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Vancouver CBC building goes from ‘brutalistic’ to ‘futuristic’

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When the original Vancouver city centre CBC building was built in 1975, it was nicknamed “the bunker” because of its “brutalistic” or industrial style of architecture.


When the original Vancouver city centre CBC building was built in 1975, it was nicknamed “the bunker” because of its “brutalistic” or industrial style of architecture.

However, the building failed to capture what a national broadcasting organization should be: visible, immediate and engaging.

So, when the CBC decided to put in a new 25,000 square foot newsroom addition and renovation, it went with a street front structure that looks out on the community and invites that community to look in.

“There were two main goals that they wanted to achieve,” said project architect Kate Gerson, Dialog project architect, who along with Joost Bakker, partner in charge, shaped those goals into a structure.

“They wanted to consolidate the news staff into one space because previously the radio and television staff had been over at the old building. The other goal was to improve the public interface.”

Dialog’s design accomplished the broadcasters wants, but it fell to Scott Construction to implement them over the $65 million project.

The CBC project is now one of three Silver Award winners in the Vancouver Regional Construction Association Awards of Excellence in the general contractor category for contracts over $40 million.

There was also one more huge challenge. ..i491.gif

The CBC had to stay on the air. Construction noise and vibrations could not interfere with taping or broadcasts.

“It’s not every job you have to maintain a national broadcaster’s presence and keep them broadcasting throughout the day,” said David Crilly, Scott’s project manager.

“There was also the logistics of executing the work within a daily time frame,” he said.

Crilly explained that work was often done during off-hours, with double shifts, or crews working for an hour or two and then halting because of CBC production requirements.

The new addition, with the 21,000 square foot newsroom area, is primarily concrete and steel with a tension slab used and a curtainwall structure for the envelope.

This news hub is built in one corner directly over the existing plaza area, which serves as a foundation.

“I guess one of the interesting features of the project was the newsroom and the work that had to go into making the facility almost wireless,” said Crilly. “I have to hand the consultants a lot of credit for the design.”

The newsroom now is free of the bundles of cables and wires that was once the hallmark of many communications outlets.

These are now hidden below the floor using removable floor tiles.

The space also holds all the HVAC, power and state of the art technology and communications cables.

The CBC also wanted to step up broadcasting capabilities.

The new building has six outdoor studios in the plaza area, where live interviews can now be taped or live performances broadcast while the public watches.

CBC is also now fully High Definition capable.

“The sheer amount of cable, ductwork and conduits is really phenomenal and something that you do not see with other facilities” said Crilly.

The job wasn’t without a surprise or two. At one point, when attempting to complete a new foundation wall, Scott ran into substructures that weren’t on the basic design.

It required significant additional and costly ground works to correct the problem.

Scott immediately called all affected parties to the table to discuss options and create a plan moving forward.

There were also structural challenges. He said they were akin to threading a needle, as the old building was joined to the new addition.

They cut open the existing structure and then steel beams were lowered to complete columns down four floors and set in place since there was no other means of access.

The logistics of CBC’s downtown Vancouver location called for daily communications with CBC staff, Scott, and the sub-trades.

Structures were demolished and newsrooms relocated. The work on the new addition plus the renovation took three years, and had 200 workers on site at peak periods, with the building opening in 2009.

“Everyone is extremely pleased with the end result. It was a tough road getting there for a lot of reasons,” he said.

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