New residential tower in Coquitlam puts the neighbourhood first.


Tiffany Slone, (AWARD MAGAZINE) — At The Austin, perched high atop Blue Mountain in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam and towering well above all its neighbours, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. Residents of the 19-storey high-rise get unobstructed horizons in every direction, looking out over mountains to the north and the mighty Fraser River to the south.

It’s a truly ideal location for what will be powerhouse industrial developer Beedie Development Group’s first foray into residential development in many years. Though Beedie didn’t come by it easily. “It’s a great area, and very community- centric, but there was only old rental stock and single-family homes available – it hadn’t had a new multifamily residential development in quite some time,” explains Houtan Rafii, VP, residential development, for the Beedie Development Group.

In hopes of rejuvenating the area, the City of Coquitlam drafted the Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan, which supported multi-family developments in a bid to accommodate first courtesy Beedie Living time buyers as well as empty nesters looking to downsize without leaving the community. Beedie’s plan for The Austin– with 133 suites plus 4,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground level – was the first project to be green-lighted under the newly approved plan.

“But although the neighborhood plan was very well supported during the consultation process, and although our design was a good fit with that plan, there was still some nervousness among some members of the community with respect to having a mid- to high-rise building built in the neighborhood,” explains Rafii. “We had to work hard to appease those concerns, and to design a building that was as respectful of the neighborhood as possible.”

The biggest compromise was reducing it from the originally intended 24 storeys to the current 19. The building has also been set as far back on the site as possible, with the parking garage only accessible from the back, to keep the front street area pedestrian-friendly.

The shape, too, attempts to be unobtrusive, “Or, at least as unobtrusive as a high-rise can possibly be,” adds Rafii. “Most towers are quite symmetrical and full of 90-degree angles; here, one side is all curved glass, which really softens its profile. There’s a lot of gracefulness to it.”

Chris Dikeakos, managing principal of Chris Dikeakos Architects Inc., explains: “We’ve taken the central core of the building – where the elevator and mechanical spaces are located – and highlighted it as the central organizing element of the design. This central spine organizes the various facades of the building and provides the main views to and from the site, with a more rectilinear vocabulary on the other facades.”

The Austin is a conventional reinforced concrete structure, cast-in-place, with flat slabs for the residential tower and a central core and gravity frame system consisting of columns and walls. The greatest challenge on the project, if any, from a structural perspective, was that integrating the commercial space with the residential tower required extra co-ordination, says John Markulin, partner with structural consultant John Bryson & Partners. “But I think it was because of that effort that had to go into co-ordinating and laying out all of the different spaces from a structural, architectural and mechanical interface standpoint, that it went very smoothly during construction,” he adds.

Despite the unique “central spine” that moved the mechanical spaces from the core of the building to its sides, the mechanical systems themselves were quite traditional for a high-rise of this kind, according to Willie Perez, partner with mechanical consultant MCW Consultants Ltd. That means electric baseboard heating throughout, with split heat pumps in the retail units on the ground level and air conditioning in the penthouse suites. “Everything was built to Green Silver standard, so that dictated the details, like the number of thermostats per suite, the ceiling ductwork, and so on,” says Perez.

Green Silver standards also mandated all Energy Star appliances and water-conserving fixtures, notes Mark Herron, associate with electrical consultant Nemetz (S/A) & Associates Ltd.

Overall, construction went exceptionally smoothly, says Herron. “The only challenge was that there were some overhead service lines that needed to be incorporated underground, which meant a lot of co-ordination with all the utility service providers.”

“For Beedie’s first residential building, it’s a pretty nice benchmark for them,” says Geoff Deacon, project manager for Axiom Builders Inc. He adds that a high level of detail has been paid throughout the design of the building, highlighting the Rogers Communications equipment layout and design, in particular.

“In most buildings, they’re on the roof and, although people try to incorporate them into the design, they’re still exposed. The Austin is one of the first buildings to include a successful design concept where the antennas are not visible, which contributes to maintaining the overall design intent and look of the building,” explains Deacon.

Another community-pleasing element of The Austin’s design is the emphasis on creating additional public spaces at the ground level. The goal was to establish privacy for the ground level residential units at the north side of the development, “while at the south side, where the retail units are located, the emphasis was on designing space that is urban,” explains Durante Kreuk Ltd. intern landscape architect Emily Nixon. Wide boulevards for pedestrian traffic employ paving elements to demarcate the private space, and an outdoor fireplace with ample seating on the main street corner encourages socializing in the public space.

As for the interior design, the intention was to create something that would appeal to the target market – an even split of first-time buyers and empty nesters, says Cristina Oberti, principal of Cristina Oberti Interior Design Inc.

The resulting design boasts custom millwork, quartz countertops and backsplashes, and thoughtful touches such as soft-close cabinets and under-cabinet lighting. The architecture makes the most of the location, with expansive, energy-efficient floor-to-ceiling windows and extra-large balconies in every suite; inside, white lacquer kitchen cabinets, large-format tiles and a cool palette of greys and whites create a sleek, seamless and neutral backdrop to the true star of the show: stellar views of B.C.’s Lower Mainland.