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Density without towers? Vancouver architect says yes

Vancouver can achieve its density goals if we look to new urban developments in Europe, says architect and urbanist Michael Geller.

Architect Michael Geller says Vancouver should look to Amsterdam and Denmark for inspiration

Geller says this Danish project offers a different experience than the typical high-rise. It has 80 homes, each with a private garden and parking garage. (Michael Geller)

If Vancouver wants to introduce more density into the city, one architect says it can be done without transforming the city into an endless row of high-rise towers.

Many experts have called for more density in the city to make it easier to build up transit and concentrate other services, increase sustainability and build more community.

Michael Geller, an architect and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, says building towers has become "a bit of a tradition" in Vancouver, particularly in the West End,

But the city could learn from some new projects in Europe which are prioritizing lower rise buildings while still achieving high levels of density, he says.

"I've been struck by some of their brand-new planned communities … The buildings tend to be less than 10 storeys."

These floating rowhouses are part of a new residential neighbourhood in IJburg east of Amsterdam. These units create more density than individual floating homes, and some of them even have basements. (Michael Geller)

Geller says the cleverly designed developments present a middle ground between single-family housing and high-rise towers.

"When you put a high-rise on a major street next to a single-family house — like Venables and Commercial where the rest of the development is three or four storey scale — I think people are uncomfortable with the juxtaposition."

Instead Vancouver should build more mid-rise buildings, he says, and make better use of lots by building homes closer together and to the end of the lot lines.

Michael Geller says we should look to Amsterdam for inspiration in Metro Vancouver. Most of that city's new apartments are less than ten storeys in height. (Michael Geller)

He said even though these low to mid-rise buildings won't achieve the very high densities of high towers in a concentrated area, overall across the city they could achieve much higher densities.

Instead of detached houses typically favoured by Vancouver home builders, Geller says these Amsterdam rowhouses have their own unique design and make better use of the land. (Michael Geller)

And even though it is not always as lucrative for developers to build smaller buildings on the same parcel of land, Geller said new architects and clever design will push developers in that direction.

"You can't help but be inspired," he says. "You are going to see more of these buildings being built because they're going to be built in locations where you can't get approval to build high-rises given current community attitudes."

This Aarhus Harbour apartment in Denmark — called the Iceberg — introduces some whimsical but clever design choices to maximize views and sunlight conditions. (Michael Geller)

Geller is giving a lecture on high-density housing tonight, Feb. 15, at SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre at 7 p.m.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Michael Geller says density achievable without high-rise developments


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