Vancouver’s Big Win

By Anuradha Kher, Online News Editor

As the curtain closed on this year’s winter Olympics in Vancouver and athletes and visitors moved out, transition plans for the Olympic Village in the city’s Southeast False Creek were already in motion. Unlike many other Olympic Villages in the past that were either demolished or used as social housing (housing that is partly or fully government-funded to assist low-income families), Vancouver’s Olympic Village has been converted into a mixed-use community with a vast stock of multifamily housing—both for-sale and rental.

Millennium Water, as the project is now called, features 1,108 units of housing, of which 737 are condominiums, 200 are non-market housing and 100 are market rental housing. Things got off to a promising start: 263 condos were sold before 2008, but when the housing market tanked, and with it a hedge fund that the project’s developer, Millennium, had sought to finance, the development collapsed and the city was left with no other option but to make the loan in order to meet the deadline.

Some 474 remaining condos are now up for sale, ranging in price from $389,000 to $10.5 million for a 4,000 square-foot penthouse. These condos (Phase Three Marina Homes) were officially unveiled to the public in May. The Canadian media reports that the City of Vancouver wants to now recoup nearly $1 billion from Millennium Development Corp. with the sale of this new batch of condos.

Whether the condos fetch the intended prices or not, some 3,000 people will have the distinction of calling the former Olympic Village their home. In addition to that legacy, at 1.4 million square feet, Millennium Water is the largest single-phase development in Canada. It spans seven city blocks and 16 residential buildings, and each is designed to achieve LEED Gold accreditation. It will also be Canada’s first LEED Platinum neighborhood.

Merrick Architecture and six other architecture firms were responsible for the design of this project. Merrick Architecture was responsible for the organization of the consulting team, as well as the design of three of the seven parcels on the property.

According to Gregory Borowski, principal at Vancouver, Canada-based Merrick Architecture, who was personally involved in the design of one of those seven parcels, “The three parcels that we designed and documented ourselves involved residential but also mixed-use. Across most of the buildings, there is commercial space on the ground floor. Some of the locations have only residential—in a town house format. The athletes stayed in all the units, with the exception of the community center, which was used as a media center during the Olympic and Paralympic games.”

After the Olympics ended, VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) turned the buildings back over to Millennium Development, which did some minor work on the project, including installing new carpeting. But since the project was designed as a legacy use project with condominium-style fittings, there wasn’t any re-designing to be done. Tenant improvement is currently taking place in some of the commercial spaces.

A green design showcase

Having achieved LEED Platinum for the neighborhood, and LEED Gold for each of the buildings, the Olympic Village or Millennium Water, has no dearth of green features. They include:

• Optimal energy performing homes for greater comfort and livability, featuring ceiling-mounted radiant capillary heating and cooling systems with automated exterior blinds, where required, to limit heat gain,

• Water-saving dual-flush toilets,

• Construction with green-building practices such as low-emitting materials and paints free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs),

• High-performance rain screen wall systems with superior insulation,

• 50 green roofs on average across the site,

• Recycling of greywater used for toilets and irrigation,

• Robust building envelope and higher-performance insulation that allows for less energy use,

• Exterior solar shading to cut down on heat gain within the sites, vertical blinds on the west side and horizontal blinds on the south façade,

• Natural flooring such as limestone in bathrooms, wool carpeting in bedrooms and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood floors in living areas,

• Composite stone countertops (condos and rentals).

“In addition, the mixed-use component—access to stores, entertainment, etc. so that people do not need to make trips/drive outside—adds to the green component,” says Borowski. “There is also a connection to underground rail. During the Olympics, there was a tram system that was put in place, and there is hope that it will be brought in permanently. Also,” adds Borowski, “the neighborhood was designed for permanent use, so the durability aspect of the buildings got [an additional] LEED point.”

To comment on this feature, email Anuradha Kher akher@multi-housingnews.com.