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Seashell roof could grace Inner Harbour

Oct 27 2012
Victoria's Undersea Gardens might be getting a new roof. 

Victoria's Undersea Gardens might be getting a new roof.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , Times Colonist

A radical design overhaul featuring a stylized seashell roof is being proposed for the Pacific Undersea Gardens in Victoria's Inner Harbour.

Preliminary drawings show the tourist attraction enveloped in a seashell design that serves as a roof and exterior walls.

The Belleville Street attraction, one of the city's top tourist draws, is next to the historic CPR Steamship Terminal building, now going through renovations to prepare for a mix of new tenants.

Work at the Undersea Gardens is being spurred by leaks in the floating building's flat roof.

"Rather than just simply repair [the roof], the plan is to do a remake of the top side and to modernize it," said Deane Strongitharm of CitySpaces Consulting Ltd., acting for Undersea Gardens owner Oak Bay Marina Group, founded by Bob Wright.

Ideally, the new roof would be in place by the 2013 tourist season, he said.

Inside the 150-foot-long structure, visitors step below sea level to view thousands of plants and animals found along B.C.'s coast. They watch divers showcase creatures such as the giant Pacific octopus and can put their hands in a model of a tidal pond.

Victoria's board of variance has voted to approve structural alterations to the Undersea Gardens.

Part of the Undersea Gardens is in a zone that does not permit commercial operations. When the facility opened in the harbour, commercial use was allowed, giving it a legal non-conforming status today.

The board of variance did not address the planned design. To proceed, the owner must apply for a development permit from the City of Victoria, where the focus will be on how the design would fit into the Victoria Harbour Plan.

Further design work will be done prior to going to the city, which could happen in about a month, Stron-githarm said Friday.

Preliminary designs have been prepared, but were not provided to the Times Colonist. However, conceptual drawings were on the website of Chow Low Hammond Architects Inc. on Friday.

No change would be made to the building's footprint, Strongitharm said.

The new roof would be mostly the same height as the existing roof, he said, although at its highest point, it would be six feet higher than the current roof.

Lighting would be used to create an iridescent colour to echo the finish of a seashell, he said.

A new roof provides a chance for "some renewal and brings it into the 21st century in terms of the design and trying to be sympathetic to the fact that it is an undersea gardens," he said. "So part of the design feature, of course, is to try to emulate in an architectural idiom, imitate sea life."

Strongitharm did not reveal the cost of the new roof. "Let's put it this way: Bob [Wright] is interested in doing something that is right."

Wright and son Randy Wright, chief executive officer of the Oak Bay Marina Group, could not be reached Friday.

The Undersea Gardens moved to Victoria Harbour in 1975 from Oak Bay.

Another 16 years remain on its water lot lease with the Provincial Capital Commission.

DESIGNS ON THE INNER HARBOUR

Four major projects are underway or have been proposed for the Inner Harbour.

? The Pacific Undersea Gardens renovation, designed by Chow Low Hammond Architects.

? The new green-roofed Harbour Air Seaplane Terminal, also designed by Chow Low Hammond.

? A new luxury marina with two commercial buildings in front of Songhees.

? Renovation of the CPR building, which is underway.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

On the web: clha.ca/project/conceptual/undersea-gardens

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