Cielo Properties, with designs by Paul Merrick Architecture in collaboration with Studio One Architecture Inc. will rehabilitate the existing building on the southwest corner of Humboldt and Government Street into a transcendent contemporary entrance to the city’s old-town district. The new building will conserve the best of the existing historic components and be home to 85,000 square feet of residential strata space and 15,000 square feet of prime retail space. With eternal views of the Inner Harbour, this building represents a magnificent rehabilitation of a significant, yet unrealized, site.
Specifically designed to be an elegant compliment to the 1912 Belmont Building, the new Customs House is correctly proportioned to assume its role as the sister gatepost to Victoria’s Old Town. Echoes of the Belmont Building’s Chicago style architectural features are seen in its classically proportioned 1-2-1 tripartite windows and pronounced cornice line aligned to that of the Belmont Building.
While sections of the proposed new building will be marginally taller than those they replace, the lighter coloured stone and omission of heavy terminal cornices create an airy, open feeling. The architectural column or “lift” on the south west corner, with its sharply pitched slate roofing sections, is reminiscent of the Chateau-style architectural vocabulary of the adjacent Empress Hotel without becoming derogatory.
The same concern shown for architectural context has gone into choosing the exterior finishes. The base will be in Nelson Island granite (or its equivalent) as used in neighbouring buildings and the current 1914 portion. Self-consolidating concrete “Agillia”, is seen as the principle wall material, This is a durable, very high strength material capable of a high level of finish compatible with the sandstone of the vintage portion of the project. Any exposed roof elements would be slate tile or copper; glass will be clear, or solex, a very ephemeral green.
The original building fabric in the heritage portion of the site, would be refurbished and reconstructed, preserving all the grandeur of its original form. The building will incorprate new parking below grade, something which the current configuration doesn’t accommodate.
The new design returns the street level of Customs House back to the people of Victoria. With an open and more approachable street level facade, the reimagined space includes expansive new retail space. Presented to the pedestrian as a visibly permeable space, it is a welcoming rehabilitation of the most significant part of Government Street streetscape.