Audain Art Museum
This 56,000-square-foot museum in Whistler, British Columbia, houses the collection of philanthropist Michael Audain, which encompasses the province’s history from the late 18th century to the present. It includes one of the finest collections of precolonial First Nation masks and works by many of Canada’s most important postwar and contemporary artists.
The design team was tasked with creating a suitable setting to display the permanent collection while welcoming temporary exhibitions from across the country and around the world. The project was complicated by the beautiful but challenging site — a former municipal works yard endowed with a significant coniferous canopy and in need of environmental reclamation — as well as Whistler’s winter precipitation that brings more than 15 feet of snowfall annually.
"A beautiful, dynamic project that literally wraps users around nature, blurring the boundaries between man-made and natural." ~ Jury statement
The museum responds to these challenges by projecting a volume of public spaces and galleries into a natural void in the forest. The building’s form and its siting work together with the trees to exaggerate the embrace of the reclaimed meadow. Elevated one full story, a bridge at street level draws visitors in and through the trees, ending at a protected sky-lit porch with views onto the meadow. From there, visitors can enter to explore the collection or descend to the forest floor, where they can access a footpath leading to the town’s other cultural institutions and parks.
A dark metal envelope surrounds the building, allowing it to retreat into the shadows of the canopy. Where it opens to views and to provide access to the museum, the metal is overlaid by a luminous wood casing. Inside, visitors gather in a lobby and flexible event space where a glazed walkway leads to the gallery spaces. Deliberately restrained to allow the art and natural setting to take center stage, the interiors reflect the warmth of the wood casing.
The first museum in Canada solely dedicated to the art of a single province, the Audain Art Museum fits seamlessly into the cultural and ecological fabric of Whistler.
"The typology of the building is a stepping stone for Canada, a new icon, and a monument for British Columbia." ~ Jury statement