Shape Architecture Sets An Award-Winning Example With Vancouver’s Union Street EcoHeritage Project

If you’ve perused a newspaper, watched the evening news, or even logged on to Facebook lately, you’ve surely heard the outcry for more affordable (and green!) housing options, especially in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, where red hot real estate markets are cultivating astronomical house prices.

The Union Street EcoHeritage Project is a multi-family infill conversion of two character homes in the historic Strathcona community - Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood. It answers and reposes questions surrounding affordable housing downtown as well as the viability of heritage building preservation in a dense urban centre.

The LEED Platinum certified project promotes the idea that smart preservation should be about evolving buildings rather than demanding they remain museum pieces behind velvet rope. Both the architects - Shape Architecture - and the owners, of the two properties involved, Dick Hellofs and Karli Gillespie, are of a mind that one can mark the present and preserve the past while still building towards the future. As proposed, this project serves as a demonstration of how to achieve density, affordability, and high performance while still respecting the value of our built heritage.


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“By taking two homes that currently house four individuals, transferring the density around the property and adding infill laneway housing, they are proposing to create seven units, with fifteen or more inhabitants in the same space. This will not be accomplished by demolishing and rebuilding from scratch, but rather by evolving the existing heritage homes to reflect contemporary social and economic realities. All new construction will be highly energy efficient with an aesthetic that is derived from, but not imitative of the existing structures. This will balance the energy inefficiencies of the heritage homes, while still preserving their cultural and ecological value for the community and surrounding neighbourhood.” – Vancouver Heritage Foundation


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When it comes to the specifics of the additions and upgrades, the focus was on using passive strategies to create energy-efficiency and a structure that requires less energy in the first place. Moreover, Shape Architecture endeavoured to retrofit the historic architecture with high-performance materials.


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Strathcona is centrally located – close to downtown – and boasts a strong sense of community and a great ‘heritage’ feel. Yet the area is quite unaffordable for ‘ordinary people’ looking to buy or rent a home there (especially for the first time!). The Union Street EcoHeritage Project brings affordable, green, imaginative housing alternatives to the community. The project is hopefully the banner carrier in what will be a long line of similar projects to follow. In fact, check out how owner Sandra Botnen is Revitalizing A Single Room Occupancy Property, also happening in Strathcona!

The cherry on top of this well-received project? A 2016 National Urban Design Award, which are given out annually by Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), the Canadian Institute of Planners, and the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.


If you're a lover of real estate consider checking out my Toronto blog at for more real estate insight and information, as well as valuable content on housing, culture and design!

~ Steven Fudge, the purveyor of and proprietor of, a division of Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage.

Posted In: British Columbia

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