Posted by: VPSN | September 18, 2012

So long Sears: Nordstrom makeover unveiled

Nordstrom - Concept 2

Concept rendering of the Nordstrom store at Howe & Robson

One of the City’s worst pieces of architecture – the anti-iconic Sears Building – is about to get a serious make-over.

Speculation about the future of the site has been circulating since Sears announced that it was closing it’s doors in March of this year.  Cadillac-Fairview, which owns the building, has now unveiled a series of drawings that sketch out a proposed redevelopment of the site. The plans are being undertaken, at least partially, in anticipation of another American retailer, Nordstrom, opening up shop in early 2015.  Along with the anchor tenant, there will be additional office and retail space created.

Nordstrom - Concept 1The design itself, produced by local architect James Cheng, promises a more modern building – one that is far more open to the street, and which uses natural light, high-ceilings and multiple atria to create a sense of transparency and invitation.  The large glass windows – if the renderings are to be believed – will help to mirror the features of other buildings in the area… something that will provide visual support to the Edwardian Art Gallery building and the Hotel Vancouver (along with  and the slate of buildings it will face along Robson and Granville). 

(An aside: while it’s scale is reminiscent of the existing building, the look of the new site reminds us a teesy bit of the old central library just down the street at Robson and Burrard – and most recently occupied by HMV).    

Library - Burrard & Howe

Comparisons aside, the move to enhance the current Sears site is long overdue, and couldn’t come at a better time.  The development offers yet another opportunity to bring new vitality to the Robson Square area – an additional boost given Council’s decision to keep the 800-block of Robson Street closed to car traffic for three more months.

One thing to think about, given that the Cadillac-Fairview design is still in a conceptual stage: could more be done with the site to enhance the adjacent Robson Square space?  For example, what if, rather than occupying the entire block, the new building were reassembled — keeping the same overall floor-space but building ‘up’ part of the site in exchange for some more at-grade open-space facing the 800-block and Art Gallery.

It’s just an idea, of course, but we’d be interested in hearing whether or not there are other possibilities.  The Sears building re-do is an important exercise.  Lots of folks out there – judging from the comments we’ve read – are excited to see a proverbial eyesore given an overdue make-over.  Let’s make sure we do the best job possible – both given the pivotal nature of the site and the important public space that sits right across the street.



  1. The visual openness the Cheng design promises is a marked improvement from the existing structure, but I too was worried that it wouldn’t translate well to the pedestrian experience – glass walls impede mobility as much as opaque ones.
    But rather than more grade-level open space I might suggest continuing the theme of the raised steps-plaza outside the gallery, so that pedestrians might almost walk “over” or through the new building rather than around/between it. Culver City, CA recently approved a plan for commercial space that (surprisingly for the LA area) makes provisions for elevated public space opening out to the rest of the downtown:

    It’s not a dream design by any means, and obviously the mild and dry weather makes it feasible – but I think something similar could work in this space.

  2. Does anyone else ever wonder if there is a place for “anti-iconic” and “bad” architecture? I mean, in some ways I would rather be offended by the current Sears building than be totally bored by the proposed design by James Cheng. This is one of the City’s most visited intersections and we are choosing to represent ourselves with a completely uninspiring and samey building? Are Vancouverites really that boring or do we have more to offer?

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