Look up! The tallest Passive House design in the world is coming to Vancouver

For another wild Covid-19 Friday night I listened to the soothing sounds of the recorded City Council meeting where they reviewed and voted upon the exciting 1075 Nelson Street development. I slept well after hearing the affirmative vote as it brings a unique building form to Vancouver and contributes to building science in being the tallest Passive House design in the world.

A truly world-class building of approximately 480 residences comprised of social housing, rental housing, and condos.

I gleaned the following information and renderings from the Council meeting, city staff presentation, and the proponent’s application. If you wish to do a deep dive into the development, you’ll find links at the end of this post.

The development

Gentle undulations in building form is not new to Vancouver with the most recent addition being the horizontal undulations seen in The Arc at 89 Nelson Street. However, 1075 Nelson Street surpasses previous designs with its pronounced and well-executed vertical undulations reaching skyward. It’s gorgeous form would be less impactful with a lower height so nestling itself amongst the tallest towers on our downtown peninsula makes sense. The sole interruption to its gentle form is the balcony approximately a third of the way up the tower that’s part of the amenities.

Rendering: The artistic design premise for 1075 Nelson Street.

1075 Nelson Street - design premise

At first glance, the purely residential nature of this development could be considered less ambitious than the complex mixed-uses we’ve become accustomed to as exemplified by the Plaza of Nations redevelopment. However, there is considerable finesse required for 1075 Nelson to achieve the Passive House designation and subsequently expand the associated expertise and materials sectors in Vancouver.

Building operations are a major source of greenhouse gases. A Passive House design can realize energy savings of up to 90%.

Project statistics (City’s figures and subject to change upon final design):

Developer Henson Developments

Architects WKK Architects and IBI Group

Stories 60

Height 585 feet (including the building mechanics on the rooftop)

Non-market homes 102

Rentals 50

Condos 328

Parking spaces 313

Bike parking spaces 1000

Floor space ratio 25 (this is quite high)

The 113 non-market homes will be provided to the City of Vancouver and added to its social housing portfolio. The City will issue an RFP to secure a nonprofit housing operator to manage the units. This is a common management arrangement and replicated in other developments like 1190 Burrard Street.

A few weeks ago I read somewhere that Henson Developments offered to sell the entire project to City of Vancouver for social housing. This raised a flag for me but I’m not sure if it was the developer seeking an expedited profit, indicates the project is precarious in our current real estate market, or simply a negotiating tactic. As other projects have recently gone dark, including Terrace House, my thoughts are that it may be delayed. With this and other developments, I hope it’s just a launch delay and not a complete shelving of the project or a reworking to a less ambitious design. Time will tell, although my outlook on Vancouver real estate has been steadily improving over the past month.

Neighbourhood context

The West End Community Plan identifies this block as allowing exceptionally tall towers thereby driving its transformation. The currently tallest building on the block, the Patina at 1028 Barclay Street, will first be eclipsed by The Butterfly currently under construction and then 1075 Nelson. Bosa Developments intends on joining the party with their twin Barclay Towers (shown in the header image of this post).

Image: Neighbourhood context for 1075 Nelson Street.

As it’s the smallest lot size allowed for tall towers, the street level for 1075 Nelson is not as spacious as you’ll see elsewhere. The compactness of the site removed the ability to insert a podium… perhaps thankfully so.

Renderings: Excerpt from open house boards showing the proximity to neighbouring buildings and compactness of the site.

1575 Nelson Passive House

City Council comments

It was interesting to gain the thoughts of each Councillor during their journey towards the 7 to 3 vote in favour. Mayor Stewart provided the most eloquent support for the project but all Councillors shared their thoughts. The teleconference format didn’t disappoint when someone accidentally unmuted to share an exasperated ‘What?!?’ when a Councillor posed an unclear question.

Highlighted project benefits:

  • a private project providing social housing to City of Vancouver
  • environmental sustainability
  • unique building form in Vancouver
  • contributing to Vancouver’s economic recovery following Covid-19
  • expanding the local Passive House industry (both in design and materials)
  • density of the project provides much needed housing during a supply crisis

Highlighted concerns:

  • the $70 million cost for approximately 102 social housing units is steep
  • the density is too high
  • separate doors for the social housing and market homes (this isn’t a clearcut issue between rich and poor as it involves other factors such as ease of maintenance)
  • shading on Nelson Park, particularly the school (the design of the power station and new school destined for Nelson Park is not yet known)

Resources and links

• City of Vancouver Council meeting recording and documents

• 1075 Nelson Street – staff presentation to Vancouver Council

• 1075 Neson Street – Open House Boards

• 1075 Nelson Street – Model shots from City Council meeting

• 1075 Nelson – Design Review Panel

• Passive House Canada


I hope you enjoyed the post. As always, please reach out if you have questions or want to chat about Vancouver city building and condos.

All the best!

Jason Hutchison
604.314.7138    [email protected]

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