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September 01, 2013

Condoscapes – The city’s Guardian

Hon Towers revives Victoria Park district

Richard White

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Out of the ashes of the Arriva project will rise two new twin towers that promise not only to be the tallest purely residential buildings in Calgary, but a trendsetter in architectural design as well.

The original Arriva plans called for three condo towers with retail at street level and restoration of the old Victoria Park school, but bankruptcy halted those plans. Hon Towers, however, saw the potential in Arriva’s site at the corner of 11th Avenue and 3rd Street S.E., and bought it out of receivership in 2010.

The twin, 44-floor Guardian condo project in the old Victoria Park, now east Beltline district, will be Hon Towers’ first project in Calgary, but they are not entirely new to the city, as they are part of Jager Homes and El Condo Lands.

The original Arriva design had many very large units, which didn’t and don’t work in today’s market. So Hon Towers promptly engaged architect Jim Hancock at IBI Group (Vancouver) to redesign the two remaining condo towers from the inside out and from top to bottom based on new research showing there was a market in Calgary for smaller units with very high-end finishings.

The Guardian’s overall design is classic Chicago School of Architecture, with its podium base, middle tower and decorative top. In this case, the podium is designed to look like townhouses but in fact is an above-grade parkade, needed when the redesign resulted in more smaller units which in turn required more parking than the original parkade could accommodate. The new design also allowed for two, grand two-floor entrances for each of the towers off 3rd Street S.E., designed to enhance the streetscape.

Hancock likes to play with the three essential elements of architecture — form, composition and expression — when designing a building. The penthouse is designed as the “cap” to the building with its more horizontal lines, contrasting with the vertical lines of the main tower. Though the building is 50 per cent clear glass, it looks almost like a “glass house” with the use of glass balconies and light grey metal panels. To accentuate the height and elegance, the towers’ façades will be glass with smooth metal paneling and back lit curtain wall glazing designed to create an almost “ghost-like,” contemporary cool design that would be right at home in Miami’s hip South Beach district.

At 44 floors the Guardian condos will be the tallest pure condo building in Calgary. Yes, Telus Sky, at 55 floors, will be taller when completed in 2017, but it is both an office and condo building.

Hon Towers wanted to take advantage of its prominent site on the southeast edge of the city’s growing skyline. Inspired by the project’s height (will be the tallest building south of the railway tracks) and location (will overlook the entire city center from its edge location) the name “Guardian” seemed appropriate as the building is symbolically or figuratively a guardian of the city center.

In case you are wondering, Hon Towers was fortunate not only that the underground parkade was complete at the time of Calgary’s June flood, but it is located on one of the highest spots in the area. The site experienced minimal damage in the flood, with construction continuing on schedule for completion of the first tower in early 2015.

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