February 1, 2009

Designing a Landmark

Years of Consultation and Planning Culminate in a Design that Enhances a West End Neighbourhood
BC Business, TV Week, Granville Magazine

The design of the Safeway store on the corner of Robson and Denman Streets in Vancouver, Canada provided the opportunity to create a landmark building on the site and serve as a catalyst for redevelopment in the West End neighbourhood.

Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd. was charged with creating the vision for the store on the 49,081-square-foot site. Established in 1985, Kasian applied its philosophy of architectural development complemented with a fundamental understanding of Safeway’s needs and the impact of its work on the social fabric of the area.

Kasian’s extensive portfolio ranging from individual projects to urban development and master planning, plus its 10-year collaboration with Safeway on projects in Canada and the U.S., all contributed to the success of the redevelopment.

When Safeway decided to redevelop its Robson Street site at the beginning of the new millennium, it relied on Kasian’s sensitivity towards client needs and the impact a store of this magnitude would have on its surroundings. “The West End is a high density, constantly evolving community that has retained its close-knit ambiance, and as such any development in the area needs to be carefully thought-out and requires input from many community and user groups,” says Scott Douglas, Kasian’s principal-in-charge of the project. “Although Safeway required a facility of more than 42,000 square feet in size, the last thing locals needed was a huge, traditional supermarket. So that’s way a lot of our work consisted of soliciting user groups, holding public meetings, and working closely with city planners and Safeway in order to create something that would satisfy everyone.” This is typically the approach Safeway takes in all of its new developments and renovations, says Douglas.

Safeway retained Kasian as the project architect in 2000, when the previous Robson Safeway was still an active venue bordered to the west by a sprawling outdoor parking lot. “We knew the new building would fill the old store site as well as the parking lot, but remediation of the site was something unexpected during the early stages of planning and that later became a logistical challenge,” says Kasian design architect Alan Nakaska. “That aside, the main challenge for us was to make such a visible structure knit into and enhance the fabric of the West End as well as maintain accessibility and the street life that is so vibrant in this section of Vancouver.”

One solution was to create a two-storey building in which the supermarket was located on the second level. “The way we could have a variety of small retail stores on street level, which would not only simulate pedestrian traffic but conveniently hide the indoor parking lot that would take up most of street level and the sub-level,” says Douglas.

Another solution was to bring much of the outside environment into the building and vice versa. This was accomplished through an extensive and creative use of glazing. “For example, the outwardly slanted glazing on the second level allows people on the street to look up and see activity inside, and it allows shoppers inside to view Robson Street,” says Nakaska. “Plus, the angle of the glass mitigates interior heat gain.” The glazing, combined with a floor plan that is less deep and wider than the average Safeway, also enables natural light to penetrate much farther into the shopping aisles. “That alone enhances the enjoyability of the shopping experience,” notes Nakaska.

Kasian designed the western entry of Safeway to be a majestic, two-storey glass structure that Nakaska and Douglas refer to as a “lantern” -another major design feature that imparts a sense of transparency to people standing inside and outside the building.

The new Safeway is very much a fresh shopping conept. “Traditionally, big food stores are located in suburban areas, and urban food retail on this kind of scale has only emerged in recent years,” explain Douglas.

The traditional elements are augmented with many nods towards green standards, not the least of which is a white poloyeuerthane coating on the roof that serves several purposes. “First, it reduces the heat island effect that black asphalt roofs create, and secondly it’s much more attractive for residents in adjacent highrises to look down upon,” says Nakaska. Also with highrise gazers in mind, Kasian broke up the roof’s appearance so that viewers could easily mistake the structure for a series of buildings rather than just one large unit.

Now that the new Safeway is open for business, Douglas and Nakaska believe the building will be an inspiration for other Vancouver developers. Says Douglas: “We hope the new Safeway will be a real catalyst for positive changes as the West End redevelops and in-fills. Its fit with the neighbourhood was made possible by extensive collaboration with many local groups, and it’s an example of high-quality redevelopment that others can follow.”

by Robin Brunet