Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

By vancouverpublicspace

September 18, 2012 at 10:17 PM

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So long Sears: Nordstrom makeover unveiled

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Nordstrom - Concept 2

Concept rendering of the Nordstrom store at Howe & Robson

One of the City’s worst pieces of architecture – the anti-iconic Sears Building – is about to get a serious make-over.

Speculation about the future of the site has been circulating since Sears announced that it was closing it’s doors in March of this year. Cadillac-Fairview, which owns the building, has now unveiled a series of drawings that sketch out a proposed redevelopment of the site. The plans are being undertaken, at least partially, in anticipation of another American retailer, Nordstrom, opening up shop in early 2015. Along with the anchor tenant, there will be additional office and retail space created.

Nordstrom - Concept 1
The design itself, produced by local architect James Cheng, promises a more modern building – one that is far more open to the street, and which uses natural light, high-ceilings and multiple atria to create a sense of transparency and invitation. The large glass windows – if the renderings are to be believed – will help to mirror the features of other buildings in the area… something that will provide visual support to the Edwardian Art Gallery building and the Hotel Vancouver (along with and the slate of buildings it will face along Robson and Granville). 

(An aside: while it’s scale is reminiscent of the existing building, the look of the new site reminds us a teesy bit of the old central library just down the street at Robson and Burrard – and most recently occupied by HMV).

Library - Burrard & Howe

Comparisons aside, the move to enhance the current Sears site is long overdue, and couldn’t come at a better time. The development offers yet another opportunity to bring new vitality to the Robson Square area – an additional boost given Council’s decision to keep the 800-block of Robson Street closed to car traffic for three more months.

One thing to think about, given that the Cadillac-Fairview design is still in a conceptual stage: could more be done with the site to enhance the adjacent Robson Square space? For example, what if, rather than occupying the entire block, the new building were reassembled — keeping the same overall floor-space but building ‘up’ part of the site in exchange for some more at-grade open-space facing the 800-block and Art Gallery.

It’s just an idea, of course, but we’d be interested in hearing whether or not there are other possibilities. The Sears building re-do is an important exercise. Lots of folks out there – judging from the comments we’ve read – are excited to see a proverbial eyesore given an overdue make-over. Let’s make sure we do the best job possible – both given the pivotal nature of the site and the important public space that sits right across the street.

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