Olympic Village Vancouver BC

It Takes a Village to Raise Sustainable Design

As density rises in Vancouver, the quality of the streets and other public spaces—the city’s living rooms—must be top quality. Vancouver’s Olympic Village continues this trend and raises the bar with sustainable design features.

Many physical and social systems define a sustainable village; e.g., transportation networks and modes, public spaces, urban services, schools, housing and parking, recreation and commercial places. As host of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, created an innovative urban infill housing project called Olympic Village. The village is woven into Vancouver’s dense and layered urban fabric that supports 700,000 citizens set with a metropolis of 2.5 million people. See Figure 1.

The initial Olympic project began with a 600,000 sf (56,000 m2) village with over 600 units that accommodated over 2,800 athletes, coaches and officials in 2010. Completed in late 2009, the village was used by Olympians and then turned over to the City after the games. When fully built out, the village, or more accurately, several villages, will occupy about 80 acres (32 ha) emerging over some 15 years and will eventually house 16,000 residents. About 50 City-owned acres (20 ha) will be developed by the City of Vancouver with the remainder by private interests. 

Naturally, a key design element that ties any village together is segmental paving. Inspired by the texture and character of European cities, the selection of 170,000 sf (17,000 m2) of interlocking concrete pavement (ICP) and 75,000 sf (7,500m2) of permeable interlocking concrete pavement (PICP) was also made on the basis of lower maintenance costs, engineering aspects, construction expediency, and environmental benefits. See Figure 2. 

According to landscape architect Margot Long, FCSLA and Principal of PWL Partnership in Vancouver who designed the site, “The sustainable approach to this project is evident outside the buildings in green roofs, narrow streets and sidewalks, street trees and vegetation, plus regular interlocking and permeable interlocking concrete pavement. A life-cycle cost analysis was performed on pavement alternatives and concrete pavers had the lowest maintenance costs since they would last longer than asphalt or poured concrete.”

Some 80 years ago the village site was water, evolving into a shipyard and docks, and later into an industrial area from filling the site over the decades. The shipyard history is reflected in the commons plaza in the new Village center with flowing ship prows, concrete pavers that appear as wooden ship decks, and visiting seagulls. See Figure 3. Since existing fill materials and its extent of compaction were unknown, these were removed and replaced with engineered and compacted materials to support the Village structures and roads. Since there were no native soils to feed trees, sidewalk trees required planting media housed in subterranean plastic cells that also support 2 3/8 in. (60 mm) thick sidewalk pavers, bedding sand, and compacted base.

As the roads and buildings emerged from the ground, heavy construction equipment required reliable pavement for support. Rather than using asphalt or waiting for concrete to cure, 31/8 in. (80 mm) thick paving units and bedding sand over compacted aggregate base was immediately ready for construction vehicles. When walking down the streets today, there is hardly any sign of surface deformation, and the pavers remained uncracked and unmoved by the construction vehicles.

Some streets have the traditional roadside curb and gutter. One street, however, has no elevated curb and the even sidewalk and street surfaces emulate the Dutch “woonerf” (living street), forcing exchange of driver and pedestrian roles. See Figure 4. The narrow sidewalks give permission to pedestrians to walk into the narrow streets without intimidation from drivers. Besides narrow streets that reduce vehicle speeds, the concrete pavers provide additional “friction” to slow drivers. 

Being close to Vancouver’s vibrant downtown, cultural venues, public transit, and water amenities, Olympic Village sets the example for sustainable urban design, green infrastructure and green streets. The project demonstrates how many design elements can work together to achieve the multiplier effect critical to sustainable urban design. Interlocking and permeable interlocking concrete pavements are multipliers because they contribute to a sustainable environment by reducing runoff, enhance social/public settings, and return investments with lower maintenance costs, and will do so as the project grows in the coming years.

Starting from the top, the Olympic Village uses green roofs as park and recreation places while managing rainfall and providing cooler temperatures

Figure 1 - Starting from the top, the Olympic Village uses green roofs as park and recreation places while managing rainfall and providing cooler temperatures

PICP in the street side parking lanes filters the “first flush” of stormwater runoff from the ICP prior to drainage into the nearby bay.

Figure 2 - PICP in the street side parking lanes filters the “first flush” of stormwater runoff from the ICP prior to drainage into the nearby bay.

At one time a shipbuilding place, historical references to the Village are suggested in the main public space with ship prows, decking, and seagulls.

Figure 3 - At one time a shipbuilding place, historical references to the Village are suggested in the main public space with ship prows, decking, and seagulls.

 Figure 4 - Narrow sidewalks and streets with no raised gutter create shared pedestrian and vehicular spaces.

Figure 4 - Narrow sidewalks and streets with no raised gutter create shared pedestrian and vehicular spaces.