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The Hotel Georgia Project

Oct 25, 2011

On May 7, 2011, the Rosewood Hotel Georgia officially opened its doors; exactly 84 years to the day since it originally opened in 1927. Restored to its former glory, it has been transformed into Vancouver’s most sophisticated hotel.

Beside it, a new tower is taking shape. The Private Residences of the Georgia Hotel will be an architectural masterpiece with dynamic glass surfaces sloping skyward, mirroring Vancouver’s dramatic mountain vistas.

With its most ambitious project to date, the Scott Construction Group has renovated one Vancouver landmark and is building another.

The Rosewood Hotel Georgia

Once known as Vancouver’s most elegant retreat counting royalty, Hollywood stars and musical icons among its guests, the Georgia has been restored to its past glory and transformed once again into the city’s most sophisticated inn.

It has been an extraordinary project, says Peter Ashcroft, Scott Construction’s vice president of buildings, that has showcased meticulous attention to detail, painstaking craftsmanship and a strong measure of engineering ingenuity.

Like a lot of older hotels, the Georgia has seen a number of renovations over the years (Scott Construction was involved in the most recent one in 1998) and as a result over time many of its original architectural details have disappeared from sight, hidden under layers of paint, covered up with bricks and lost behind false walls and ceilings.

Determined to restore the hotel to the ambience of the 1920s when it first opened, the architects embarked on a voyage of discovery and were delighted to find numerous heritage items that had long been forgotten. There were, for example two fireplaces on the promenade that had disappeared from view and portions of the original windows had been buried under brick in the ballroom walls, all of which helped provide a historical guide for the restoration process. But not all the surprises were quite so pleasant. They also discovered that the original concrete structure was woefully under designed and some of the reinforcement from the original deign was missing.

In June 2008, Scott Construction started work on the restoration project and one of the first tasks it had to tackle was restoring the structural integrity of the building.

 The elevator walls in the centre of the hotel were demolished and temporary shoring installed so that shear walls (reinforced concrete walls that add rigidity to the structure) could be installed. Heavy reinforcing rods were sunk 30 metres into the ground to help stabilize the structure and new elevator shafts and stairwells were poured.

“The public sees all the beautiful finishes. They don’t see how much work goes on beneath the surface,” says Ashcroft. “Getting the engineers to sign off and make sure we didn't lose the hotel down the side of the excavation took a lot of work and effort.”

But even new shear walls were not enough, he adds. In order to meet new seismic resistance requirement, many of the structural elements needed to be reinforced, especially in areas where new openings had been cut in the concrete, not an easy task for an existing building where space is at a premium. The solution was to wrap many of the columns, walls and slabs with a fibreglass-reinforced fabric, somewhat akin to applying wallpaper, Peter says. An alternative to conventional construction, the use of the fibre matt not only provided the necessary reinforcement but also saved a considerable amount of time and reduced remedial costs.

Numerous other changes were also made to the systems hidden from view by the building’s fabric. The building’s electrical and mechanical systems were upgraded; new elevators were installed, and the building is now heated and air conditioned in part by a geothermal system shared with the adjacent residential tower that is currently under construction.

By late 2009, the meticulous restoration of the interior was well underway. The first two floors were completely restored with local craftsmen brought in to reproduce, sometimes with a slight modern interpretation, the buildings 1920s glamour. Ornate plaster mouldings used extensively throughout the building were recreated from original samples and local artisans restored the original stained glass windows so that the ballroom, promenade and lobby now look much as they did when the hotel first opened.

Most of the rest of the hotel was gutted, the number of rooms reduced from 315 to 155 and in a concession to the needs of the modern traveller, 10,000 square feet of meeting spaces, a fitness centre and a saltwater pool added. The bottom of the pool on the hotel’s fourth floor, made with thick opaque glass, also serves as the ceiling for the 32-foor high vaulted entrance between the hotel and the new residences.

For a few months, the hotel renovation was literally kept under wraps. To celebrate the upcoming Winter Olympics, in October 2010, Delta Land Development unveiled the largest Canadian flag ever made, a 12-storey vinyl wrap that completely covered two sides of the hotel. The intersection of Georgia and Howe Streets was nicknamed “Canada Corner”.

