Plant, marine and human habitats converge at world's only LEED Platinum convention center
The Vancouver Convention Centre West triples the downtown convention capacity of Vancouver, British Columbia and presents a renewed identity for the city on the world stage. The first convention center ever to be certified LEED Platinum, the project showcases deep currents of thought in the Vancouver community about sustainable design and civic involvement.
The conceptual goal of the 22-acre waterfront development is to close the gap between the natural ecosystem surrounding Vancouver and the human ecosystem concentrated at the downtown core. Each environmental interface is carefully considered, grouped into a landscape habitat, a marine habitat and a human habitat. Inhabitants of each ecosystem condition are accommodated, employing the expertise of more than 30 consultants, 20 stakeholder groups and a 40-member sustainability committee.
The finished project is in many ways the capstone for a series of public and private investments in the city center, forming the city’s first central gathering place on the water. Years of private development had transformed the Coal Harbour waterfront from an industrial relic into an upscale neighborhood of residential high-rises, but the area still lacked a strong public realm. The convention center became an opportunity to demonstrate the city’s commitment to the concept of a Livable Region and invite participation between the energy of visitors and the daily life of the city.
Landscape Habitat: The natural landscape surrounding the site begins with Stanley Park, a 1000-acre urban oasis that is kept predominantly as a native forest in the heart of the city. The view from the convention center includes the park as well as Burrard Inlet, a major shipping and industrial waterway surrounded by both urbanized areas and pristine habitats. In immediate view across the water is a vast topography of hills both forested and developed, as well as the startlingly close snowcaps of the North Shore Mountains. The convention center is designed to fold seamlessly into this landscape, as an extension of both the built and the native environment.
The irregular sloping forms of the roof create a formal connection to the topography of the region, with specific modulations to maintain view corridors from downtown streets. Planted with 400,000 indigenous plants, the 6-acre living roof is the largest in Canada and functions as a native landscape, with natural cycles of landscape succession using the sloping forms of the architecture for drainage and seed migration. Over time, microclimatic species groups form in different sections of the roof, aided by 4 bee colonies which also provide honey for the convention center restaurant.
Marine Habitat: Some 35% of the project is built on piles over the water, re-using an existing brownfield site with extensive contamination left over from a history of industrial uses and adjacent rail yard activity. The marine restoration effort returns the site to pre-industrial conditions, re-routing the shoreline around the building’s foundation piles. This is achieved by means of a custom-designed habitat skirt consisting of 5 concrete tiers on a sloping vertical frame surrounding the entire 1,500-ft perimeter, which emulate rocky surfaces for marine life to attach to.
Tunnels dug into the tide flats beneath the building allow tide action and promote daily flushing. Concrete pipes and rip rap are strewn strategically on the sea floor, creating a variety of rock formations. Since the skirt was completed, scientists have continuously monitored the habitat and compared it with a nearby reference site consisting of undisturbed marine habitat.
A March 2011 survey reported high species richness, such that the concrete tiers are almost entirely covered in barnacles and mussels, with an increasing number of sea urchins, sea stars and juvenile and adult crab competing for space. “This increase in predators is a strong indicator that the habitat skirt is able to function as a typical intertidal habitat even though it is a near fully-suspended system,” the report states. The survey also observed large schools of chum, coho and chinook salmon feeding on plankton and finding shelter in the skirt’s plant life.
Human Habitat: The architectural approach is to create a socially connected experience that embodies all the diverse elements that define its place. The project adds 400,000 sq ft to the public realm, oriented for pedestrians, accessible by multiple modes of transit and aiding the development of a diverse mixed-use urban core.
An early indication of the project’s value to the city is that it served as the International Broadcast Centre for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and continues to host the Olympic Torch as a permanent feature in the plaza. The perimeter enclosure of the building is an ultra-clear glass system, which provides strong linkages between interior and exterior public spaces, and visually reinforces the integration of urban and waterfront context into the user experience of the building. Views from all sides provide an orienting device within the building’s vast program of meeting rooms, giving building users constant access to views toward both the water and the city center.
