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Vancouver Convention Centre West | Notes of Interest

A visual marvel in itself, the Vancouver Convention Centre West is an inspiring step forward in the efforts of sustainability, energy reduction, and respect to local ecology. It departs radically from the generic convention center model and provides a glimpse of something more.

The design of the new convention center presented an opportunity to fully engage the urban ecosystem at the intersection of a vibrant downtown core and one of the most spectacular natural ecosystems in North America. Certified LEED® Canada Platinum, the project weaves together architecture, interior architecture, and urban design in a unified whole that functions literally as a living part of both the city and the harbor.

As a convention center, the building’s vast program encompasses at once a single building and a new urban district. Occupying a former brownfield site on the downtown waterfront, the development is approximately 14 acres on land and 8 acres over water, with 1 million square feet of convention space, 90,000 square feet of retail space, 450 parking stalls, and 400,000 square feet of walkways, bikeways, public open space, and plazas.

The internal metabolism of the building draws many of its inputs from the site’s resident renewable resources. A seawater heat pump system, for example, takes advantage of the constant temperature of seawater to produce cooling for the building during warmer months and heating in cooler months. Backup heat is provided by steam. The facility also includes a water conservation and reuse strategy that uses grey water to reduce potable use by 60 to 70 percent over typical convention centers. The strategy includes a black water treatment plant and a desalinization plant on site. Perhaps the most visible nod to ecology and sustainability is the project’s living roof—at 6 acres it is the largest in Canada, hosting some 400,000 indigenous plants and 4 colonies of 60,000 bees each, for a total of 240,000 bees.

Addressing the human environment, the architectural approach creates a community experience that is simultaneously a building, an urban place, a park, and an ecosystem. The convention center program emphasizes spaces for both public and private events, gatherings, and circulation.

The interior architecture takes advantage of the four primary orientations of the site, with Canada Place to the east, downtown Vancouver to the south, Harbour Green Park to the west, and Burrard Inlet and the North Shore mountains to the north. All of these features are clearly visible from the interior through the glazed enclosure, and each front is used as an orienting device to guide convention delegates through the facility. Pre-function areas and vertical circulation are placed to take full advantage of these views.

The primary interior expression is the use of naturally occurring materials indigenous to British Columbia, with extensive use of sustainably harvested Douglas fir. The ballroom and meeting room programs that form the core of the building’s interior mass are enclosed by a wood cladding system that simulates the texture and directionality of a stack of lumber. Wood ceiling slats oriented in long, dramatic parallel lines combine with the orthogonal massing of the interior spaces to create contrast against the organic geometry of the roof and exterior shell. The strong wood expression takes on an arresting public presence at night as the building glows through its transparent skin.

The main vertical circulation column—a set of escalators creating a 3-story atrium—exposes the full extent of the interior architecture’s layered experience. On the lowest level, the materials take on cool blue tones suggestive of the marine environment. Above, the glazing makes the living roof and the city visible in a light-filled composition of angles in wood.

The Vancouver Convention Centre West project provides a glimpse into a bright future for the design and construction of convention centers and large projects everywhere. Commendable in its sustainability efforts, the project also refuses to take a backseat in interior design. Radically breaking from the run-of-the-mill convention center aesthetic and energy use, this project is impossible to ignore!

Additional Credits

  • General Contractor: PCL Construction Enterprises
  • Engineer: Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers(Structural); EarthTech (Canada) Inc. (Structural); Stantec Consulting (Mechanical);Schenke/Bawol Engineering Ltd. (Electrical);Sandwell Engineering Inc. (Civil)
  • Project Manager: Project Manager: VCCEP Ltd.
  • Photo Credit: © Nic Lehoux

Vancouver Convention Centre West

Jury Comments

An amazingly inviting, warm public circulation is achieved through the use of daylighting, building landforms, and local materials that both reference the area’s industry and provide richly detailed surfaces.

Unlike the typical convention center, this public space has a well chosen vocabulary of materials and spatial proportions that commits to the connection between interior and exterior, bringing the outdoors in to its interior spaces in a compelling and eloquent manner.

2011 Institute Honor Awards for Interior Architecture Jury

  • John Ronan, AIA, (Chair)
  • John Ronan Architects
  • Chicago
  • Jaime Canaves, FAIA
  • Florida International University-
  • School of Architecture
  • Miami
  • Margaret Kittinger, AIA
  • Beyer Blinder Belle Architects
  • New York City
  • Brian Lewis
  • The Capital Group Companies
  • Irvine, Calif.
  • Brian Malarkey, AIA
  • Kirksey
  • Houston

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