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Cambie Apartments

New life for an old building adapted to contemporary needs

By Travis Hanks

With its modest street presence, the 1920s three-storey walk-up might be easy to miss along the ‘Cambie Corridor,’ a major arterial route in Vancouver that has seen massive densification since the completion of the Canada Line subway in 2009. At a time when buildings are disappearing along arterials, Haeccity Studio Architecture saw a rare opportunity to capture the embodied energy of the existing structure, and ensure these homes would flourish into a new era.

Located at 2930 Cambie Street, the project is within a few minutes walk of a major transit crossroads as well as a variety of shops and services, and boasts a Walkscore of 94. For this reason, the existing absence of on-site parking was negotiated to remain unchanged, with a renewed focus on more sustainable transportation. Most of the building’s new amenity spaces are geared toward bicycle storage, maintenance, and opportunities for community building around cycling.

The major revitalization of the wood-framed, stucco character building involved a comprehensive upgrade of all systems and building envelope (mineral wool insulation with extruded polystyrene (XPS) at foundations and an inverted XPS roof) for increased energy efficiency. A total renovation of all interiors included a more effective suite layout that resulted in an additional five units as well as new shared amenity spaces. By consolidating antiquated living spaces and corridors, the 14 existing units were reconfigured to accommodate 19 units, ranging from studios to two-bedroom units, without adding to the building footprint.

All the units were updated to align with the needs and priorities of contemporary life, complete with modern fixtures and built-in storage modules.

The entire team agreed that it was important to give new life to the old building, while simultaneously honouring its previous contribution to the city. For nearly a century, passersby on Cambie Street could look through a glazed entrance to a central stair leading directly to the upper levels. However, this traditional Vancouver feature posed a number of serious challenges to emergency egress, accessibility, and life safety.

To extend the life and character of the building – both for the conservation of embodied energy, and the cultural continuity of the neighbourhood – an innovative solution was required.

This took the form of a clearly demarcated “insertion” into the historic structure in the form of a new modern stair and lobby that stands out clearly and distinctly from its heritage context. Turning on its head the notion of history as a black and white photo that contrasts with today’s technicolour world, the new, modern stair intervention is rendered in neutral black and white, complementing the enduring colours of the existing construction.