Canadian Architect

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Environmental Learning Centre

December 1, 2011
by Canadian Architect

ARCHITECT McFarland Marceau Architects Ltd.
LOCATION Brackendale, British Columbia

The intent of the Environmental Learning Centre (ELC) is to create an experiential environment that blends natural, human and building ecologies. It is the first building in a master plan that will repair an important ecosystem compromised by years of inappropriate development. Set in a lush river valley in the Coast Mountains of BC, the building will provide a critical context for learning at the heart of the North Vancouver Outdoor School’s rural campus. The facility includes a “welcoming” space (with a nature gallery and exhibition space), a multi-purpose hall, dining hall, commercial kitchen, multi-purpose learning spaces, administrative offices and washrooms.

The building itself will act as an educational tool and demonstration facility, integral to the educational programming of the Outdoor School. The project’s dependence on outside sources of energy and its impact on the environment are minimized to uphold the philosophical principles of the school, which aims for LEED Platinum. 

In direct response to the linearity of the valley and river, the building assumes a narrow linear form, raised above the forest floor on pilotis, whose underside inscribes the line of the 200- year-old floodplain. The carefully proportioned form is slotted between stands of mature conifers–preserving trees and forest floor alike. The users are permitted to occupy an unexpected vantage point within the forest canopy while the area beneath the building becomes a “found” program space, providing generous cover for outdoor activities. This direct response to the forces of the site lifts the users into an intimate position within the canopy, preserves the integrity of local habitat, and renders the floodplain both evident and moot. 

WF This project responds to site and program with a finely proportioned sequence of spaces that invites exploration and student participation. The raised linear platform lifts the students into a novel and intimate relation to the forest canopy. 

DN Up on stilts and among the trees, this pencil-box tree house features wood cladding as the dominant material on the walls, roof and soffit. It is a strong composition in its simplicity.

PS This project is deserving of attention in that like many of the other award-winning projects, it asks where the ground lies for new architectures. This rational treehugger caught my attention because of the way it registers present and potential grounds in the midst of a floodplain. The restorative nature of the architect’s intervention here is promising and the school will be a rich learning environment for students, teachers, and parents alike. I am especially drawn to the mixed foreground of columns and tree trunks that merge in such a way as to float the building into a hovering canopy.

CLIENT North Vancouver School District #44
ARCHITECT TEAM Larry McFarland, John Hemsworth, Alvin Martin, Andrea Davison, Marie-Odile Marceau, Craig Duffield
STRUCTURAL Equilibrium Consulting
MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL Stantec Consulting
LANDSCAPE Maruyama Landscape Architects
CIVIL Kerr Wood Leidel Associates
ENERGY Enersys Analytics
ENVIRONMENTAL Cascade Environmental
COMMISSIONING Cobalt Engineering
INTERIORS McFarland Marceau Architects
KITCHEN CONSULTANT Lisa Bell & Associates
CONTRACTOR DGS Construction
AREA 950 m2
BUDGET $5.7 M
COMPLETION Spring 2012




Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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