West Building VCC
Build It and They Will Come: With poetry and fluidity, the new West Building of the Vancouver Convention Center connects the city to the wild and majestic scenery around it.
The City of Vancouver had been contemplating expansion of its convention center since the mid-1990s, when the original building reached capacity. Years later in 2003, the city was selected to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Having a new convention center completed and opened in 2009 turned out to be a great boon for the city, since the building could be used as a staging area for 14,000 members of the news media expected to descend from around the world to cover the Games. While cost overruns contributed to a final price tag of $804 million, the rewards of the project outshine the obstacles.
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The West Building of the Vancouver Convention Center (VCC) is a new 1.1-million-square-foot freestanding building that lies just west of the original convention center, which was built as the Canadian Pavilion for the 1986 World’s Fair Expo. Designed by local firms DA Architects, Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, and Zeidler Roberts Partnership, the 24-year-old building’s harbor-front tensil rooftop could only be trumped by the drama of the green roof that crowns the new addition. The building serves as a verdant centerpiece to an urban waterfront redevelopment that includes a park with walkways, bikeways, open space, and plazas; retail and parking; a six-lane viaduct for vehicles; and two indoor pedestrian corridors connecting to the original convention center and a new hotel.
The architects for VCC were headed up by LMN Architects of Seattle, in association with the designers of the first convention center, Musson Cattell Mackey and DA. With a design team consisting of over 40 consultants, it took considerable skill to keep the mammoth process on track. “We had at least 47 major presentations and meetings in 2 1/2 years involving a variety of stakeholders and organizations. Keeping all those people pointed in the right direction and working to build consensus was a major challenge,” remarks Tom Burgess, AIA, project manager from LMN Architects.
The new convention center makes use of a brownfield site once occupied by a railroad yard, and triples the original 133,000-square-foot convention center to a combined total of 473,532 square feet of meeting, exhibition, ballroom, and plenary theater space. Extending beyond shore and over the water, it creates an urban waterfront hub for a network of parks, tying the harbor back to the city’s grid and public transportation network. According to Mark Reddington, FAIA, principal designer from LMN Architects, “The design team explored the intersection between natural and urban systems, including the people and the way they use their streets and civic spaces. We examined the connection among the infrastructure, the buildings and their interior functions, the open space, and the ecology of the waterfront—its marine life, the landscape, the water, the sunlight.”
Achieving Canada’s LEED-Platinum status in February, the project served as a cornerstone for the roll-out of the Olympic Games facilities (see “After the Snow Melts,” Jan/Feb 2010), many of which are designed to LEED Gold standards. Such an imperative is not surprising in a city that serves as a hub for sustainability. A plan called “A Bright Green Future,” unveiled in 2009, seeks to promulgate the city as the greenest in the world by 2020.
Big buildings require big moves— the most visible being the massive green roof, which, while not accessible to pedestrians, is observable from various vantage points inside the building and around the city. In addition to its beauty are its functional benefits—it reduces heat gain in summer up to 95 percent and heat loss in winter by about 26 percent. Its retention of stormwater is enhanced by a system of sharp-angled channels: “Instead of running straight down, drainage for rainwater zigzags down, creating greater opportunities for absorption,” says Reddington. The pattern establishes “a geometry that enhances the differently sloping surfaces that bend and fold to the contours of the building and context,” he continues. The roof also serves as a garden for over 400,000 indigenous plants, a nesting place for many species of birds, and hosts a colony of 60,000 bees.
The design team faced many challenges related to the roof, the biggest being getting stakeholders to accept a roof that would change over time. “The roof grasses go through a natural cycle including a period of dormancy where they die back, turning brown or yellow brown,” explains Bruce Hemstock of PWL Partnership Landscape Architects. The colors combined with the triangular drainage pattern create a surprising and interesting composition.
Another big move was the $8.2-million underwater habitat skirt. Depending on the tide, 40 to almost 100 percent of the building hangs over water. An under-deck artificial reef, the first of its kind in the world, was developed to preserve the sea life that was disrupted during construction and from the shade the building produces. Resembling bleachers, a stepped concrete girdle creates a complex of maritime habitats on the three offshore perimeter faces of the facility. Daniel Leonard, of WorleyParsons Westmar, says, “The most difficult aspect of the design was making use of components that were easy to fabricate and install, yet would resist the weathering posed by a tough marine environment.”
The building’s water conservation strategies save 60 to 70 percent of the usual potable water used at convention centers. An onsite blackwater treatment system supplies water to the green roof, the outdoor fountains, and the toilets, supplemented by a graywater system for other nonpotable water use. An energy-intensive desalinization plant stands ready to draw water from the harbor for processing to meet additional demands. A seawater heat-pump system takes advantage of the constant temperature of the water in the bay to cool and heat the building with an HVAC and in-slab radiant system. The building has two loops to achieve this purpose—one for heated water and one for chilled water—and is able to provide most of the heating and cooling requirements. Catherine Wong, vice president for opera-tions at VCC, points out that it’s too early to know the actual energy use: “Given that the first few months of data are based on the start-up and commissioning of the new building immediately followed by the 2010 Olympics, the consumption figures to date would not provide an accurate picture.”
Crafted from British Columbia hemlock, an interesting block pattern on the walls of interior spaces works in sympathy with the locally harvested Douglas fir panels on the ceilings. “The wall cladding system simulates a stack of lumber, with a strong linear pattern on the long sides parallel to the adjacent urban street grid, and an irregular bumpy texture on the short ends. In such a big space, we wanted the walls to have a strong visual presence,” explains Reddington.
The green agenda includes housekeeping, education, and operations and management. A “scratch” kitchen uses local and fresh ingredients without additives, avoids disposables, donates leftovers, and recycles. “An exceptional chef, local sources, and a policy that ‘nothing comes out of a box’ ensure a positive experience for the users, which can range from 50 to 15,000,” says VCC’s general manager Ken Cretney.
A project of this scope and visibility has brought a heightened level of energy to the city, and a growing national and international community of green-building professionals is taking notice.