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Imagine a small, sleepy town set in the rolling hills of the countryside which, through the good fortune of receiving a gift from an enlightened client, magically transforms into a Mecca for architectural aficionados and the curious alike, with an annual visitation of two million. Sound familiar? Somewhere in Spain, perhaps? Think again. This architectural fairy tale may well be coming to a small town near you, if you happen to live in the greater Toronto region. Think Lincoln, Ontario. Think wine. Think Frank Gehry.

With the presentation of his new Canadian passport by Prime Minister Chretien himself, (“I didn’t really need it,” says Gehry. “I have always been a Canadian citizen”), and two Canadian commissions well under way, former Torontonian Frank Gehry is finally coming home. The first of these commissions, Le Clos Jordan Winery on the Niagara escarpment, is nearing design completion and now waits only for the grapes to mature.

The Client

As with all Frank Gehry-designed buildings, Le Clos Jordan is a close collaboration between architect and client. The client in this case is actually a partnership between two wine producers representing the old and new worlds. In early 2000, Don Triggs, CEO of the Ontario-based Vincor International Inc., and Jean-Charles Boisset, Vice-President of Boisset, La Famille des Grands Vins of France, signed a joint venture agreement to develop a major “domaine,” or vineyard, in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Three months after signing the agreement, the partners announced that Frank Gehry had been commissioned to design the winery. When in Toronto to accept an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1998, Gehry was first introduced to Don Triggs by Gehry’s cousin, landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, who had worked on another Triggs project, the KPMB-designed Jackson-Triggs Winery in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake (see CA, October 2001). Gehry and Triggs found sufficient compatibility to embark upon a design for winemaking which would house, and manifest, a vision.

The Site

The site for Le Clos Jordan lies in the middle of a 77-acre parcel of land on the Jordan Bench on the Niagara Escarpment. Comprising 35 acres of this land, the vineyard will remain surrounded on three sides by environmentally protected forest and woodlands. Attracted by the potential of the site to produce wines of the highest quality, the partners have devoted the vineyard to growing exclusively Canadian VQA wines from Burgundy’s classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape varieties. The planting of the first Burgundian-sourced vines took place in the spring of 2000, with anticipation of the first Chardonnay in 2006, and the Pinot Noir in 2007. Construction awaits the readiness of the grape, possibly in 2005.

The Design

Located 500 meters from Regional Road 81, the building is initially hidden from view. The intention is for the winery to gradually reveal itself as visitors move around the edge of the vineyard, appearing as a “silver cloud floating,” says Gehry. “The roof is like a silver blanket,” he explains. It takes the light during the day, and reflects it, therefore it becomes ephemeral and cloud-like from a distance. “But as you get closer, you begin to see small pathways, which are analogous to the spaces between vines. We got romantic and called it a cathedral of wine. Maybe that’s a bit over the top.”

But maybe not. Viewed from above, the roof of the winery is clearly cleaved down the middle of the undulating form, allowing skylighting along the spine which forms the journey of the visitor inside. Gehry initially demurs when asked if there are Canadian influences in the design, but when asked specifically if this cleavage in the roof refers to the landscape, he replies without hesitation, “Of course.”

As the building is set in the middle of the vineyard, providing its focus, it will be the winemaking itself which forms the focus within the winery. Gehry promises that people who have visited other wineries will be in for a surprise when they walk into Le Clos Jordan. After spending time with the client to understand the nature of the spaces required by the winemaking process, he and his design team spent a great deal of time considering how one visits the winery. “Architecture is supposed to bring something to the table beyond what the client expected,” he says. Because the winery is small by industry standards–only 3,000 square meters–Gehry and his team felt that the winery tour here would not have the power it would in a larger facility. Therefore, the decision was made to allow the visitor to immediately see the whole process at once after first wandering through the vines. The intention is to present the winemaking process as the event around which the architecture is focused.

The winery will operate on two levels, above and below grade, and will take advantage of gravity flow in the winemaking process. Each of the key stages in winemaking–including grape crushing, de- stemming, pressing, tank and barrel fermentation–will occur at cellar level, viewed from suspended catwalks above. The organizing element is the central great hall, a snaking pathway lit by skylights from which each area will be clearly visible. Soaring through all levels in the great hall is a series of glass columns which grow out of the underground cellar. The original design for these glass columns called for hollow structural glass filled with Pinot Noir, but budgetary considerations have necessitated a change to concrete structural columns wrapped in red titanium, which is then wrapped in glass, giving the same effect as the wine-filled columns.

