Article originally published in the Vancouver Sun, June 10, 2017.
It’s back to the future for the Bowker Collection, Abstract Developments’ new project in Oak Bay, one of Western Canada’s oldest municipalities.
The Bowker Collection’s rusticated brick facade is a nod to the historic neighbourhood, while the solar-ready building and an electric car for residents are forward-looking elements of the four-storey development, the first residential multi-family mixed use project approved by the District of Oak Bay in more than a decade.
Peter Johannknecht, principal at Cascadia Architects, says existing buildings in Oak Bay inspired the choice of materials.
“We felt we needed something to connect the old and the new — a modern building that respects the heritage and history of Oak Bay. We wanted materials that are durable and will stand the test of time,” he says.
In addition to its historic reference, the brick is also a contrast to the white over-sized cube windows in the penthouses, which give the building a contemporary flair.
“These [windows] really break the roof line, give a sense of pattern and bring in lots of natural light,” Johannknecht adds.
The building, to be sited on a triangular lot within walking to Willows Beach, will include 43 suites and six commercial units and wrap around the corner of Bowker Avenue and Cadboro Bay Road. The development is solar ready, Johannknecht says.
“If the strata wants to install solar power in the future, that has been considered and doesn’t require a big intervention,” he says.
Johannknecht points out that the building will be set back at the corner to provide more space for a pedestrian-friendly environment and landscaping.
While brick defines the Bowker Collection’s facade, the team at Cascadia turned to another traditional finish for the back of the building. Rough-sawn cedar board and batten will complete the building, Johannknecht says. The boards are slightly narrower than usual and there are more battens, designed to give this traditional wood siding a vertical emphasis.
The back of the building conceals a residents-only surprise: a secret garden.
“I think that inner courtyard – or secret garden – is as much about people viewing it from above and experiencing it, as being in it,” says landscape architect Scott Murdoch, principal at Murdoch de Greeff Inc. “People could look down, and maybe they don’t want to walk down[stairs] and into the garden, but they can look down at it and imagine themselves there.”
Making a site beautiful for residents and also finding ways to enhance its natural systems is a vital part of the landscape design process, he adds.
“We look at a site from an urban design perspective as well as if we were in a natural setting. On this site, that was key.”
The landscape plan includes bird- and bee-friendly plants like honeysuckle, red-flowering currant and mahonia, but the secret garden will be more of surprise for what it reveals in the rainy season than first glances at the carefully selected plants, the hard-packed gravel pathway, fire pit and the tranquil labyrinth.
Murdoch started by exploring ways to slow the rush of rainwater off the building’s roof into the nearby Bowker Creek.
“When water from pipes just shoots into a creek, the creek gets blown out, flooded and the habitat is ruined,” he explains.
To create a beautiful but functional environment, Murdoch designed large rectangular rain gardens to process roof water, allowing it to filter slowly through the soil before it is released into Bowker Creek.
A water feature of three cascading circular pools, with a reticulated water system, is designed to keep water flowing from one bowl to the next, adding “soft noise” to the garden and enhancing the sense of being in a serene space, Murdoch says.
The landscaping in front of the building is also thoughtfully designed. Curb-side bulges are large enough to accommodate Garry oaks and designed to encourage their deep root growth.
“These trees will have a soil resource so they can grow to be 100 years old,” says Murdoch.
Inside the one- and two-bedroom and den units, townhomes and penthouses, buyers can choose from two colour palettes, says Sandy Nygaard, principal at Nygaard Interior Design. The light palette includes white quartz countertops, wide-plank white oak engineered hardwood floors, soft, sandy tone wood-grain upper cabinets, white lower cabinets and a light grey tile backsplash. The medium palette has darker medium-walnut-tone wood-grain cabinetry and features darker grey tiles.
The tile choice for the backsplash was inspired by the linear contemporary dimensions of subway tiles. However, the ceramic tiles in the backsplash have an interesting handmade quality and are vertically mounted in a staggered pattern to create interest, she says.
Depending on the size and design of the unit, kitchens have either an island or a peninsula. All feature a pantry cupboard and an open-shelf display nook, perfect for culinary accessories or décor. But, the showpiece – or as Nygaard calls it, “the bling” – is undoubtedly the Bertazonni gas range with convection oven. The high-end 30-inch Italian-designed range is standard in all the units, except in the penthouse and terrace homes where the larger 48-inch model with double oven is the choice.
Other major appliances include a refrigerator/freezer and dishwasher by Fisher & Paykel, a stainless steel range hood, a Panasonic microwave and full-sized stacking Whirlpool washer and dryer.
In the bathrooms, the same wood-grain finish as the kitchen cabinets is applied to the floating vanity, which has a square under-mount white porcelain sink. In the ensuite bathroom, the eight-by-48-inch porcelain tiles on the floor continue up the wall behind the shower, laid vertically and staggered to echo the design of the kitchen backsplash.
The entrance to the parking garage is on Bowker Avenue. This is where the electric car, a BMW i3, will be located when not in use by residents, who will also have access to two electric bicycles. There are also electric car and mobility scooter charging stations, as well as storage lockers.
The Bowker Collection units range from 734 to 2,001 square feet. Balconies have gas connections for heaters and barbecues.