701 Granville Street (1)

Sears Nordstrom 3

This is the most recent ‘before’ image we’ve posted. We hadn’t even shot it when we started blogging here less than four years (and 500 posts) ago. Despite the relatively short passage of time, the building looks very different. It also evolved quite a bit over the years before our 2012 image, above, as we’ll show in the next few posts.

In 2012 Sears were heading into their final closing sale in Downtown. They had moved into the space occupied by Eaton’s when they acquired that company in 1999 after T Eaton & Co filed for bankruptcy in 1997. An initial attempt at re-launching the Eaton’s brand failed, and the long lease that Sears held on the Pacific Centre property saw them rebrand as Sears, although they didn’t fill all the floors. Sears never seemed to be particularly successful, despite having little lower cost competition Downtown, and eventually Cadillac Fairview, the building’s owner, made them an offer to buy back the remaining period of the lease, and started to plan for a new use for the building. (Sears had previously been the retail tenant in the Harbour Centre, where Eaton’s had also previously been located (before Harbour Centre was developed) when they took over the Spencer’s Department store in 1948).

When Sears closed there were seven floors of store space and a basement. Cadillac Fairview already had a taker for some of that space: Nordstrom’s the Seattle-based retailer wanted to enter the Vancouver market, and wanted a large floorplate space Downtown – but only three floors. Although Cadillac Fairview  had considered demolishing the building, the idea of repurposing the steel frame of the 600,000 square foot structure allowed a much faster build-out. Nordstrom’s occupy nearly half the above grade structure. The basement floor has a new access from the street and is a continuation of the underground mall section of Pacific Centre that was completed in 1973. The top four floors had two light-well spaces pushed into the centre of the building and office space created.

Sears Nordstrom Granville 1

The original design was by Cesar Pelli, working at the time for Victor Gruen Associates in Los Angeles (although Gruen had returned to his native Austria when the mall was designed). The local architectural partners were McCarter Nairne and Associates. Pelli’s buildings had simple, dramatic black and white elements. The TD tower (and the slightly later IBM Tower) were clad in very dark brown glass that looked black much of the time. The retail box was clad in white concrete ‘reconstituted stone’ – described a year after completion as showing ‘a predilection for austerity’. It started life at five storeys, but two more were added in the early 1980s. The recent reconfiguration and recladding of the building were designed by James K M Cheng.

The building is now much more open and glazed (with 1,700 new panels of glass), with an attempt to break down the bulk of the box and to reflect the design of other Nordstrom stores that frequently feature cream limestone. Over 91 per cent of the previous building has been re-purposed or recycled – over 6.8-million kilograms of material. The concrete panels were taken to Langley Airport to create roughly 6,000 square metres of new roadway. Other concrete went through a crusher and was ground down to gravel and sand. Gypsum was extracted and reused as new stock and wood went into a chipper and was reused as biofuel.

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