Posted 09 January 2007 - 10:14 PM
I was in Sidney this afternoon and had a chance to take a closer look at The Pier. I like the building a lot. Yes, it's "fat" and not too tall, and yes, it has a certain blockiness about it in terms of how it obstructs the view for the immediate neighbours to the West.
But The Pier is a far superior building than the one whose views it's blocking, so at least there's something nice to look at.
I liked the quality of the exterior finishes, as well as the varied facade design. As I remember (peering through rain-splotched glasses), there is different coloured glass (the windows are generic clear glass, while the bottoms of windows are offset by deeper blue coloured opaque glass panels, in what looked like random offsets); there is a sand-coloured brick or stone cladding; and there is a rougher, field stone style base that's darker, but also still varied. These elements are arranged to give your eye something interesting to fasten on, regardless of which part of the building you're looking at.
The balconies aren't just jutting-out affairs (like d/t's The Wave), but part of a more complex articulation of alcoves/ bays/ extrusions, etc. It's nothing wild, but just subtle enough to indicate that someone didn't stick balconies on as an afterthought, as a cheap way to increase square footage (I read somewhere that balconies really caught on in NYC early in the 20th century because their square foot spaces counted for half when figuring the overall sq.ft. of the apartment -- it was a cheap way to "add" space without having to do much...). The Pier's balconies look like they're actually extensions of "gracious living" spaces, not tacked on, and not looking like something sloppy or temporary, or something designed simply for you to throw yourself from. Unlike the suicide perches of both The Wave and View Towers, they suggest the ability to hold you in safety and comfort, give you a pleasant spot from which to observe life. (As you can tell, I hate The Wave's balcony design... Sorry if this offends any readers who happen to reside in said building. As for View Towers: it is of a vintage and dedicated to such obvious utility that one can expect not much more. But then you're not expected to buy a condo in the $300-400K range in View Towers. The Wave should have done better, IMO.)
The Pier's West side (that's the side that faces to the neighbour) has a very nicely articulated street frontage -- too new to tell what will go into these spaces yet. But the by now regulation metal "awnings" are generous (not mingy, again in comparison with The Wave), and offset (now, anyway) in that same pleasant sand colour as the brick, which makes for a really nice visual effect. The windows are large, the relation to the sidewalk is direct and open.
Most of all I liked the fact that The Pier plays with an early 20th century design for luxury apartments first pioneered (in modern form) in NYC apartment buildings: the courtyard. At the beginning of the 20th century, New Yorkers were just getting used to the spread of apartments for the well-off, since it was (was?, still is!) a long-ingrained prejudice that "proper" families and proper people live in proper houses, which meant the SFH.
Apartment dwelling took a while to catch on (the first ones were called "French Flats," to signify that this was a European model, and to distinguish them from tenements, which were for poor immigrants and were generally disease-ridden and over-crowded -- See Jacob Riis's photographs, for eg.).
From the 1880s (when New Yorkers got the heeby-jeebies about "out of scale" buildings blocking the sky) till 1901, the Daly Law imposed height restrictions in NYC, which affected residential development most of all (it didn't apply to offices, or hotels). Its repeal came at about the time that society was finally paying attention to conditions in tenements. Forward-thinking architects who tried to solve the tenement problem came up with ideas like big windows for light and air, as well as courtyards (also for light and air).
When the Daly Law was repealed, some of the innovations recently applied to tenements were adapted to luxury flats. The courtyard was a favourite since it also alluded to older European models (French, Italian, German, etc.: multi-storey apartment buildings of the better sort -- and even the not so good sort -- almost always have a courtyard that admits light as well as providing a quiet oasis, away from the rush and tear of the street, and a place for kids to play etc). The courtyard allowed the luxury flat to gain an air of respectability, leisure, open air, space, sunlight, etc., as well as what today we'd call "branding": a courtyard done up like a mini-Versailles garden suggested the intangibles of tradition, a bit of class, and so on. The luxury flat, in turn, drove the vanguard that made apartment living "respectable," and not just something for the poor folks who couldn't afford a "proper" house.
But back to the courtyard! To make a long story short: there's a history to the courtyard in apartment building design, and while I don't know whether or not the architects of The Pier were aware of it or used it consciously, it seems to me that it's very much present in their design. The West-facing wall is solid, a big, nearly "fat-scraperish" facade turning its front (for this is its front) toward Sidney's downtown. This front is nicely done up and varied, as mentioned above. The building's "back," which is the ocean-front side, is the courtyard: The Pier is U-shaped, built around this very open but private space. It's lovely. (It would perhaps have been much better if Regents Park had adopted that strategy instead of trying to be "suburban," with all that shrubbery surrounding it!) The Pier gets to enclose its courtyard on 3 sides -- the 4th being open to another stretch of green, beyond which is the pier and the sea. It presents a very nice, urban and sophisticated facade to the public spaces of Sidney on three sides, while the 4th is that magical space of light and air. (Except it's not enclosed completely, like a traditional courtyard, but open to the sea.)
The single taller tower approach (even on a good-sized podium) wouldn't have been as effective here, in my opinion. At the same time, the courtyard model requires a fair chunk of real estate to work, which either limits it to slightly off-centre locations (Sidney, vs. downtown Victoria -- or downtown Vancouver!) or to projects with real luxury aspirations. (The Pier probably has both: space and the luxury angle.) Shoal Point comes to mind (mine, anyway), too. (I like Shoal Point a lot -- I know some people hate it, but I think it's marvellous.) It also has a courtyard, and a blocky imposing "street" presence (insofar as that part of town has streets at all -- and on one side there's Fisherman's Wharf, while on another there's the DND, so it's kinda tricky to talk of streets there). It's a building that's not afraid to push itself into your face with an unafraid attitude, and it has enough style to do so. Very different from The Pier, but both of those buildings have a great attitude, and a savvy way of handling very old design elements. Shoal Point goes for a weird gothic, The Pier for elegant modern; in my opinion they both work.
Ms.B.Havin's style-o-meter gives this one an eight-and-a-half, maybe even a nine. I think it's a winner.
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