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Urban Design: The Opus Hotel And Brian Jessel BMW

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Story by Sue Dritmanis

Whether you’re in the market for a high-performance BMW or a highly desirable boutique hotel, your design radar is finely tuned the moment you step into the showroom or lobby. What happens next, that visceral response to the architectural environment, really defines your experience as a consumer. And in the case of Brian Jessel BMW and the Opus Hotel, it’s apparent that some very modern thinking was applied to the design both inside and out.

In these two remarkable properties—one retrofitted from a former brewery at Lougheed and Boundary, the other built from the ground up in historic Yaletown—what could have been intimidating or, worse, boring public spaces have been engineered instead to welcome visitors. There is plenty of exterior glass and abundant natural light at both locations. A curved aluminum façade for the dealership echoes the precision styling of the BMW vehicles inside.

A brick façade for the seven-storey Opus connects the hotel to its vintage brick warehouse neighbourhood. And despite the enormous difference in ground floor space between the two properties, there is a seamless movement between areas, from reception to Opus Bar to Elixir Restaurant in the hotel and from showroom to M Café to customer business lounge at Brian Jessel BMW. Subtle changes in flooring, such as the blond wood contrasting with cool gray tiles in the dealership’s main showroom,

and the single sparkling strip of blue marble tile in Opus Bar, help point customers in the right direction. Restaurant manager Katherine Evans creatively refers to the blue tiles as “the catwalk,” created with the bar’s hip, see-and-be-seen patrons in mind. Designed by Architectura Inc. of Vancouver, the popular lounge mixes modern contemporary furnishings (cherry wood stools by Philippe Starck, side tables by Nienkämper and metal-beaded curtain dividers)

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with reproduction Louis XV chairs and a plush, oversized Italian ottoman that could easily sit six. Across the back wall the marble tabletops, lit warmly from below, seem to hover and glow like tiny spacecraft. And in the restrooms downstairs, in keeping with the bar’s voyeuristic vibe, closed-circuit mini TV screens mounted above the sinks allow patrons to keep an eye on the action above. The Opus is an eclectic space and, as Evans observes, “it was really the first hotel and bar to bring this level of décor and creativity to Vancouver.”

From the selection of books and CDs provided in the guest rooms to the wireless Internet service and premium label-only liquor in the lounge, “the intention was always to make people feel at home throughout the property, and to encourage them to use Opus Bar as their own living room.” If only the average living room featured the added attraction of an amazing drinks menu (the best-seller is the deep orange Opus 97 martini, made with Grey Goose L’Orange, Alizé Gold liqueur and passionfruit juice) accompanied by Asian inspired tapas like ahi tuna sashimi and oysters on the half-shell with vodka gazpacho dressing.

Creative risk-taking (traditional hotel designers abhor anything “electic”) is one reason why the Opus recently won a specially created Landmark Award from the Urban Development Institute. The judges felt that Opus was such an “unusual hotel, an extraordinary story and a great contribution to Vancouver,” that it deserved its own category. So if this award-winning Yaletown hotel was designed to welcome drivers at the end of their journey, Brian Jessel BMW was design to send them on an entirely new adventure.

“There’s definitely a grand, spacious, airport departure hall feel to the main showroom,” agrees project architect Bill Reid of Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership (MCMP), the Vancouver firm which partnered with Omniplan on the project. “It’s an attention-grabber. There’s an automotive finesse to all the finishes. There are dynamic curves to suggest movement. And the materials, all the metal and glass, are quite finely machined and precision-cut, in keeping with the design of a high-performance car.”

Similar to the challenges faced by Trilogy Properties in developing the Opus Hotel (height restrictions, heritage concerns, etc.), Reid and his team had to deal with a number of site-specific issues. The original structure, built as brewery for O’Keefe in the late 1950s, was sold to Weston and retooled as a bakery in 1975. It was later purchased by Ford and renovations were done to accommodate a car dealership, but by the time Brian Jessel purchased the property, the place was abandoned.

According to Reid, “It was in rough shape and needed a considerable amount of structural upgrading.” Contractual obligations required that brewery’s original grain silo, now a storage tower housing

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