the project, believes passive-house standards will eclipse the LEED green-building rating system that is currently used as the standard in North America.

He called the design of the towers in the proposed project “Tower 2.0.”

“Vancouver is known for its tower form; this is a concept we have exported around the world,” said Santos-Brault. “But those residential towers we export is not sustainable or energy efficient. It’s a glass box.

“If we create a new prototype of a passive-house tower and be able to export that, and Vancouver gets known for that — that would be a win-win.”

There are seven certified passive-house buildings in Canada, according to the Passive House Database. Six of them are in B.C., mostly single-family homes or low-rise apartments.

The majority of the world’s 1,151 passive-house buildings are in Europe, with the tallest located in Bilbao, Spain, a two-tower project with 28- and 31-storey buildings.

The 1400 Alberni project’s architecture, designed by New York-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Vancouver firm MCM Partnership, is meant to be a homage to the Marine Building and the Hotel Vancouver, two of Vancouver’s most-well known historical buildings.

The project would replace the 129 rental units currently on-site. In total, it’ll house about 400 units. It’ll also include a 10,000-square-foot daycare, as well as a new park on Nicola Street.

One of the challenges of the project will be sourcing the materials and equipment, some of which don’t yet exist.

The project will also be more expensive. There’s no data on highrises yet, but for comparison, single-family homes and mid rise developments cost five to eight per cent more when the movement first started, said Santos-Brault. Now they’re getting to the point where it’s not much more to build.

“The reason it costs more has to do more with the know how and experience of the team and buildings,” he said. “As people become more experienced, the learning curve and costs become smaller.”

Once completed, the green building wouldn’t necessarily translate to high price tags, said Cheung. Market research has shown most buyers aren’t willing to pay more for eco-friendly initiatives even though heating bills might be lower in the long run.

“I don’t think we’re going to get more in the selling price based on doing this passive-house design,” he said. “It’s more a green initiative rather than one that’s monetary.”

The Landa development is just one of a handful of projects proposed in a three-block stretch of Alberni Street.

A rezoning application for a 43-storey Westbank project at 1550 Alberni, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, was approved last fall.

Two more applications are in the pipeline in the 1600-block: A 43-storey rental tower by Hollyburn Properties and a 30-storey residential tower, also by Westbank, to be designed by Bing Thom Architects.


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