Unlike many other Gehry designs which are volumetric in nature, this design is primarily planar, albeit in the form of a multi-dimensional curvilinear plane. The stainless steel roof freely floats and curves, wrapping around portions of itself and the white stucco walls beneath, clearly delineating a distinction between roof and wall. Stucco is one of the materials most commonly used by Gehry’s office as an alternative to metal, producing a similar continuous surface which cannot be achieved using either brick or stone panels. The exposed structure inside the undulating roof will be heavy timber, which will give the impression that one is inside an enormous barrel–although a rather psychedelic one.

Life after Bilbao

Located a scant 30 kilometers from Niagara Falls, Le Clos Jordan’s parking lot will accommodate 139 cars. The significance of this fact begins to come into focus when one considers the tourism pull of Niagara Falls within such a short distance of the only freestanding Gehry-designed building in Canada (the Art Gallery of Ontario addition, currently in design, will squeeze into the space between existing building massing and will not sit autonomously on its own). Gehry is deadpan when asked about the power his buildings have to draw tourists. “We have to compete with Niagara Falls,” he says without expression. But somewhere between the proven magnetism which Bilbao has for tourists, and the fact that for many this will be the only freestanding Frank Gehry building within a thousand miles, lies the potential for tourist traffic simply not seen down the quiet country roads of Lincoln. The parking lot is already too small.

The Bilbao coin is double sided, however. While the tourism draw is on one side, the design itself–its solidification of a Gehry signature–is on the other. After the outrageous and largely unexpected success of Bilbao, many in the architectural world wondered of Gehry, “what next?” Many also wondered if Gehry’s new clients would clamour for the “Bilbao effect,” and want one of their own; in other words, want “a Gehry.” When asked about this possibility of branding, Gehry responds without hesitation. “I’m too old for that,” he says. “I think maybe if I was younger, I might be susceptible to that. Today, right now, I don’t care what anybody thinks.”

Loraine Fowlow is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Calgary. Thanks to the staff at FOG & Partners, particularly to Keith Mendenhall, and to Ja
ne Holland at Lewis Carroll Communications.


Le Clos Jordan Winery is a grouping of five individual buildings arranged in a pinwheel around a dramatic atrium. Each building has a metal clad free-form curving roof, with the roofs connected together with a skylight to form “a floating silver cloud in the vineyard.”

The structure makes extensive use of engineered wood products, in particular Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) and plywood. The curving plywood diaphragm, which supports the metal roof cladding, spans between straight LVL purlins that are supported on curving primary beams built up from multiple layers of LVL. The primary beams are in turn supported on a combination of vertical columns and multi-branch “tree columns.”

The roof diaphragm consists of two layers of 12mm Douglas Fir Plywood. The layers will be installed individually to match the roof curves. Extensive analysis was performed to ensure that the roof curvature does not exceed the minimum cold bend radii for the 12mm plywood.

The primary curving roof beams are the most prominent aspect of the roof structure and are built up from three layers of 89 mm thick Douglas Fir LVL. The fabrication procedure for these beams is expected to proceed as follows:

1. The LVL is supplied as billets 1.2 metres wide by 18 metres long.

2. The curving profile of the beam is cut out of the billet with a Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) router. The exact shape of the profile will be supplied digitally from Yolles’ CATIA-based 3D model of the entire structure. This process is repeated for each layer of LVL in the beam.

3. The layers are then laminated together under pressure.

4. The finished beams are wrapped for protection and shipped to the site.

The CATIA model will also be used in the field to accurately lay out points of interface between the various structural and cladding elements.

Concrete-filled steel pipe “tree columns” are used extensively to support the network of primary curving roof beams. The most dramatic use of these “tree columns” is found in the central atrium where they cantilever from the basement level nearly 24 metres up to the highest point of the roof.

The above grade wall system undulates both in plan and section. The approach for framing the walls is similar to that used for the roof. A concrete curb at the bottom of the wall and a curving LVL header at the top define the curving surface. Straight line LVL studs span between the curb and the header. The exterior side of the wall is sheathed in Douglas Fir Plywood.

Hugo Blasutta and Crispin Howes, Yolles Partnership.