Richard White, August 12, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the August issue of Condo Living Magazine.)
Good architects doing infill projects don’t impose their designs on a community. Rather they look around at what designs and materials already exist and then build on those. This is how to create a sense of place. And this is exactly what Calgary architect Ben Barrington, engaged to design the 205 Riverfront condo next to the Chinese Cultural Centre back in 2000, did.
The project, originally conceived by Bill Lister, Yakov Behar and Eli Ghanime, three local developers, saw an opportunity for a new apartment building in Chinatown. This project would be the first concrete residential building constructed in Chinatown since about 1980. The goal was to create a loft-style building based on the success of the Beltline’s Lewis Lofts and The Manhattan condo conversions.
Given the site was in Chinatown and just north of the Chinese Cultural Centre, Barrington knew the design needed to respect the Cultural Centre both culturally and architecturally. He quickly engaged the Chinese Community and its community leader and head of the Cultural Centre, Victor Mah. The design took some cues from the Cultural Centre without necessarily copying the details (e.g. use of red and blue colours).
Feng Shui & Astrology
In addition, Barrington called upon Philip Leung, an Asian Feng Shui & Astrology master, to review the building and unit plans. This resulted in changing the orientation of the main entrance to be on the corner so the spirits in the building would not escape. He also suggested not having doorways directly opposite to each other so they were staggered. There was also a recommendation to integrate the koi motif as a symbol of good luck and prosperity as well as a powerful and energetic life force. Barrington’s design team also included blue, Chinese-style patterned gates to decorate the loading area.
In chatting with Barrington, I found two of his stories very amusing. The first took place after months of community consultation before submitting the design to the City for Planning Commission review. He got a call from Victor Mah saying the community was supportive except for one thing - the building was too close to the Cultural Centre and if they wanted the community’s support, they would have to move the building to the north. It was decided to remove the units immediately next to the Cultural Centre and add two more floors to compensate, making the building 11 storeys, rather than 9. After some panicky phone calls to the City’s file manager, Barrington got agreement to make the change and so, over the weekend, his team redesigned the building, revised the drawings and re-submitted on Monday. The project was approved as revised the next Thursday.
The second story was about the controversial decision to design all the units with only bathroom doors (no bedroom doors) to reduce costs and create real, loft-like units. There was however, the option to add a door as an extra if buyers wanted. To everyone’s surprise few chose this option. Also we struggled with the decision to designed small 590 square foot bachelor units facing the River as they would be the smallest in the Calgary market. To their surprise these units all sold in the first week.
By pure chance, while writing this column I met with an individual who actually lives at 205 Riverfront. She loves the fact that her studio apartment is designed so the sleeping area is around a corner making it invisible to visitors. Her bathroom has sliding doors that give access from the sleeping area or the living room. Back story: I have been advocating the idea of one bathroom condos for years, as not only do you get extra space, but you reduce the cost of the condo by $15,000+.
She is very impressed by the efficient design of her small space including her small blue balcony with the million dollar views of downtown, mountains and river valley.
Many of her visitors have commented on experiencing a calming effect upon entering the building. She also likes the fact fresh air is pumped into the hallways, which she finds very refreshing.