“What is Squamish ready for?”
The question came up right from the get-go when friends Mark Abma and James King approached architect Chris Hunter about joining forces to try something new on the back half of a tiny historic lot in Squamish’s downtown core.
“What is Squamish ready for?” Chris reiterates. “Where are we gonna go? And what do we want to stand behind?”
While answering those important questions, the soon-to-be partners kept landing on one concept – balance.
“Squamish is getting the ‘bedroom community’ label,” explains Abma, a pro skier, entrepreneur and Sea to Sky resident for 20 years. “But people can live and work and play here. That is the kind of community you want to encourage.”
With local housing prices at a peak, Abma, Hunter and King, now aligned as the Elevation Collective, turned their attention to commercial properties and found opportunity in an unlikely spot – Cleveland Avenue, the heart of historic downtown.
“We found a lot with a building they think was built in the ’40s,” Abma explains, adding that the collective valued the existing building and tenants and thought the contrast between old and new was an important part of the bigger conversation about infill development. “There was some unused space at the rear… but the lot was only 25 feet wide, which creates multiple construction challenges. Chris had experience on small lots in Vancouver and he’d done a 90-foot building on that size lot, so we knew it was feasible.”
Hunter also had a clear vision that naturally aligned with King and Abma’s desire for sustainability, efficiency and community.
“A lot of modern design is very open,” Hunter says, “but we drew on precedents from Japanese and European architecture. Dealing with small spaces and making more with less can often be more practical and enjoyable to live in. Japan has an amazing blend of tradition and technology; they’re so respectful of the past but can merge the future in so gracefully.”
Elevation Collective designed around that old-new contrast and came up with a tall and narrow four-level duplex set behind the existing historic building with a ground level extension of the commercial units on Cleveland. Designed to promote connection to nature but still create space for privacy, the new building, dubbed “Loggers Lofts,” aims for that balance of localized work and play that many consider the Holy Grail of the Squamish lifestyle.
“It’s a six-room configuration, two rooms per level with stairs and bathrooms in the middle,” Hunter explains. “So you could have offices on the lower floor, bedrooms in the middle and living space up top. It could be a company moving in that needs flexible room configurations or it could be a rec-tech brand looking to create extra bedrooms as seasonal housing for employees or team athletes.”
The east-west units are designed with floor- to-ceiling windows, no balconies and rooftop patios with adjacent green roof space. Efficiency and sustainability are foremost on everyone’s mind, with photovoltaic panels, a Tesla Powerwall, high-efficient aluminum windows, mineral wool insulation, steel cladding and construction inspired by the Swedish wall system.
“Scandinavia has always been a leader in wood building techniques,” Hunter says. “We are utilizing a Swedish wall system, a double wood stud wall that performs significantly better than a standard 2×6 wall. It’s able to ‘breathe’ and dry on both the inside and the outside depending on the humidity and temperatures, and the R-value is double what the BC building code calls for. We’re hoping to reach a clientele who value what’s in their walls, not just what they see listed on the MLS sheet or surface treatments. This building should last 100 years and give tenants a healthy, efficient live-work space.”
While each member of the Elevation Collective brings complementary skills and passion to the table, there are no shortcuts through bureaucracy. Just getting the project to break ground already feels like a victory.
“It can be challenging trying to do anything new,” James King points out, “especially if you’re doing it on a small scale. We had to meet all the same compliance standards as a larger project. Our goal is to show that there’s different ways of looking at things and hopefully inspire more people to want to live and work in a more unique configuration.”
“It’s always hard to be the first movers on something progressive,” Hunter adds. “You fight battles and you pay the price, but this will be a great project to get people on board and the next one will be even better.”
Ironically, Logger’s Lofts’ most obvious paradigm shift actually has less to do with what gets built and more to do with its electric car share initiative. The Tesla Powerwall and PV cells will charge a strata-owned BMW electric car available for residential and commercial tenants. It’s a practical way of reducing the project’s ecological and economic footprint.
“There’s lots of bike parking too,” Abma smiles. “We want to promote living and working downtown, being healthy, and getting outside. Isn’t that why we all live here, to get outside?”-ML