CBK Van Norman was one of Vancouver’s most respected architects of the International Modern style. He was born in Ontario in 1906, studied in Manitoba, and worked for Townley and Matheson in Vancouver from 1928-1930 and sometimes with McCarter Nairne from 1930 to 1950. From 1955 to 1968 he practiced exclusively under his own name and designed some important Vancouver buildings, some of them already lost (including the Customs House). Van Norman was also part of the design team for the Royal Centre; his contribution to the design was the buttresses on the corners being used for the air conditioning and other systems.
The Burrard Building, built between 1955 and 1957, is still with us. The architect described the building as offering “a modern functional office space, a prestige address, and a choice downtown location”. With no local firm capable of building it, Van Norman hired the Utah Company of America to build his 200,000 square foot building and then was met with delays as the complicated skin took longer to assemble than expected. The original curtain wall design was switched to allow air conditioning to be installed, and the replacement design involved 18 by 10 foot panels , eight inches thick, attached directly into the steel frame.
In 1988 Musson Cattell designed a new skin for the building which changed it from a strongly horizontal oriented tower into a more contemporary glazed box. Interestingly, this actually reflects quite closely what Van Norman showed on a 1956 brochure for the building – in some ways the building today more closely resembles it than the 1950s version as built.
The building is still popular with tenants, and vacant suites are generally leased quickly. Although the site is one of very few Downtown that has no viewcones crossing it – and hence no height limit for a replacement building – leases on the few suites on offer today are for up to 10 years, suggesting the owners are in no hurry to cash in on its redevelopment potential.