With the construction of a new neighbourhood came the need for new amenities. A community centre was assigned a spot on the waterfront at the northeast corner of the Olympic Village. Architects Nick Milkovich and Walter Francl collaborated on the design, with early ideas contributed by Arthur Erickson.
“We were given a fairly complex program,” says Francl. “It’s not just a community centre; it’s a day care and a boating facility, as well as a two-storey restaurant.”
The site offered additional challenges. “It’s such a long space – 100 feet deep, and it felt like two miles long,” says Milkovich. “So shaping it to create a gathering space, and opening it to the street and to the water, those were key.” To protect residential views, the community centre was limited to two storeys at the west rising to three at the east.
“What transpired was a building form that presents a strong unified presence yet is as transparent as possible to the street,” says Francl. “You can see through the lobby, into the gymnasium, into the various elements of the restaurant. Then its curving form on the north side embraces a plaza, to enclose the space a bit.” The building’s lobby is broken with a two-storey space that provides walk-through access from the street to the waterfront. With so much glass, extra attention to shading was required to prevent overheating in the sun.
Francl says designing for a community that doesn’t yet exist – and has no local residents to speak for it – was unusual. “We tried to respond with a design that has a powerful forward-looking feel,” he says. “It’s a LEED Platinum building [in the summer it may generate more power than it needs] so we wanted something that really embodied future thought about what a green building would look like. It’s futuristic perhaps, but it has a very elemental quality with zinc and concrete and glass; it might have erupted out of the ground itself.”
Boating groups will use space on the main floor, while the day care will occupy the top floor of the building, with a large outdoor play space on the roof. Says Francl, “It has a magnificent view out over False Creek. It’s going to be the nicest day care in the city.”
The red industrial building at 85 West 1st Avenue has been a familiar Vancouver landmark since it was built in the 1930s. The building originally housed a salt-processing operation, which received salt from the San Francisco area and refined it – by washing, drying, grinding and sifting – for use in the fishery and other food and industrial applications. Later, the building was used for paper recycling.
At one time, only the southwest corner was located on shore; with the balance of the building supported on piles. A complex roof truss system helps create a large open space inside, while a raised monitor roof with clerestory offers light and air to the space below.
Character-defining elements of the Salt building include:
- a broad building with a medium-sloped roof and gable
- a monitor roof with clerestory containing a row of 15-pane windows and cedar ventilation louvres
- a taller, silo-like, gable-roofed feature at front of monitor
- wood stud walls, covered externally with diagonal sheathing and horizontal finished siding
- a large, open interior space, interrupted only by a row of columns down the centre
- elaborate roof truss and knee braces, composed of wood members with metal fastenings and hardware
- a wetland beneath the building.
Adapted from the Vancouver Salt Company Building Statement of Significance, Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Ltd., 2004.
There’s a sense of craft about this building… it’s rough outside, but inside, the beauty that it was constructed with is really quite striking.
“It’s nice to see a piece of heritage in the middle of this new neighbourhood, to tie it to another time,” says Warren Schmidt of Acton Ostry Architects, the firm that redeveloped the Salt Building. “It makes the history much more real.”
Acton Ostry worked to preserve heritage details while prepping the building for LEED Gold certification and its new role as home to a brew pub and coffee roaster.
“The interior is retained as a big open space, respecting the form of the building and the mass of it,” says Russell Acton, principal. “We cut giant windows in either end so you can see through the building and present that amazing viewport to passersby, to invite them in.”
Acton says the building’s new usage suits its history. “It’s a working use – baking bread, roasting coffee, making beer – producing food for the neighbourhood. It’s not too pretty in there; the interior shouldn’t be prettified.
“Doing something like the Olympics, it makes you feel good. Beyond that, you feel hopeful for the community. You never know if it will be a success because you never know how people will respond. Yaletown [another Vancouver waterfront development] took off fast. Will Southeast False Creek? We hope so.”