Circulation spaces are placed around the perimeter, protecting the privacy of events within the building core while creating a connection between the activity of the building and the life of the city. The interiors continue the architectural landforms of the roof, expressed with a materiality of British Columbia wood products, including glulam and sustainably harvested Douglas fir. Wood cladding simulates stacks of lumber, recalling the region’s significant timber industry.
Wood ceiling slats oriented in long, dramatic parallel lines contrast against the organic geometry of the roof and exterior shell. The strong wood expression takes on an arresting public presence at night as the building glows through its transparent skin.
Sustainability: The internal metabolism of the building draws many of its inputs from the site's resident renewable resources, with an estimated reduction in potable water use of 72% over typical convention centers. All building effluent is processed through an on-site biomembrane reactor blackwater treatment system, rendering it appropriate for non-potable use. This provides about 80% of the gray water needed for toilet flushing in the building as well as supplemental water for irrigation of the living roof.
The water use strategy also includes a back-up desalinization plant that draws water from the harbor and processes it to meet additional non-potable water demands. Stormwater is filtered through the living roof and other on-site vegetation, then fed directly into the harbor. In frequent cases where the building effluent is not sufficient to maintain the biomembrane reactor, the blackwater treatment system pulls additional effluent from the adjacent cruise ship terminal and the city.
Reduction in energy use is estimated at 60%, aided by a sea water heat pump system that takes advantage of the constant temperature of adjacent seawater to produce free cooling for the building during warmer months and free heating in cooler months. The system produces 2,100 tons of chilling as an expected peak load and reduces overall building energy devoted to cooling by two-thirds. When heating, the system extracts 12 million Btu/hour, and any needed back-up heat is provided by a steam plant.
Impact to marine life from these heat exchanges is minimal, due to the harbor’s strong tidal mixing and the availability of deep water for inlet and discharge pipes. The convention center is designed to provide the owner with maximum flexibility over the building’s long-term life. The Exhibit Hall, Ballroom and Meeting Rooms are all designed to adapt to a variety of conference, exhibition and convention business requirements, and modular components can be set up in a variety of configurations for different room sizes.
The project’s longevity can also be seen in its integration into the culture and daily life of the city. In addition to being seen as one of the world’s leading convention centers, the project provides public spaces that are in continuous use as part of the urban core and interface directly with the city’s spectacular native environment.
Design took place over a period of 3 years, with the most inclusive possible public process. In addition to the client leadership, city agencies and consultants, stakeholders taking part in the design included neighborhood groups, local tenants, environmental agencies, natural resources industry representatives and First Nations representatives.
The extensive involvement of the community in the design through public process is manifest in both the feeling of local identity in the building as well as the highly accessible, civic nature of the convention district, which includes continuous public access to the water’s edge through 400,000 sq ft of walkways, bikeways, public open space and plazas.
The Vancouver Convention Centre is recognized as one of the world's leading convention centers, currently generating $215 million in economic activity per year. The West facility tripled the capacity of the convention center as a whole. It also adds 90,000 sq ft of retail space along the waterfront promenade and infrastructure for future development over the water including an expanded marina and water-based retail.
Visitors to the city are able to arrive at the convention center directly via an integrated sea plane terminal, perhaps the most dramatic way of witnessing one of the most spectacular urban landscapes in North America.
Questions arose early in the process about the value of the living roof to the community since it does not allow public access, and were resolved by the commitment to contribute more meaningfully to the resident landscape ecology of the region than would be possible in a human-accessible park.
The living roof connects biologically to Stanley Park via a mile-long habitat corridor of waterfront parks, supporting a diversity of birds in the urban core. Views to the living roof occur throughout the convention center’s public plaza and interior spaces, including outdoor viewing platforms and educational kiosks discussing the evolving vegetation.
The marine habitat supports a bull kelp forest such as is commonly found along the rocky British Columbia coast, with a diversity of large fauna such as salmon, Dungeness crabs and harbor seals. Salmon in particular are an integral part of the regional identity - an existing salmon migration path runs along the downtown shoreline, which had been denigrated by decades of industrial activity.
Monitoring has shown a strong return of multiple salmon species due to the addition of the habitat skirt.