Home » Buildings »

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village

In 2010 the Winter Olympics will come to Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. The athletes will live in an all-new, sustainable urban neighborhood. Denis DuBois toured the site, now under construction, with the man in charge of Olympic Village development and the surrounding neighborhood known as Southeast False Creek. (photos)

Olympic Village 2010 photo on EnergyPriorities.com

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village, now under construction, will be a sustainable neighborhood of CGBC LEED Gold and Platinum buildings. The temporary home to celebrity athletes in 2010 will become home to thousands of residents after the Winter Olympic Games.

The skyline of Vancouver's North False Creek high-rise development is echoed across the inlet by a forest of cranes erecting the new Southeast False Creek neighborhood. The facing waterfront communities will share the trait of having been built for world-class events. (North False Creek was designed and built following the 1986 World's Fair.)

A sustainability secret

Sixteen of the buildings in the new community will be completed in time to serve as the athlete's housing and amenities during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, explains the City of Vancouver's Ian Smith. He is the Manager of Development for SE False Creek and Olympic Village.

Considering its role in the Olympics and the high volume of green-building activity in one location -- 6 million square feet -- SE False Creek has gained precious little international attention. This will be home to 3,000 VIP athletes, and later a community of 15,000 people, where every building will meet or exceed LEED Silver. The core 16 buildings that form the Olympic Village are targeting LEED Gold. But it's almost as though Vancouver's Olympic Organizing Committee wants it kept secret.

Time to stop talking and build

Southeast False Creek is an industrial brownfield. The site would be mostly underwater, were the shoreline not filled in years ago for industrial development.
Olympic Village 2010 photo on EnergyPriorities.com

Ian Smith, Manager of Development for Southeast False Creek and Olympic Village, explains the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village (model at left) within the larger Southeast False Creek sustainable neighborhood (model at right). The foreground models aren't melting -- they're skewed by design -- and are preliminarily targeted for Canadian athlete housing during the Games.

Of 80 acres, 50 are city owned and 30 are privately owned. The City of Vancouver started planning for the site around 1995, while still topping off buildings across the water on the site of the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication.

The new high-density residential neighborhoods around Vancouver's downtown represent a significant departure from the vision of the 1970s, when planners thought their city would blossom as the office capitol of Canada. Instead of heating up, office expansion froze.

When considering what to do in SE False Creek, the debate was whether to continue the tower style of the Expo '86 site, or to develop a mid-rise form, Smith recalls.

By the late 1990s, high-ranking city officials declared Vancouver a "sustainable city." That led to a policy statement describing Vancouver's goal -- to build SE False Creek as a model for urban sustainability. Support grew for a new, mid-rise development on the site.

In 2004 the debate and discussion suddenly gave way to action. An official development plan opened the door to proposals from developers. And Vancouver won its bid for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

"We believe the goal of urban sustainability for this site was a factor in Vancouver's selection as the 2010 Olympic host city," says Smith. "The Olympics decision made us stop talking."

A model for urban sustainability

At the time, the United States Green Building Council was but a few years old. (The USGBC's commercial-oriented LEED rating system in the United States had spawned the short-lived LEED BC, which eventually gave way to the Canada Green Building Council, CGBC.)

"We believe the goal of urban sustainability for this site was a factor in Vancouver's selection as the 2010 Olympic host city."
--Ian Smith, City of Vancouver, of Development for Southeast False Creek and Olympic Village.

"We really didn't know how we were going to secure better performing buildings," says Smith. Drafting the city's own guidelines would take too long for agreement and interpretation. The city finally made LEED Silver the minimum requirement for the site.

All three short-listed developers proposed that all buildings meet LEED Gold. One developer was selected. Buildings within SE False Creek will meet LEED Gold, except one. An affordable housing building for seniors is designed to be a net-zero-energy building and LEED Platinum.

Olympic Village 2010 photo on EnergyPriorities.com

Ian Smith leads a group of architects, developers, urban planners and visiting city officials through the 2010 Olympic Village construction site. In the background: one of the two skewed structures.

Whether looking at the detailed model in Smith's office, or walking through the construction site, the buildings are an impressive sight.

"There was a real debate over what residential buildings that are LEED Gold look like," Smith recalls. "Do they look like commercial green buildings, all metal and glass? There was a desire to develop a residential model, and a Vancouver model, for green buildings."

The buildings include green roofs that will be attractive, create spaces for community gardening, and mitigate some of the runoff issues that come with converting a site to impervious surfaces. They have exceeded the site's 50 percent green roof requirement. Rainwater will be captured and used to irrigate rooftop gardens; the excess will be stored in cisterns and used for flushing toilets.

A district heating system captures heat from sewers. The warmed water flows from heat exchangers into insulated pipes that lead to radiant panels in the ceilings of the units. Thicker walls will afford more insulation, and the developer won an exclusion for the resulting loss of marketable living space.

Together the buildings form an attractive waterfront neighborhood. SE False Creek is a pilot site for the new LEED for Neighborhood Design rating system.

Transportation is a serious consideration in a sustainable urban neighborhood, and SE False Creek has plenty of options.

"Residents could choose to live in this neighborhood and not have a car," says Smith. A car-sharing program is one of the required amenities here. SE False Creek lies at the convergence of three pedestrian-bicycle routes. The city's electric bus system will serve the site.

The Science World rail station -- a major urban hub for SkyTrain light rail, Via Rail and Amtrak -- is within walking distance. A proposed streetcar line could connect the neighborhood to the station and to Vancouver's trendy Granville Island shopping district.

Olympic Village 2010 photo on EnergyPriorities.com

Giant light fixtures are dwarfed by the Southeast False Creek buildings behind them. Because the Olympic Village is on the waterfront, this public walkway is being built all at once, instead of a piece at a time.

Olympic Village

Within SE False Creek, poised on the waterfront, is the 1.4 million square foot Olympic Village. These 16 buildings will house 3,000 athletes during Vancouver 2010.

The ground-level units will serve as facilities for training, dining, healthcare and other amenities for athletes. After the Games, these will become retail and restaurants. Athlete housing will revert to private residences.

"Very little retrofitting will be needed after the Games," says Smith. "There are hardly any internal petitions."

Residential buildings surrounding Olympic Village will be constructed after the Games. (Due to security requirements for the Olympic Village, those buildings on its perimeter would have to remain unoccupied during the Games.)

Units within the Olympic Village are about 50 percent sold. Prices have ranged from CAD $800 to $1,100 per square foot, and averaged an impressive $900.

The development is on schedule, says Smith. "We are handing the first building over at the end of July, and the rest, except one, at the end of October, 2009."

Related podcast:
"Building Priorities Briefing Oct 2008: Sustainable Urban Design (3 examples including the Olympic Village)

Related articles:
"Beijing Olympic Village Certified Green; Vancouver Seeks Twin Golds for 2010"

"Urban Sustainability in British Columbia Canada"

"Dockside Green" (residential sustainable private development in Victoria BC)

Related links:
City of Vancouver - Southeast False Creek and Olympic Village

This article was corrected on 10/10/08. -Ed.


I was not aware, 6 million sf of pure Gold! Thank you Dennis for revealing the secret!

This is so interesting! Thank you, Denis. It shows what can be done.

Vancouver Sun reporter Jeff Lee raises concerns about whether the Olympic Village's cost overruns will be financed.


My take: Of course they will, it's the Olympics, and the 6% cost overrun is not out of line.

Great article - thanks for sharing.

I have done some work with the City of Vancouver and also the engineering companies and developers working on False Creek. If you want to work further on this perhaps I can be of assistance.