Archive for the ‘Semmens and Simpson’ Tag

West Pender Street – 1100 block, north side (2)


This stretch of West Pender still has two buildings today that can be seen in this 1981 image (looking west). The Uniglobe Building (seen in the previous post) is at the far end of the block, and dates back to 1956, (although it’s had a re-skin and looks quite different). It was  designed by J McLaren, who was actually an engineer rather than an architect, and was the headquarters for Macmillan Bloedel for 12 years, until they commissioned Arthur Erickson to design a larger replacement nearby on West Georgia. The Shorehill Building, designed by McCarter and Nairne and Partners, still looks the same, although it’s more hidden today than in 1981. It dates back to 1966; between those buildings the taller Coast Hotel has been added, built in 2010.

Closer to us was a modest two storey building that dated back to 1954. It was developed for Gypsum Lime Canada, but was also the offices of the architects who designed it, Semmens Simpson. For a brief period this partnership designed some of the best modernist international buildings in the city, including the new City Library on Burrard, and a series of West End apartment buildings. Their own offices were designed in the same simple but effective style, with minimal ornamentation. The office was replaced in the late 1990s by a condo and hotel tower designed by Hancock, Bruckner Eng and Wright. There are 39 apartments on the top floors and the Delta by Marriott Pinnacle Hotel on the lower floors of a 36 storey building. When there was a lower building on the site you could see the Harbourfront Hotel – now the Pinnacle Harbourfront. It was once home to one of the city’s three revolving restaurants, but the Empire Landmark was recently demolished and this one is no longer operating. Built in 1975, it was designed by the Waisman Architectural Group. The same architects designed the charcoal painted concrete grid tower to the west, completed in 1968.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W19.13


West Pender Street – 1100 block, north side (1)

We’re looking east on West Pender, and the building on the left is still standing, although with a new screen of windows. In 1981 it still looked the same as when it was first built, in 1956. It was developed for Macmillan and Bloedel, the fast-growing forestry and pulp business. It was designed in-house by Dominion Construction, who had their structural engineer J McLaren, sign off on the design. Dominion’s president, Charles Bentall, also an engineer, had been in trouble with the AIBC for exactly the same issue, but the company continued to design their own perfectly well-designed buildings (without an accredited architect) for several years.

DA Architects designed the building seen next door today, the new Coast Hotel, opened just in time for the 2010 Olympics. The 1966 Shorehill Building beyond it (designed by McCarter, Nairne and Partners) can be seen more clearly in 1981 than it can today but it’s effectively unchanged. While the low buildings beyond from the 1950s have today been replaced with a hotel and office buildings, the United Kingdom Building, another 1950s tower, designed by Douglas Simpson, is still standing on the corner of Granville.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W19.16


Vancouver Public Library – Burrard Street


In 1957 Vancouver got a beautiful new library. It took two years to build, and it was designed by the city’s foremost contemporary architectural practice of the day, Semmens and Simpson. In a relatively short period the Canadian-born partners designed a series of simple but effective residential and commercial buildings across the city starting in 1949. Many, but sadly not all of their buildings are still standing, and some have been altered, few as much as the Public Library. This was almost their last work – the practice effectively split in 1956, and while Harold Semmens stayed in the city until 1962, Douglas Simpson moved initially to Hawaii in 1957, and later to Australia and Fiji.

Initially commissioned in 1954, the new library was a simple modernist structure that attempted to allow the public to see inside the building as much as possible. On the Robson facade there were vertical louvres designed to rotate automatically, controlled by photoelectric cells. The heating was from spare steam provided by the Hotel Vancouver. The building cost just under the $2 million budget, and the building structure was designed for a possible two additional floors. Our 1960 VPL image shows the building a few years after it was completed.

VPL nightBy the early 1990s the city had embarked on an architectural competition to replace the Burrard Street building with an even larger building. The new Library Square complex opened in 1995, combining the Library’s Central Branch, a Federal Office Tower, and retail space in a curved glazed atrium. Once decommissioned the former library was altered and re-used as TV studios and a three-storey retail space. Occupied by both Virgin Megastore and HMV, with the demise of CD and dvd sales the store’s most recent reinvention is as a branch of Victoria’s Secret, with pink fabric window display panels.