The Plains Hotel update 2 of 2

In this continuation regarding the Plains Hotel focus group, I want to touch on a few topics that Martin and I thought were of key interest.  Martin did a post a few months ago showcasing different design aesthetics of other impressive buildings that could be inspiration for the project, and I posted about a very cool condo project in Portland that is LEED Gold certified but also has a community garden and hosts community events (for both residents and non-residents) and generally promotes a more sustainable way of living (less cars, more local food, etc).  So, where did these topics fit in the focus group discussions?

Martin wrote to me about the building design so below are his thoughts:

The main issue for me was the building style, and the questionnaire presented three choices: Contemporary, Urban, and Traditional.  However, they all sort of looked the same and the ‘Urban’ option was clearly a design common in Toronto (Chamberlain does a lot of their work there).  After the meeting, I asked the architect to explain these different options to me.  Traditional, has certain solid “traditional” materials (stone, possibly bricks), and windows sunken in or set in a certain way; Contemporary is glass however far you want to go vertically; and Urban is a podium level with a tower above.  The conversation between the two of us proceeded as follows:

Martin: “Won’t this project be under the new downtown plan which requires podium style, 3-4 stories then a set back?”

Architect: “Yes, that right.”
Martin: “So, it’ll be an ‘urban’ design.”

The architect agreed, pointing to a rendering very similar to ones we’ve seen in the paper (that is apparently an urban design).  Then I asked about including local materials and addressing the local architectural vernacular (as opposed to just making a Toronto building here) especially in light of their goal to make this the Regina landmark of all landmarks.  The answer to this line of inquiry was a vague agreement.

This conversation made me feel that either the options they provided were totally pointless and the project will be “urban” in design regardless, or all the glad handing at city council with Office for Urbanism and Chamberlin Architects in making sure this project fits the new Downtown Plan will, in the end, be ‘whatever our investors want’.  To confuse things even more, I overheard the P&B Marketing representative discussing with the architect the desire for “contemporary design” in the project… though I was unclear if he meant the specific contemporary design presented in the questionnaire or just a general aesthetic.

In the end I’m disappointed that this project is clearly focused on providing fancy things for those that can afford it. All I hope is that maybe some nice shops or restaurants bring people to that corner, and that they do some environmentally progressive things.  Any dreams I had for this building to be of any visual interest are dashed.

The second topic that I want to touch on is the plan to try and have a “green” focus for the new building.  Some proposed options that were put on the table were to have geothermal heating, have LEED certification (though they didn’t specify which level of certification), partnering to have some sort of car-share program, and possibly providing some plug-ins for electric cars in the parking garage.  I think these initiatives are important and I am excited to see the developers showing interest in these programs.  In the questionnaire people were asked whether or not these things were a priority for them and whether or not they would be willing to pay more to have them.  The writing was positive about these options -mentioning the savings that residents would benefit from with some of these programs (geothermal, LEED certification).  I ended up writing a lot more than the allotted space regarding the importance of these things and had a nice chat with one of the consultants who seemed interested in looking at the Portland project I mentioned.  I tried to stress that although these proposed “green” options are encouraging, it would be great to see the project go even further and be a real example of progressive architecture and design (green roofs, grey water recycling, etc).

My only question is how influential the focus groups will be with respect to whether or not these things go forward into the project.  The consultants leading the sessions explained that the feedback they received from these focus groups would decide the future of the project, and for my part, I hope they were lying.  I know that things are not that simple, but to even say that 50-60 potential investors/buyers/curious souls opinions will drive a project that will no doubt shape the entire downtown for all citizens is a little odd, especially when this project has been billed as a cornerstone of the downtown revitalization.  This statement is also a little worrisome on the “green” front if the small group of people who are potential investors (or those of us who were simply interested in the project) say that they don’t want geothermal, or that LEED certification is not important to them.  These items could easily be taken off the table by saying “our research showed that it wasn’t a priority for this market” even though these things may be a priority for many Regina residents (future investors or residents of the project), and should be a priority for new development in our city.

Although progressive, some things also seem a little ill-researched but were being used as leverage to paint the project as green.  The question on hybrid plug-in spots went something like: ‘Do you own a hybrid and need a plug in?’  Now, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe most hybrids do not plug in (the current model’s batteries charge while the engine is running on gas) and I don’t think that plug-in hybrids are even commercially available to the public yet.  I don’t want to minimize the importance of progressive thought and that these will at some point be important but again, things like this will likely fall by the way-side because no one currently owns hybrids that need to be plugged in and that will be reflected in the questionnaire.

In the end, I hope that the designers and developers, along with city council decide that these things are a priority for the city and that they are included in the final design.  I actually hope that they go a lot further and I have great hopes that this project will be a shining example of exceptional aesthetic.

Ooph – this post is getting long.  I will provide some more thoughts on the name issue in the next post (along with some more thought about the importance of place names in general).

The Plains Hotel update 2 of 2

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