It was an eye-catching display but it also had a practical purpose, notes Peter. "It protected pedestrians from falling dirt and dust.”

The flag came down a few months later, revealing once again a gleaming new exterior and the promise that the renovation held for the city.

On May 7, 2011, the Rosewood Hotel Georgia officially opened its doors; exactly 84 years to the day since the hotel first opened its doors in 1927.


The Private Residences at Hotel Georgia.

Soaring 49 stories above downtown Vancouver, the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia will set a new standard of luxury living for what is known as one of the world’s most liveable cities. Attached to the iconic Hotel Georgia, the tower will make its mark as one of Vancouver’s tallest buildings, with a twelve-storey podium topped off by a 36-storey condominium development. The 155 elegant condominiums will range in price from 1.3 million dollars to more than 17 million dollars for the 7,500 square foot penthouse.

Construction started in June 2008, when Scott Construction broke ground on what would eventually become the deepest excavation in the city - a 50-metre deep hole to accommodate the eight storey underground parking garage.

“For a tower of this size, we were working with a relatively small footprint, which is why we had to go to such depths. It was also the starting point for one of the unique features of the tower, the geothermal heating system,” notes Peter Ashcroft.

Using a hybrid drill rig that could work in the tight confines without impeding the construction schedule, Scott Construction bored 75 wells at the bottom of the excavation, some of which extend as much as 140 metres below the surface of the ground. The geothermal heating and cooling system, which will be shared by both buildings, takes advantage of the heat retained in the earth. In the winter, ethylene glycol, circulated through pipes in the drill holes gathers heat from the ground and brings it back to heat exchangers in the building. In the summer, the process is reversed, with heat from the building taken underground where it can be dispersed.

“Using the modified drill rig so that we could do the work after the structure was completed probably saved us four or five months on the construction schedule,” Ashcroft says.

It took Scott Construction almost exactly a year to complete the excavation and build the garage so it wasn’t until June 2009 that passers-by started to see visible signs of progress. By February 2010, however, the structural work for the 12-storey commercial podium was finished and the tower was starting to take shape. In May, the tower emerged from behind the hotel and the construction crews were working at full speed, framing and pouring a floor every week.

“The tower is a relatively standard poured concrete structure clad with glass panels that form the curtain and window walls but the architects have taken a unique approach to maximizing the amount of space they can get from a relatively small footprint,” says Ashcroft. “Instead of going straight up, the tower flares out as it gets higher, which is what gives the building such a dramatic profile.”

In March 2011, the building was topped off and most of the curtain walls, which are hung on the structure shortly after each floor is completed, were finished a few weeks later. There was one exception on the southeast corner where the unusual geometry of the building came into play. Since the balconies on the top floors have a much deeper cantilever as the building flares out, they are permanently supported by tie rods from the floor above. Temporary shoring was used for support until the tie rods could be installed from the roof down but by May, the rods were in place, the temporary shoring removed and the curtain wall completed.

Given the size and complexity of the project, work has progressed surprisingly smoothly, which Ashcroft credits in part to the use of a new software tool.

“This is the first time we have used Building Information Modelling on a project,” he says. “A building information model creates a three-dimensional representation of the building from the architectural and engineering drawings. It is also tied into the construction schedule so that you can see where you were and where you will be at any point in time. We have used it to resolve issues, clashes between various mechanical, electrical and structural elements for example and we have also used it to co-ordinate with the city when we need road closures.

“There are a large number of trades working on this contract, which puts the pressure on us to co-ordinate everything precisely and get things done. The building information model is a fantastic communication tool because everyone involved can see exactly what’s going on and we are now using the software on some of our other projects.”

With the basic structure completed, Scott Construction has now turned its attention to the interior finishing work. The residences will offer 17 floor plans with suites ranging in size from 630 square feet to the 7,100 square foot penthouse with elegant and timeless interiors and exceptional attention to detail. Custom millwork, marble and granite will feature prominently throughout the building.

This project has required meticulous planning, says Ashcroft, especially during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

“We are working in an extremely tight footprint and at the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the city so safety has been paramount. The only access we had for the trucks was down at a back alley and for a few hours a day along Howe Street and at the peak, we had more than 350 people working on the site. Everything had to be tightly scheduled and controlled but we made it work.”

The residences are expected to be completed by April 2012.