Interview: Acton Ostry Architects

Tuesday 01 Apr 2014

Smashing down the boundaries of glass

WAN recently had the opportunity to speak with Russell Acton and Mark Ostry of Vancouver-based Acton Ostry Architects about their latest completed schemes, many of which feature innovative uses of glass. During the discussion, we examined Christ Worship Centre; the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business; Cactus Club English Bay; and Cactus Club Coal Harbour all of which are located in the firm’s native British Columbia.

Cactus Club Coal Harbour

Last autumn, Acton Ostry Architects celebrated the official opening of the 20,000 sq ft Cactus Club Coal Harbour, embedded into the LMN Architects + MCM/DA designed Vancouver Convention Centre. The form looks out over the water through sloping glass walls which slide open easily, opening up the interior seating to the coastal landscape outside.

Cactus Club English Bay

The distinctly linear design of the Cactus Club English Bay runs parallel to the seawall promenade, reinforcing a direct relationship with passers-by and the bay. The integration of glasswork into this angular commercial volume was an essential part of the project, as Mark Ostry explains: “The design intent of the building was to make it very transparent with site-lines straight through the building directly from the street level. We used low-iron glass with the intent of this. The colours used for this building were also evocative of the English Bay sunset."

Lobby of Light at the Christ Worship Centre, Vancouver

Last summer, the 36,000 sq ft Christ Worship Centre was opened in Surrey, British Columbia as the first in a three-phase project which will also see the erection of a small chapel and large sanctuary. The Christ Worship Centre accommodates a lobby, day care facilities, classrooms, a library, dance studio, dining area, offices, a worship space and a Fellowship Hall.

Defining the otherwise muted religious structure are sheets of coloured glass in the hues of gold, frankincense and myrrh, casting magnificent tinted shadows across the interior spaces. These can be found in the double-height lobby and a large cross-shaped window, with coloured patterns cascading across the public spaces.

This central ‘Lobby of Light’ is an intrinsic element of the Christ Worship Centre, as Russell Acton details: “We used the lobby as the main focal point in this three-phased project. The lobby would become the main crossroads of the various buildings. The colours that were used in the glass were inspired by frankincense and myrrh." Mark described the 'incredible experience of being there when the sun is wading through the glass'.

Sauder School of Business Atrium

Acton Ostry Architects were brought in to provide the Sauder School of Business (University of British Columbia) with a bold new identity. The 55,000 sq ft expansion and 216,000 sq ft renovation scheme was designed to create an inspiring environment to foster collaboration, creativity and innovation, enhancing the original modernist school whose form dates back to 1965. The use of glass in the school atrium took on a composition from reflecting on the landscape.

Russell Acton explains: “The builder’s wall was a different idea; it recognises those who have made significant contribution to the school, celebrating and telling the story through the people and space. The students learn the history of the school. This wall was made up of faces that are made up of pixels of a series of international currency symbols. Students are able to wander around the school with these ghost-like spirits from the past.”

What are the main challenges faced by architects in using glass today?

Mark Ostry: “Sustainability and energy performance that you get out of glass, which is extremely low in terms of insulation value. Heat gain and heat loss are probably two of the biggest challenges facing architects.”

Russell Acton: “We are in some changing times, changing climate. It’s been typical in Canada to use double glazing but as time goes on that as more products get developed for triple glazing and better thermal breaks but glass will continue to have a huge presence in architecture in our area and throughout the world. Even with sustainability and energy, it is becoming one of guiding criteria in projects and design.”

Mark Ostry: “Vancouver relies heavily on its amazing setting by the ocean and mountains. The climate is mild and the views are incredible, which are critical to developers and to any one developing buildings here. To take advantage of the views and connection to the outdoors, people will have to learn to invest in solar shading and overhangs; what they may have not done in the past.”

Katy Russell
WAN AWARDS Co-ordinator

Since its inception in 1992, Acton Ostry Architects has demonstrated a continuing commitment to the making of architecture that responds thoughtfully to local topography, climate, culture, and to lessons learned from buildings inherited from the past. The values of the practice embody a consideration to design that is without wilful extravagance. Acton Ostry Architects’ design approach incorporates new technologies and materials that contribute to the realisation of projects rooted in a considered, modernist idiom that offer sustenance to those who inhabit and experience them.

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