Modern Dance

Located on a compact 50-by-120-foot site at the corner of Granville and Davie Streets in downtown Vancouver, the Scotiabank Dance Centre anchors the south end of a historic performing arts district along Granville Street. A few blocks north is the Orpheum, a Vaudeville hall turned movie house converted in the late ’70s to house the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. A little further along, the Commodore Ballroom–originally constructed in 1929 and later a grungy but important venue for New Wave and Punk acts touring North America in the late 1970s and early ’80s–had its original Art Deco character restored in 1999 by architect Nancy Stern.

Although the Dance Centre is a new facility, it too comprises a historic building, in this case a bank, the treatment of which was the subject of some controversy. Noel Best, Architectura’s principal-in-charge for the project, explains that the Dance Centre received a heritage bonus for saving a portion of the existing bank building, which allowed for the construction of the full area required to meet the program–something that would not have otherwise been permitted on the compact site. As a result, the Granville faade of the original, two-storey bank building has been retained, along with a small bank office and ATM lobby.

Best concedes that “certain members of the heritage community in Vancouver thought that saving only the front faade was a token gesture.” The architect defends this solution, arguing that the historical fragment provides a compelling counterpoint to the contemporary architecture of the new facility. Above the historic base, a sinuous, shimmering metal wall makes reference to a stage curtain. The Davie Street faade is treated more matter-of-factly, with extensive glazing proffering views to and from the dance studios.

The Dance Centre, which is entered off Davie Street, includes six generous studios, the largest of which occupies two levels (ground floor and one below grade) and is equipped with movable seating for small public performances. Offices are accommodated on the upper floors, and a large roof terrace overlooks Granville Street.

Best explains that the concept, materials and detailing are kept simple, economical and straightforward in deference to the client’s limited budget. The architect argues that since the opening of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a great deal of attention has been paid to large and expensive cultural buildings, but that the challenge facing most cultural groups is to build, within modest means, facilities well suited to their function. “The clients and dancers wanted straightforward working facilities, not extravagant public architecture,” says Best. “There was a clear, if unstated, message: don’t spend more than necessary; this building is for our art form, not yours.” MP

Scotiabank Dance Centre, Vancouver B.C.

Architectura Planning Architecture Interiors Inc./ Arthur Erickson Architectural Corporation, Associate Architect

Client: The Dance Foundation

Architect team: Noel Best, (principal-in-charge), Arthur Erickson (associate architect), Rick Clark, Cecilia Dejo, Mark Travis, Tri To

Structural: Bush Bohlman & Partners

Mechanical: Keen Engineering Co. Ltd.

Electrical: Schenke/Bawol Engineering Ltd.

Interiors: Architectura Planning Architecture Interiors Inc. (Susan Smallenberg, Donna Kurtz, Klaudia Williams)

Cost consultant: BTY

Acoustics: System Design Group, Inc.

Specifications: Alan Scott Specifications

Heritage: McGinn Engineering & Preservation Ltd.

Contractor: Vanbots Construction Incorporated

Area: 36,000 square feet

Budget: $5.7 million

Completion: August 2001

Photography: Gerry Kopelow unless noted