Organic forms inspire Fast + Epp's VanDusen Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre
Located in the heart of Vancouver, the VanDusen Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre is inspired by the organic forms of a native orchid. Requiring extensive collaboration between the architect and the structural engineer, the project's most innovative feature is the dramatic free-form roof structure. Appearing to float above the building's curved rammed earth walls, the roof form metaphorically represents undulating petals, flowing seamlessly into a central occulus and the surrounding landscape.
The design team pioneered a wood solution in the interests of economy, sustainability, innovation, and to meet tight time constraints imposed by a federal government stimulus funding programme. While similarly complex building forms-like Spain's Guggenheim Bilbao Museum or the Music Experience Building in Seattle, Washington-have been achieved through the use of steel or concrete, this is believed to be the first example of panelized wood use for such a geometrically complex form.
Curving along all three axes, the roof consists of 71 different panels, each with a different geometric form but similar framing system. Engineers were able to tackle a complex problem by breaking the project down into manageable pieces - trapezoidal-shaped roof panel modules that were typically within a 3.6-metre-wide by 18-metre-long shipping size. The units consisted of doubly-curved glulam edge beams and sawn timber joists spanning between them. Part of the ingenuity of this simple panelized approach was using the curved glulams as a "jig" in the shop to frame the complex geometry
All panels were prefabricated and pre-installed with thermal insulation, sprinkler pipes, lighting conduits, acoustic liner, and wood ceiling slats. Comprised entirely of FSC-certified Douglas fir, the roof structure supports an extensive green roof, carefully designed to include native plants and connect to the ground plane to encourage use by local fauna. The design team also collaborated to produce a novel, universal ‘one-size-fits-all' panel-to-column connection to accommodate unique geometric conditions at every support location.
The project is a collaboration between the engineering firm Fast + Epp and the architecture pratice Perkins+Will.