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837 Beatty Street - Contextual Facades on Heritage Vertical Expansions

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2024 Edition of  BCBEC Elements Magazine.

Situated on a site with a rich history of Edwardian Warehouse buildings from the early 20th century in Downtown Vancouver, 837 Beatty is an exemplary solution to increasing density and revitalizing the current heritage sites within the Block 68 context. In collaboration with Reliance Properties, the Office of Mcfarlane Biggar Architects + Designers championed a unique opportunity to preserve the 2-story commercial warehouse which was home to Anglo-Canadian Warehouse Company in the 1930s.

Given the property is ideally positioned in Yaletown, and in the context of the Block 68 streetwall, the heritage retention was subject to a growing development pressure. Low utilization capacity of the 2-story building was combined with high potential to further validate the project’s need for vertical expansion.

A close collaboration between the design team with heritage consultant Donald Luxton & Associates allowed for responsive decision-making on the heritage preservation of the former warehouse façade on all three fronts, each with a distinct activation approach to the ground plane: the Beatty Street elevation with the retail and public face, the Side lane elevation with the alley and Rear lane elevation with the back-of-house/private/public space. Given the opportunities above, it was crucial that design decisions for both new and existing envelope work be closely evaluated.

The "Cinched Waist" As coined by Bryan Lemos Beça from the Office of Mcfarlane Biggar Architects + Designers, the “cinched waist” design approach allowed for a larger expansion whilst still preserving the heritage profile of the existing building. It also allowed for opportunities to explore new materiality, echoing a modern interpretation of the solid masonry façade and the heavy timber internal structure.

Per the Standard 11, which provides guidance on additions to heritage structures, two key components were extracted to position the project:

  • Conserve the heritage value and character-defining elements when creating any new additions to an historic place or any related construction.

  • Make the new work physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to, and distinguishable from the historic place.

Per the above, the design team held a rigorous analysis of the original building’s order, proportions and materiality which created a contrast to the solid mass of the existing structure, leveraging lightness in color, increasing daylighting and encouraging structure-free openness.

Heritage Materiality and Performance

In solving the challenge of returning to the existing warehouse façade, certain elements were selectively upgraded to meet modern-day performance considerations. Striking a balance with preserving character and creating a comfortable and reliable office environment was critical. A starting point for this composition entails restoring the original brick to its natural color by developing repeatable methods to remove the layers of paint that had been added over the years. Secondly each existing glazing opening was reviewed in detail to select which framing or glazing could remain in place, and which could be upgraded to insulative performance. Except for retail areas which had already been upgraded over the years, the team was able to retain many of the existing wood-frame windows and sashes and where replacement was required, we were able to work closely with ETRO Construction and their heritage sub-trades to identify the closest match to the existing framing. A significant upgrade was managing the moisture below grade as new primary structure to support the vertical expansion was fed through in-board of the load bearing masonry wall. Moisture considerations for the existing nail-laminated and heavy timber elements were also made and through collaboration with structural engineer, Fast + Epp, responsive measures were undertaken to provide a robust below grade waterproofing strategy to control bulk water absorption and water-runoff between the existing foundations and the new foundation elements. Use of modern-day waterproofing products allowed the team to navigate challenging sequencing and access concerns while still actively mitigating water infiltration for these newly programmed spaces.

Interior view of office and mass timber by Norm Li.

Modern-Day Thermal Performance

Entuitive and the energy modeler, MCW Group, had a unique challenge to balance the previously established “high performing” load bearing mass wall of the heritage structure versus the newly designed vertical expansion of the high performance ventilated rainscreen and lightweight wall.

The proposed building is to comply with the City of Vancouver Building by Law 2019 and Part 10 Energy and Water Efficiency. Securing a connection to a Low Carbon Energy System (LCES) was integral to defining the performance targets for Thermal Energy Demand Intensity (TEDI), Thermal Energy Use Intensity (TEUI), and Greenhouse Gas Intensity (GHGI) limits.

With specific attention to envelope, the TEDI limit drove the team to carefully evaluate newly generated thermal bridging instances on the new rainscreen system. With regards to the heritage skin, we were able to relax insulating performance targets in order to highlight the advantages of the heritage scope but specifically looked at restoring and improving conditions to resist water infiltration and degradation, thus extending the life cycle of the building.

Interior view of retail and heritage masonry by Norm Li.

Sequencing the Facelift and Extension

Lastly, as the project continues to progress through construction, walking by we can visibly see the hoarding and tenting of the existing structure as the build team proceeds to delicately remove and preserve elements of the heritage and restore critical structural integrity. It is a fine dance of sequencing and control by the build team: the new is rooted through the old and the old is revitalized to its original character. Proudly, 837 Beatty establishes more precedent for Vancouver to preserve its historical fabric while meeting the demands of a growing downtown density.

If you would learn to learn more, please reach out to Timothy Wong.


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