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July 01, 2015

Hope at Large: All in for urban growth

Vancouver architect lauds Calgary’s density plans (First of two parts)

Marty Hope

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James Cheng is big on density — but not just for the sake of density, it has to be coupled with good looks.

The Hong Kong born, American-schooled architect, who has been working out of Vancouver since the mid-1970s, is considered the founder of the Vancouver-ism style of architecture — and the king of high-rise design in that west coast city.

So, given the fact he has designed 40 of the 150 or so towers that crowd the Vancouver skyline, I guess it’s just natural that he would line up alongside the idea of residential density.

Cheng was brought on board by Vancouver developer Embassy Bosa to put his brand on the 600-unit Evolution project that is rapidly climbing out of the ground in Calgary’s East Village. 

Matter of fact, occupancies in the first phase called Fuse are expected this summer, with completion of the second, Pulse, planned for next year. More recently, Embassy Bosa has partnered with RioCan Investment Trust for another 500 condos in the urban village project east of Calgary’s downtown called Royal. 

But, we digress, kind of.

Cheng supports density, but not at the cost of appealing design.

He advocates high-density residential construction, but with an emphasis on public areas, the use of natural light, green spaces, “eyes on the street.”

And city hall will be pleased to hear this. He thinks “Calgary is going about density the right way, absolutely, and it’s about time,” he says during a recent interview from his office.

 Calgary city council and administration want to see densification in established communities and the downtown area. And have put limits on suburban land development, in part, to move their stance along.

“I have family living in Calgary, and I spend a lot of time there, so I know the city well and am fully aware of the traffic issues,” he says, adding that he also sees changes in the way people live — with more attention being paid to the core.

“Time was when the downtown became a ghost town when workers went home, but nowadays lots of them are working longer hours, and more of them now live downtown,” he says.

From a cost perspective, Cheng says infrastructure costs for high-rise housing is more sustainable than for single-family. And from a cultural perspective, towers — because there is a concentration of people — can better support cultural activities located in the downtown.

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