Telus Ocean
Credit: Aryze

A rendering of the 11-storey Telus Ocean building

The $100-million project, due for completion in 2024, has taken flak from heritage advocates, environmentalists and bird lovers

Telus Ocean is a shark’s buffet for heritage defenders in Victoria.

The building’s modern glass-and-metal exterior and tiered patio spaces are facing criticism for eschewing the traditional Victorian architecture of the downtown core.

But development partner Aryze says the design is deliberately different. “We’re right behind the Empress hotel, but the Empress hotel represents the resource economy—forestry, mining, fishing, resource extraction,” explains Luke Mari, principal and development lead at the Victoria-based company.

“It also represents an era of colonialism, which is something that socially we’re grappling with in the province.”

Telus Ocean is a building for the future of the Victoria, for the digital economy, Mari says. “Why would we be subordinate to the past?” he asks, noting that tech is one of the largest drivers of GDP in Victoria. “We very specifically designed a building that is a stake in the ground, that represents the future economy.”

The $100-million project, approved by city council in December, will join Telus Corp.’s suite of regional head offices in Canada when complete in 2024. Located at downtown Douglas and Humboldt streets, it will house more than 450 employees as well as ground-floor commercial units.

Designed by Toronto-based architecture firm Diamond Schmitt, the 11-storey building will take over one of the last undeveloped spaces in the area, a flatiron lot across from the Victoria Conference Centre and adjacent to the historic Crystal Garden.

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Naysayers have also raised concerns about Telus Ocean’s environmental impact, even though the building ticks all the right boxes: it’s zero-carbon, LEED Platinum and Salmon-Safe, and meets the WELL Building Standard for air quality. It will also follow the BC Building Code’s up-and-coming BC Energy Step Code 3 requirements, which don’t become compulsory until 2032.

The goal of Telus Ocean “is to be one of the, if not the most, high-performance buildings ever built in the province,” Mari says.

Those environmental certifications haven’t reduced public concern. Most recently, biologists and bird lovers have spoken out, worried the glass exterior will lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of birds that are likely to crash into it over the years.

Heritage and environmental misgivings are taking attention away from all the good the building will do, Mari argues.

“It’s a job creator,” he says. “What it does over the long haul is maintain Victoria as the job base of the region. This is resiliency for a city—not just climate, but social and economic resiliency. We are an island, we have finite space to grow, so we need to focus that growth in areas that are already developed.”

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Although there won’t be housing in the building, Mari notes that shelter is an essential part of the conversation in Victoria. Two blocks away from Telus Ocean are low-density single-family neighbourhoods. “Those neighbourhoods should start turning their minds to change,” Mari contends. “Those should be apartments.”

Mari says Aryze—which is millennial-owned and -run—is helping Victoria prepare for the future by challenging norms. That means having some “spicy” exchanges.

He and his colleagues take their work as future-proofers seriously. “We feel a tremendous responsibility as developers, and specifically as infill developers,” Mari says. “We are the agents of change in the city.”