Ocean Towers are midcentury high rises with curved balconies reminiscent of the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Beach Towers are midcentury high rises with curved balconies reminiscent of the nearby Pacific Ocean.

We’ve been exploring mid mod architectural destinations you can tie into your travels or add to your travel wishlist. Whether it’s the urban architecture or the natural landscape, verdant Vancouver has much to offer. Local and mid mod enthusiast Ken MacIntyre lets us in on a neighborhood that offers architectural interest and easy access to forest and ocean (and a view of mountains to boot). Our tour guide Ken points out some architectural highlights.

Vancouver’s West End Neighborhood

Located southwest of downtown and bordered by the waterfront, Georgia Street, Burrard Street and Stanley Park; Vancouver’s “West End” neighborhood—especially the “West of Denman” area—has arguably the largest concentration of midcentury residential buildings in all of Vancouver.

From streamline moderne to dingbats to high-rises and everything in between, this densely populated 1 square km area was once awash with mansions and row houses prior to the Second World War, but as the population grew in the postwar boom years, so did the demand for housing. The only option—being a peninsula and all—was to build up.

Land next to Stanley Park, especially, was highly sought after back in the 1950s and 60s (still is!), so naturally it was redeveloped first. It’s here where you’ll find an abundance of modernist buildings with names like Ocean Villas, Ocean Plaza and Ocean Apartments.

Ocean Towers, so named for their location overlooking the English Bay, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, also uses the balconies' shape in a sculptural way to reference the water it borders.
Ocean Towers, so named for their location overlooking the English Bay, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, also uses the balconies’ shape in a sculptural way to reference the water it borders.

Among these, the sleek Ocean Towers is a standout. International Style meets Miami Modern with curvaceous stepped awnings between its floors, this breezy residential building at the corner of Denman St. & Morton Ave. was designed by architect Rix Reinecke and was erected in 1958.

A few blocks further East at Beach Ave. & Bidwell St., the Beach Towers complex followed Le Corbusier’s “Towers in the Park” dictum when constructed in 1965. Designed by Ojars Kalns, these unique concrete structures—working in tandem with each other and their surroundings—act not only as residential buildings, but also as sculpture of a sort, augmenting the transition between the city and waterfront with concave, wave-like balconies, large bay windows and cantilevered viewing plazas with gorgeous ocean views.

Concrete and funky balcony shapes in this apartment building in the West End is part of the retro urban landscape in the neighborhood.
Concrete and funky balcony shapes in this apartment building in the West of Denman area of the West End is part of the retro urban landscape in the neighborhood.

Other postwar era residences in the vicinity include three-story walk-ups (some with attractive ceramic tile facades), taller concrete brutalist towers with precast detailing, and modernist apartment buildings that feature breezeblocks and creative balcony balustrades.

 

 

Ken MacIntyre is the author of the acclaimed book Reel Vancouver: An Insider’s Guide to Hollywood North, which was recommended by Lonely Planet in 2012 as the “definitive guide to screen culture in the city.” For more photos and stories of modernist destinations, check out Modtraveler.net or following Ken on Instagram @modtraveler.