Omer Arbel Office | 46 Water Street Heritage Building
The project consisted of a seismic upgrade and restoration of a heritage building in Vancouver’s historic gastown district, and a loft interior design project. The loft is organized around a new courtyard open to above, inserted into the heritage fabric of the building, allowing light into the centre of the very deep plan. All other interior elements are rendered crisply using precise,ly machined elements, conceived to stand in strong contract to the rough heritage fabric of the existing shell.
46 Water Street is located in the historical neighbourhood of Gastown in downtown Vancouver. The owner is a bachelor who became deeply invested in Gastown before its rundown warehouse spaces became fashionable. When he >approached Omer Arbel, he asked for a home that would ‘just let the space >be itself”. The space, had been practically abandoned, used as rough storage fora an appliance vendor. Arbel was handed a mess of clumsy interior walls and his task was to preserve the history that lurked there, all while overlaying it with a real, functional living space.
The first myth of Gastown living – that one must sacrifice fresh air and greenery for the rush of city life – was dispelled in short order. Arbel knew that neither Water Street not Bloody Alley (the house back street is called Bloody alley as it was used as an abbatoire for animals in the old times) was going to offer lush vistas, so he created, at the heart of this loft, a walled courtyard that only looked up to the sky. Light and breezes spill through its open top into the home and, when three of the >courtyard’s wall roll away, one might easily stroll from room to room via >a green cube garden.
”Everywhere, we were just dropping these objects, these boxes, into the larger plan” says Arbel. Against a surround of vintage brick, for example, the kitchen’s crisp white millwork hovers, with space a above and below to emphasize the box-within-a-box effect. One is constantly aware, here, of contemporary design as a sort of complement to (rather than an abolisher of) the original warehouse.
Look up and you’ll see a network of original Douglas fir beams, lit up to >dramatic effect by a set of skylights. There’s a five-foot volume between the beams and the building’s actual ceiling – another clearly defined envelope. Ultimately, though, Arbel’s loft does what a great loft ought to: it gets out of the way. “You want to revel in an open plan like this”, he says. “Part of the promise of living in a loft is the way nothing’s fixed.” There are no walls to break off the living space, kitchen or dining area, save for a couple of paper “soft walls”, which accordion, shift or disappear depending on the day’s whims.
Arbel can create structure when it’s called for; he’s justly happy with the bathroom, where a vanity area, a tiled shower and a halo of light at the shower’s rear make up a set of three nesting boxes. But mostly this is a home where the owner’s superlative (and eclectic) collection of furnishing can take centre stage. Baroque chandeliers and Parisian cafe chairs share the space with Buddhas, Japanese wind socks and, of courser, >Bocci’s 28 Series chandelier – also designed by Arbel.Location: Vancouver, Canada Architect: Omer Arbel Office
Photos: Martin Tessler