The future is still uncertain for this modern landmark. Arthur Erickson designed the Evergreen as an office building for owner John Laxton. Completed in 1980, the Evergreen’s unique stepped terraces and hanging gardens were configured to create the experience of working on a mountainside.
Unlike other office buildings, every floor has access to outdoor patio space — an ideal condition for residential conversion. Erickson took full advantage of the stepped configuration, creating complex geometries through the interplay of offset zigzag and linear floor plates, each floor diminishing in floor area within a trapezoidal building footprint.
But, according to Laxton, the Evergreen’s smaller upper-floor areas are a disadvantage in the current office market, while the location has high residential demand due to spectacular views and amenities. The existing office building is only 10 storeys high (about 130’) in a zone that permits a tower height of up to 300’. Considering conversion to residential, Laxton concluded that additional floor space was needed to improve financial return.
To address compatibility with the original design, Laxton retained Erickson, who designed a light, 4-storey, glass and steel box — intended to resemble a lantern — on the roof of the existing building. In September 2004, City staff supported the proposed addition, which would bring the total building height to 175’.
To the surprise of many, however, the DP Board (an independent panel) refused to approve the conversion application due to the size of the proposed addition. Displeased, Laxton responded that he would apply to replace the Evergreen with a new 300’ tower; this, he claimed, would be cheaper to build and more marketable than conversion of the existing building. Unfortunately, the building has no heritage protection as it did not meet the 20-year age requirement of the 1990 Recent Landmarks Inventory.
Fast forward to 2006: efforts to find a solution to save the Evergreen have been fast and furious. Heritage Vancouver and others have made representations to City Council, which in turn instructed its heritage planning staff to further engage Mr. Laxton regarding incentives and alternatives for preservation.
Covering all angles, Laxton has responded by filing two parallel development applications: the first is to demolish the Evergreen and construct a new residential tower, and the second is to keep the existing building.
The first application (to demolish) has already been approved, subject to final disposition of the second (retention) application — which is still being negotiated. Details of the negotiations are not yet known but could possibly involve the addition of floors and/or density transfer to another site.
We are collectively holding our breath as the retention option works its way through the process. If the process fails, the way is clear for a demolition permit.
Update April 14, 2006: HV has written a letter to Council in supoprt of retention. City Council has referred the retention option to Public Hearing for consideration of a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA). Council seemed favourable. As the office market is improving, there is uncertainty as to whether the final retention proposal (if approved) will be a residential conversion with added floors, or primarily an office building with townhouse infill along Cordova Street.
Update April 19, 2006: Good news! City Council Tuesday evening, voted to put an HRA on the Evergreen building, designating it and thus preserving it in perpetuity. The developer, John Laxton, still has the decision whether to accept the City’s offer of 177,000 in density bonus to conserve it as is, or put the glass top on it, then convert it to residential use.