Future Canada Location Has History of Books, Music

November 21, 2011

A legacy of books and music has followed the building at the corner of Burrard and Robson Streets in downtown Vancouver (Canada), where Apple will reportedly open a two-level store by the end of 2012. According to real estate insiders, when the HMV megastore at 750 Burrard Street closes down in January, Apple will begin renovations on 16,000 square-feet, creating the city’s first street-level store. The future store would occupy a conspicuous corner that is the subject of tourist and architectural highlight tours, in a city that attracts 9 million tourists a year. The six-level, mostly-glass building was constructed in 1957 as the city’s second public library, and its modern architecture won many awards and gained it heritage status. In 1995 the city decided to move the library, so Sir Richard Branson took over the retail space in 1996 for a Virgin Megastore, selling music music albums, tapes and CDs. In 2005, Virgin moved out and retailer HMV moved in to sell CDs, DVDs, video games and other electronic media. Ironically, the music retailer has also held live music sessions in the store. Earlier this month HMV announced it was closing the location in the wake of financial problems, vacating the basement, ground and second floors. Other levels of the building are occupied by Canadian TV and smaller retailers. The Apple store would be three blocks from the existing Pacific Centre retail store, hidden away on the second level of the city-center mall. Three other Apple stores are in the near suburbs of Vancouver.

The building that Apple will reportedly occupy covers a parcel that is 211 feet wide and 120 feet deep, with about 120,830 square-feet total.

Apple would occupy the basement (23,044 s.f.), and parts of the ground floor and second levels (16,160 s.f.), or a total of about 39,204 square-feet (floor plans, pdf). The ground and second levels are now connected by escalators.

According to real estate industry sources, HMV is probably paying $C60 to $C80 a year per square-foot for the property, or about $US3 million per year. Retail rents in other areas of downtown range up to $C200 per square-foot. Recently the property has been marketed as “Robson Central” by property developers, but no rent amount has been mentioned publicly.

The city has declared the building as a heritage site (pdf), classified as “A(M),” the highest category, defined as, “Represents the best examples of a style or type of building; may be associated with a person or event of significance.” The preserved elements of the building include several large works of art, both inside and outside.

According to the building’s description on heritage sites, it is, “One of Vancouver’s best examples of International style modernism, the building incorporated extensive glazing to maximize visual penetration from the street.”

The exterior of the building is mostly glass, with silver steel framing, both which cannot be changed. In fact, the “large glazed surfaces” are cited by heritage experts as one of the elements that makes the building historically important.

Apple has a history of creating stores within heritage buildings, and typically the process incudes extensive negotiations with city planners on what changes can and cannot be made. In some cases Apple has been entirely cooperative with planners and architectural preservationists—mostly for very old European buildings—and in some cases the company has been intransigent. In a few cases Apple has abandoned store locations where their architecture wasn’t received positively.

The city’s heritage Web site describe the important elements, including, “The contrast of solids and voids; large glazed surfaces that expose interior spaces and create a sense of openness; the play of glass and concrete and black granite across its facade; independent (reinforced concrete) structural frame and non-load-bearing exterior curtain walls (glass, aluminium and granite) that have no sense of bulk or mass; a compositional balance achieved without resorting to axial symmetry; and a complete abandonment of historical ornament.”

Other “character-defining” elements include the building’s siting, context and landscape; the openness of the corner at street level, solid-walled at each end; the human scale of the street frontage; the deeply cantilevered building edge at the corner; and a bronze Lionel Thomas sculpture on the west facade of the building.

Apple would occupy the ground floor corner, and the second level on the right side of the building. - photo from Wikipedia

The red-shaded areas indicate the spaces that Apple would occupy. Presumably Apple would also occupy the basement level that HMV is vacating. Other levels of the building are occupied by Canadian TV and small retailers.

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