OK High rises

After a couple of days of mocking and criticizing high rises, it’s time to show a few that do work, in my humble opinion.

At first glance, the Paris hotel (seen outside my window in a much much much cheaper hotel)(don’t ask) (OK, do ask, if you insist, it cost $69 taxes in) in Vegas looks quite ornate. But a longer study reveals it is quite simple, with the same pre-cast elements repeated numerous times. It has a hat (roof), a belt (mid height break) and its base is a 2-5 storey podium that goes up to the mainstreet frontage, keeping the high-rise tower bit further back.

Here’s a close up of the walls:

BTW, the podium-roof patio and pool area had a number of elevated planters that looked amazingly like the ones that spent the last few decades on Sparks Street:

The Vegas trellises actually had plants growing on them, something the Sparks Street Mall people tried hard to avoid here in Ottawa.

Here’s another familiar shot a very large highrise, with the exterior broken up into segments to minimize its size and maximize its viewing friendliness:

Again, notice the four storey podium, the high rise set back. Somehow, when places depend on or want pedestrian traffic, they manage to get some ped-scaled buildings and walk environments. This isn’t up to the higher standards of Disney or other walk-focussed resorts, but it is getting there.

Now I am not proposing mega buildings on the Vegas scale, for Ottawa. We just don’t need them. But even these mega buildings look better than many of Ottawa’s boxy condos.

When Claridge and others propose shoe-box-on-end glass boxes of 20+ stories in our existing City neighborhoods, it reveals how little they understand the neighborhood they are leveraging to sell their product. Instead of a big glass box, go back to an articulated stepped up design that people will respond to. Who knows, Ottawans might actually welcome nice highrises. Certainly the Charlesfort ones get a better welcome than the big glass box designs. Imagine the response if the exteriors of ultra mod buildings were in the modern suburbs, and more traditional shapes and designs and vocabulary were used in the older areas. This is not say everything should be faux historical. It is a question of detail and scale.


10 thoughts on “OK High rises

  1. That Paris Hotel just seems garish and fake to me (like the rest of Vegas). I do like the idea of breaking up a podium to make it seem less … huge

  2. Even in Ottawa, we have a relatively plain building that gets great reviews – the Chateau Laurier. Take a picture of the Chateau Laurier and cover up the top portion. The windows are set in a pretty blank looking block wall. The replacement for the Daily building picked up on that element and it has not been a raving sucess. Like your Paris Hotel, the roof and other small details of the Chateau seem to make an ordinary building stand out.

  3. An architect we hired to design our addition told us that the city emphatically will not allow you to build a faux historical building. Unlike Munich’s old town centre, which has six truly old buildings, all the rest were built to match the original style. THat would never be allowed to happen in Ottawa, because it’s “faux”.

    1. the city definitely will permit a faux historic building. There is a guy who has built several in the byward market area, they were featured in the citizen once. They dont encourage it, and prefer more abstract ways of blending in (ie a black brick box with one giant picture window, of the same size as the adjacent 1902 house, is deemed to blend in). In their minds only..

    2. I think you need to find a new architect. Time and again we hear at various planning and design meetings that the City has no real control over design and aesthetics; it can try to “push” on things like stepping back on upper levels, but that’s about it. The City may have some latitude in theory in cases where the developer is exceeding the zoning in one way or another, but the practical reality is that the threat of overrule by the legalistic OMB tends to keep such tendencies, such as they are, underfoot. The NCC may have some say though with respect to properties it once owned and over which it still has residual power through covenants and easements.

      If someone designed a zoning-conforming building on faux-historical lines, the City would have no power to stop it on aesthetic grounds. Ottawa’s biggest problem in regard to building historically-influenced buildings is not so much that the City would try to stop such a thing but that we have no architects and developers who would bother to do so (Charlesfort comes closest). The sad reality is that the big players in our development sector really aren’t that creative – witness the over-the-top sky-is-falling rhetoric about what are pretty modest changes for infill projects, all of which will be subject to minor variance applications anyway.

      1. Actually, it was in a discussion. He did give us exactly what we needed, an addition that looks like it’s existed always. It was when we talked about Munich and why Ottawa doesn’t have more old looking buildings.

    3. If the city can disallow faux historical (on what basis?) why can’t they disallow big-box monstrosities or cookie-cutter banality?

  4. I think there is a difference in trying to pretend that a building is old vs. using elements of older styling. As Matt Rose said above, the Paris Hotel would not be mistaken for an original (old) french hotel, but, as Eric points out, it is a nice looking building. For a more local, smaller, scale example, the additions to the Lord Elgin Hotel, I think, were very nicely done. You can certainly tell which parts of the building are new, but a lot of the detailing was carried over from the original building so that the new sections look as if they belong.

    There are certain times when making a statement with a totally contrasting style is acceptable (although, personally, I don’t think that the Victoria Museum was one of those; see http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexlaq/6923429348 for a comparison), but there are also places where a particular form is important to maintain. For instance, the arches of the Laurier Bridge over the canal were a staple in post cards from the wintery Capital. Imagine what the view would have been like if square framing had been used when the bridge was widened. Head down to the canal under the Laurier Bridge some time and look at the support structures. It is obvious which are the new arches and which ones original; but the look was maintained.

    Making use of the style of, or drawing elements from, a dominant building or feature when additions are make or other buildings are added should not be a problem for the City.

    Eric is quite correct when he points out that some of the features of the older buildings make those buildings attractive. Often that is why those buildings have survived. To completely ignore what it is that makes people want to look at the older buildings is to ignore beauty. I don’t think that Eric is saying that all buildings should look old. Instead, I think that he is saying that the proportions, the scaling, etc, that was used in older buildings could be used in more modern buildings to help improve the look and feel of the city.

    (Eric, if I have misrepresented your meaning, please feel free to correct me.)

  5. Thank you richard. I should of had you write the whole post. You said what I feel.

    I did not get into stuff like A Pattern Language, but what the majority of people like and want is relevant; it is the “pros” in certain fields that insist on doing something different, odd, and weird, thinking that makes it better. It just makes it weird. A big box building looks fine at 100kmh along a freeway surrounded by flat nothing, but just doesn’t work in old west side neighborhoods as an infill.

    1. It also doesn’t work if you are passing through or by that flat nothing by any mode of transportation at a velocity of less than 100 km/h.

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