Pacific Centre Rotunda to be Demolished for Denser Commercial Space? REALLY?


Pacific Centre rotunda. 2016. Author’s photo.

In the nearly 450 posts I’ve produced for VanAsItWas over the past two years, I’ve typically focussed on Vancouver’s past. I will continue that practice. But today I will pause to reflect and comment on a news item which I didn’t see until recently.

On August 10th, Vancouver Sun journalist, Bethany Lindsay, reported that…

The familiar glass rotunda and public square that welcome shoppers to Vancouver’s Pacific Centre mall may soon be gone, replaced by three storeys of new retail stores.

Cadillac Fairview’s plan for the corner of Georgia and Howe streets was presented to the city’s urban design panel at the end of last month, but the proposal requires the approval of Vancouver’s director of planning before it can become reality. If the application is approved, the site would see 31,603 square feet of new, glass-fronted retail space, including an outdoor restaurant deck on the third floor and a “green” roof with planters arranged in a geometric grid, as well as a new mall entrance on Georgia.

The design comes from the Vancouver office of Perkins+Will Canada Architects, and follows negotiations between the city and the mall’s owner that began more than a decade ago. The mall was rezoned to allow more retail space in 2006, after Cadillac Fairview agreed to take on some of the costs for building the Canada Line entrance inside its plaza at Granville and Georgia.

This densification plan seems to me to be just dense. Why?

First, the result will be another wall of commercial space added to a corner that already has plenty. The Hotel Georgia on the NW corner and the TD Building on the SE already present pedestrians with a very vertical geography of concrete and glass. Adding another wall to those already on that corner will do nothing to make the corner more inviting to pedestrians. (To experience a corner with a similar feel to what the redevelopers are proposing for this corner, walk just a couple of blocks to Dunsmuir at Hornby. Not attractive, is it?)

Second, Pacific Centre mall has precious few architecturally redeeming features, in fact I can’t think of any, besides the rotunda. It has effectively created a place where passers-by and mall shoppers can gather and rest their feet for a few minutes either in the area just outside the glass rotunda or inside. The rotunda accomplishes what no other part of the mall does: it allows the sunshine (liquid or otherwise) to be visible inside the ‘Pacific Cave’.

Third, this corner has ALWAYS been low-rise and low-density; and, except for a period from the ’30s til the rotunda was built, it was a public park/square. As I’ve illustrated below with historical photos from the City of Vancouver Archives, from its earliest years, this corner of Vancouver has been relatively under-developed. It is one of the very few downtown street corners of which that can be said. Indeed, only from 1932-c.1972 was there any real commercial development of the corner. Before then and since then, the site has been a public space.



The corner in Vancouver’s early years was a park: CPR Park. Above, the East Indian Tea Co. (801 Georgia St) was using the elbow room that the park afforded to dry out a shipment of tea.



A gazebo graces CPR park in the photo above. An inspiration for the rotunda?


A (decidedly low-rise and low-density) service station was on the site before 1932. c1930 Leonard Frank photo.


Until the Paciifc Centre rotunda replaced it in the 1970s, the McLuckie Building was on the corner from 1932.

In conclusion, it would be a great pity, in my opinion, if Cadillac Fairview and the City of Vancouver decide to demolish the rotunda and replace it with commercial space: You got one thing right with the development of Pacific Centre. Don’t mess up that one truly positive element 40 years later.


Sign in front of the Rotunda advertising the new building proposed for the site. Sadly. 2016. Author’s photo.

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2 Responses to Pacific Centre Rotunda to be Demolished for Denser Commercial Space? REALLY?

  1. lhhouben says:

    This is dreadful news. Awful. Ghastly. Vancouver is becoming uglier by the year. By the month. Some days I could just SCREAM. The city has approved further densification for the Joyce/Collingwood area. I could just weep. I hate it all….The city is planning to eradicate two streets (Payne and Anne) full of single family homes, and replace them with high rises and condos. I feel like running to the hills.

    • mdm says:

      Hi L – I agree with the sentiment expressed in your comment. I just finished reading part of a new-ish book about urban architecture titled Obsolesence. I believe that “densification” is a contemporary synonym for such 1950s/60s words such as “urban blight” and “obsolesence”. When developers or urban planners advocate densification today, they seem to me to be weilding a loaded word that may have outcomes similar to the destruction of Hogan’s Alley. Thanks for your comment!

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