Paris Annex: C’est bonne

October 11th, 2008

Paris Annex - C'est bonne

Paris Annex: C’est bonne
New building and 1907 Paris Block next door are ‘fraternal twins’

Barbara Gunn, Westcoast Homes
Published: Saturday, October 11, 2008

The affable Robert Fung, founder of a development company that has been largely focused on restoring Vancouver’s historic downtown district, can think of three reasons that drive his passion for social sustainability.

They are six, five and three years old — and they are his daughters.

“I love this city and I’d like them to grow up here,” says the 42-year-old president of the Salient Group, sipping an Americano in one of his favourite Gastown eateries.

“I’d like it to be a city that they want to live in, where they can make a living, where they can accommodate the cost of housing, a city that’s diverse and where there’s a great deal of understanding, where there are options in places to live, and where, environmentally, there’s an understanding of the impact of the things we do on the bigger picture of the world.”

Fung, an Ontario native who developed a fondness for Vancouver soon after he moved here 20 years ago — “It gets in your blood pretty quickly,” he says — is doing his best, a project at a time, to shape parts of the city he envisions for his little girls.

His company currently has some 100,000 square feet of heritage office space complete, or nearing completion, in some of Vancouver’s most historic neighbourhoods, and a project list that includes Gastown’s Alhambra, Garage and Terminus buildings, the Flack Block on Hastings, the Bowman Block on Beatty and the Taylor Building on Water Street — the latter two winners of Urban Development Institute’s excellence awards.

On this day, though, the focus is on West Hastings and the not-so-common union of two Salient residential-retail projects — one of which is more than 100 years younger than the other.

When complete in the summer of 2009, the 16-home Paris Annex building will be what Fung calls the “Siamese twin” of the historic Paris Block next door, a 1907 building that was once home to a hotel and shoe retailer, and now given new life by Salient.

The 29 apartments in that six-storey building, soon to be occupied by their owners, sold out in less than three hours in one day in May, 2007.

“It’s very much the younger sibling of the historic Paris Block,” says Fung, a mover and shaker who is now so entrenched locally he is a University of B.C. governor and a Vancouver Economic Development Commission director and has twice been included on Vancouver Magazine’s “Power 50” roster.

“The Paris Block is a beautiful Edwardian 1907 building, and exactly 100 years later we started the Paris Annex…They have their own character, but ultimately, they are attached. It’s the same infrastructure, the same circulation. Siamese twins is the best analogy.”

The “twins” will be fraternal, but certainly not identical. They will share an elevator, corridors, central staircase and street entrance, the latter opening to a hallway with a wall of exposed concrete to one side and a wall of 1907 red brick to the other, a nod to times past and present.

“Each has its own personality, but they share a primary entrance,” says Fung. “People coming to the Paris Annex will come through a heritage front door into a modern-interpretation corridor…Then they’ll come into the Paris Annex, which is very modernist in its form — it’s concrete, it has glass — but it’s in a very character area.”

The Paris Block retains its old-world charm: it has a painted brick façade, turn-of-the-century cornices and sills, even remnants of the signage of the Strathcona Hotel, which once occupied its upper floors.

The all-new Paris Annex — like its sibling, it will have retail space on the street level, and both will share a rooftop deck — will have a minimalist concrete frame and a glass and aluminum façade.

The residences will have floor-to-ceiling windows, polished concrete floors, double doors leading to patio decks in most homes, walls of concrete and drywall, and ceilings — in the case of the two 1,400-square-foot penthouse units — that rise to 14 feet.

“It’s less an architectural theme that flows between them than it is, say, an architectural rhythm and a pattern that carries between them to make them complementary,” says Fung.

“One is 1907 Edwardian, the annex is very much a modernist interpretation.”

Indeed, says architect Gair Williamson, a veteran Salient partner, there will certainly be some exterior integration of the buildings.

“What we’re doing is using the balcony guard rails [in the annex] as virtual cornices that are pulling across from the existing cornices,” he says. “And, of course, the grids of the annex relate to the grids of the [Paris Block.]”

It is that kind of attention to detail, says Williamson, that makes the Paris projects noteworthy.

“I think what distinguishes the projects is…the level of detail and attention to design — because good design sells. And in the upcoming market, that’s going to be even more apparent.”

The open-concept layout in the Paris Annex homes — they average 700 square feet — will allow the residents of those homes to interpret the floor plans as they wish, certainly in terms of the sleeping space.

“We have some two-bedroom suites,” says Fung, “but the plans are very open plans. It really varies, depending on how somebody want to interpret them. They could be interpreted as two-bedroom spaces.”

Sales of the Paris Annex homes will be launched in the coming days, and Fung says there’s been no shortage of early interest.

“There are a lot of people waiting to see it,” says Fung, adding that the typical Salient buyer is someone with a “sense of individuality.”

“There seems to be a great gravity, not so much even to just this area — there`s a lot of attention on downtown right now — but on finding things that are different, that are very design-intensive, that have a lot of character and that are different from the standard highrise product that predominates our market.”

When he’s asked about the accolades he’s received for his work — BC Hydro, which named Fung a member of its “Team Power Smart”, says he’s “like the rock star of Vancouver real estate development” — he is suitably modest.

“Whatever sort of recognition that comes with it, that’s very flattering, but that’s not really the objective,” he says. “The objective is to do good things for our city.”


Read the original story here.