Capilano Film Centre

ARCHITECT Cannon Design
LOCATION North Vancouver, British Columbia

The design of the Capilano University Film Centre addresses many fundamental conceptual issues–including creating an environment where the study of film and its allied arts and technologies are fostered and nourished, as well as completing the campus as a legible, compe lling and easily accessible building that acts as a gateway to the northern side of the campus. These primary issues form the foundation for the integrated design intent for the building form.

The building’s purpose is the driver for many of the formal, spatial and material development design decisions in the work. Recognizing this, the building is defined as a “machine for film.” In this sense, it addresses notions of film on multiple levels. It becomes a device in support of the teaching of film, it creates moments of potentially cinematic power, and it acts on many scales as a metaphor for cinematic qualities and devices.

This is based on an understanding of where architecture and cinema merge. This common ground is becoming increasingly understood as a powerful critical and conceptual generator of ideas and work in both disciplines.

The project has a few undeniable givens. First is the very large sound stage component of the building. This becomes the armature around which all the other building components must exist. Its placement is paramount for the functional considerations of the building, but this component gives little support for nuanced or delicate public spaces. Secondly, the project must navigate the larger-scale issues of maximum build-out, infrastructural access, and various pathways into the campus as a whole. Thirdly, the project has limited and definite program, budget and schedule requirements that cannot be exceeded under any circumstance.

The design of the project evolved from a large, sound stage-driven object building into a delicate series of elevated bars and thin support components that wrap, skirt and rise over the massive sound stage element. These can be seen as three clear programmatic components with their own massing, material and special strategies. These are organized on the site such that they allow a large public plaza on the southwest quadrant of the site and a clearly defined conclusion to the primary north/south circulation path of the campus.

The first of these primary programmatic components is the sound stage, which is pushed as far north and west as possible, allowing extensive vehicular access to the north. It has been seen as a black box, necessarily sealed and enclosed and as such is perceived as a massive concrete industrial object. It becomes the foundation on and around which the remaining primary programmatic components are placed.

The second of the components is the support spaces. These are placed as a screen or shroud around the southern and eastern faces of the sound stage, and include meeting rooms, support for the sound stage as well as extensive accessible circulation spaces. They are interconnected, multi-floor public spaces that tell the story of the building, comprising publicly accessible programming such as cafs, the primary screening room, and the various bridges and connections to the bus access, the north/south campus pathway, the landscape, and the public plaza. This building component is composed of glass and wood.

The third primary building component is the elevated bar, which houses classrooms and smaller-scale spaces of learning. This sits atop the soundstage/support building components and pushes across the site to hover over the eastern side of the site, supported by a stair tower near its eastern end. It is the primary iconic component of the project, dramatically hanging across the site, 120 metres long, glazed to the south and north. The raised element defines a true gateway to the campus as the user actually moves under the bar in various ways. It allows protection and enclosure, defines the entry to the building as well as to the campus, and becomes an iconic symbol for the university. This building component is defined in steel and glass, with its extensive exposed structural strategy, zinc cladding and glass screen-like faades addressing the exterior public spaces.

The fact that the building does not act neutrally but rather engages the creative possibilities of its academic program (film) and its context (buses, mountains, buildings) enhances its power as a gateway to the campus from the north and a formal terminus from the south.

JC: This project takes apart the traditional hermetic black-box type of solution for film studios and turns its program into a strong formal parti of open “bars” anchored by the closed sound stage. These long horizontal bars ground the entire project in response to the landscape and the rest of the campus in the best of the West Coast traditions.

AK: Andrew King recused himself from commentary and judging due to his professional association with this project.

JL: This is a juicy building type that every architect wants to tackle! The Film Centre is a self-conscious building in the best possible way, as the site, construction technique, conjoining of program and meaning are all equally rendered. The architects have resisted the temptation to become too literal by simply employing cinematic techniques–splicing, framing, editing, cropping–to assign architectural meaning. Rather, they have done the really difficult work of drilling down to express these attributes in architectural spaces.

Client Bill Thumm, Capilano University
Architect Team Andrew King, Larry Podhora, James Wu, Winston Chong, Jorge Remolina, Dave Reeves, Vincent Yen, Jon-Scott Kohli, Marion La Rue, Orest Klufas, Jennifer Beagan, Wil Wiens, Greg Fenske
Structural Equilibrium Consulting Inc. (Eric Karsh)
Mechanical Aerius Engineering (Geoff McDonell)
Electrical MMM Group (Andrew Tashiro)
Civil Delcan (Colin Kristiansen)
Landscape PWL Partnership (Chris Sterry)
Geotechnical Horizon (Troy Issigonis)
Code Consultant LMDG (Geoff Triggs)
Cost Consultant BTY (Toby Mallinder, Ellis Pang)
Area 97,000 ft2
Budget $37 M
Completion April 2011

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