Architectural landmarks in Vancouver

Amir Miri PREC*

09/15/23

 
Nestled between majestic mountains and a rugged coastline, there's no doubting Vancouver's natural beauty. As an active, outdoor city, it's a place where you can ski in the morning, sail in the afternoon, and walk, hike, or bike a near-infinite amount of trails.

But Vancouver is also a cosmopolitan city—rich in culture that includes a tapestry of cuisines, languages, art, and customs. It's a lifestyle of active elegance.

Nowhere is this eclectic mix of styles more apparent than in Vancouver's wonderfully diverse architecture. A stunning display of design and innovation that spans over 150 years of city history, the skyline and surrounding city neighbourhoods feature historical markers, bold visions, and works of art. Below, we explore 10 of the best architectural landmarks in Vancouver.

1. Sam Kee Building

8 West Pender Street

Starting small or, more accurately, narrow, the Sam Kee Building in Vancouver's Chinatown is recognized as the world's narrowest commercial building. With a ground-floor depth of 1.50 m and a cantilevered second-floor depth of 1.83 m, a person could realistically touch both walls with outstretched arms. Located at 8 West Pender St., the building is a classic example of making the most of your functional space. Built in 1913, the structure reveals its ingenuity in its subterranean basement levels, which extend much further than the upper floors, making the building far more useful than its narrow footprint suggests. Unusual as it may be, the Sam Kee Building is a landmark that shows an early streak of creativity that would become prevalent in Vancouver architecture.

2. Dominion Building

207 West Hastings Street

The Dominion Building, with its Beaux Arts-Second Empire architectural style, was completed in 1910 and captured Vancouver's early 20th-century optimism. Upon its completion, the 13-floor Gastown masterpiece was the city's first steel-framed high-rise and the tallest building in Vancouver. The terracotta facade and ornate detailing topped off with a three-storey Mansard roof are highlights of its exquisite craftsmanship. The interior features terrazzo flooring, marble staircases and wainscotting, decorative elevators, and a central light well that allows natural light to flood the building.

3. Sun Tower

100 West Pender Street

With its faux-patina copper dome, the 17-storey Sun Tower supplanted the Dominion Building as Vancouver's tallest upon its completion in 1912. Originally home to the Vancouver World newspaper, the Sun Tower's intricate details, terracotta exterior and imposing Beaux-Arts dome were a genuine wonder of the city's budding skyline. Beyond its captivating exterior, the Sun Tower's complex interior tile work, brass fixtures, and cast-iron detailing further highlight the era's artisanal craftsmanship.

4. Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

900 West Georgia Street

One of Vancouver's most imposing and visually striking architectural landmarks is the magnificent Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. This iconic hotel, designed with elaborate touches of Châteauesque architecture, opened its door in 1939 after 11 years of construction. With its verdant green copper roof, turrets, and intricate stonework, the hotel looks straight out of a fairy tale, which is fitting considering it has long been the hotel of record for visiting royalty. The intricate woodwork and lush upholstery in its interior spaces underline its reputation for luxury and is representative of the glamour and elegance that are quintessentially Vancouver.

5. Harbour Centre

555 West Hastings Street

Among the handful of landmarks that instantly signal that one is in Vancouver, the Harbour Centre serves as a modernist icon of the city's celebrated skyline. Capped with its distinctive Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant and the Vancouver Lookout observation deck, 147 m above the ground, the tower offers unobstructed, panoramic views of the surrounding terrain—the ocean, the mountains, and the city below. Built in 1977, the Harbour Centre observation area was Vancouver's first true facility to provide such a dynamic perspective of the city.

6. Marine Building

355 Burrard Street

An architectural marvel of its time and a bonafide masterpiece of Art Deco extravagance, the Marine Building is one of Vancouver's most beautiful and ornate structures of any kind. With intricate bas-relief carvings and an elaborately designed lobby with brass doors and wood inlays from 12 varieties of BC hardwoods, the nearly century-old structure transports you to that specific time and place. Completed in 1930, with an underwater theme that earns the Marine Building its moniker, the building honoured Vancouver's role as a primary nautical hub for North America's Pacific Coast. Today, it's a historical monument to what could and would be achieved in Vancouver.

7. The Qube

1333 West Georgia Street

The Qube–formerly the Westcoast Transmission Building–is arguably one of Vancouver's most impressive yet overlooked structures. An ingenious feat of architectural engineering, the Qube is effectively a 9-floor glass and steel building suspended from a 13-storey concrete core; the 1969-built structure seemingly defies gravity. It's an updated and visually arresting take on the typically utilitarian Brutalist design movement, with a symmetrical layout and simple, stark detailing in its angular designs. Considered one of Vancouver's most earthquake-resistant buildings, The Qube has a quiet, enduring strength that stands in stark contrast to its towering, glass and steel-clad neighbours.

8. Jameson House

838 West Hastings Street

The sleek, visionary Jameson House represents a jump forward in residential high-rise design, and the building proved an instant icon upon its opening in 2011. Standing 118.6 m across 38 floors, Jameson House was the first North American residential tower from noted architectural firm Foster and Partners, and the award-winning group went out of their way to make a memorable first impression. The energy-efficient high-rise boasts sophisticated lines, four curved glass towers, a green roof, and a state-of-the-art automated parking system. It's a bold, innovative vision of what architectural landmarks in Vancouver can achieve.

9. Vancouver Art Gallery

800 West Georgia Street

Though founded in 1931, the modern-day home for the Vancouver Art Gallery is an enduring Neo-classical building originally constructed in 1906, which served as the former provincial courthouse for nearly 70 years. Upon reopening its doors in 1983 as the relocated gallery, it grew in stature as an iconic architectural landmark in Vancouver that brings historic grandeur and elegance to the city's downtown core. Its pillared facade gives way to an interior that continues the Neo-classical aesthetic with grand staircases and intricate crown mouldings. Each room offers a different ambiance, offering a stunning showcase for a diverse array of artworks.

10. Vancouver House

1480 Howe Street

Though Vancouver is home to a number of impressive high rises—Living Shangri-La, Paradox Hotel Vancouver and One Burrard Place among them—none are as distinctive as the 150.3 m high Vancouver House. Completed in 2020, the 49-floor, Neo-futurist residential tower is the centrepiece of downtown's hyper-luxe Granville Slopes neighbourhood between the Granville and Burrard Bridges overlooking False Creek. The city's fifth tallest building, Vancouver House, casts a near-impossible profile as its honey-comb facade cantilevers from a top-heavy rectangular layout into a far narrower triangular base. It is truly a majestic piece of architecture that signals a bright and creative future for this spectacular Canadian gem.

Ready to discover more about Vancouver, its extensive architectural heritage, and the region's extraordinary luxury real estate market? Contact Amir Miri today and allow his experience, expertise, and commitment to his client's help you navigate the high-end Vancouver real estate market.

*Photo courtesy of Shutterstock | Dominion Building



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