Out in the Open: The Duke, Vancouver, British Columbia

In recent years, the City of Vancouver introduced housing policies to address current and future needs for housing affordability and choice in the ever-evolving urban environment. The new policies allow strategically located sites to be rezoned to permit greater height and density in exchange for developers committing to provide and operate rental housing for a period of 60 years or for the life of the building. The Duke responds to these challenges with a new rental building typology inspired by precedents from England.

A pink-coloured art installation occupies the entryway from the street to the soaring atrium. Photo by Michael Elkan, courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects.

The Duke is a 14-storey mixed-use development with 12 storeys of residential rental accommodation located above a two-storey commercial podium. The unit mix comprises 25% two-bedroom family units with one-bedroom and studio units making up the balance.

To achieve economic viability as a rental development, the project had to achieve a relatively high density within a 14-storey height limit imposed by the City. Use of a typical double-loaded corridor form of development set back from the lot lines could not realize the density required for economic viability. To achieve the required density, the living units are pushed out to the lot lines, thereby accommodating a greater number of units on the site. Positioning the units at the perimeter of the site created a figure/ground plan configuration with a void at the centre that was developed as a soaring open-air circulation space to access the units. A high-tensile steel and Teflon membrane structure is suspended above the open-air atrium to protect the space from the elements, with portions extending past the void to shelter portions of the extensive rooftop communal terrace.

Corridors ringing the courtyard lead to the brightly coloured doors of the building’s rental residential units. Photo by Michael Elkan, courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects.

The trapezoidal shape of the site lends a dynamic spatial quality to the atrium that is further enhanced through the play of multi-coloured entrance doors against a backdrop of white finish surfaces. A narrow, vertical south-facing slot provides glimpses into and out of the atrium space, while an 18-metre high, pink-coloured hanging art installation washes shafts of coloured light into the brilliant white atrium. Three communal outdoor landscaped terraces span the sunlit slot to stimulate impromptu social interactions between residents. Two amenity rooms are located on the uppermost floors with direct stair access to the rooftop terrace amenities that include a children’s play zone, urban agriculture, a dog-friendly space, and social seating with a barbecue area.

The Duke’s atrium is topped by a Teflon membrane supported on a steel structure. Photo by Michael Elkan, courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects.

The rental units are oriented outward, with a staggered elevational treatment that reflects the shifting nature of the traffic pattern passing by on the adjacent arterial thoroughfare. Featuring masonry cladding with steel and glass finishes, the building has a robust character that projects quality. Studio units have shallow Juliet balconies, while larger family units feature larger projecting balconies.

The overwhelmingly positive response from residents suggests that The Duke may have set an important precedent—one likely to be followed by many future developments in Vancouver.

This text originally appeared in Acton Ostry Architects: Twenty Five Years, a book published to commemorate the firm’s 25th anniversary.