Canadian Consulting Engineer

Vancouver Aquarium Roof; Award of Merit

October 1, 2000
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Category: Buildings and StructuresModern architecture has increasingly sought to express the true nature of built forms by exposing the structural elements. The recent Pacific Canada expansion at the ...

Category: Buildings and Structures

Modern architecture has increasingly sought to express the true nature of built forms by exposing the structural elements. The recent Pacific Canada expansion at the Vancouver Aquarium and Marine Sciences Centre allowed the architect and engineer the freedom to explore this concept further in the design of the enclosure’s roof.

The desire was to create an elegant heavy timber structure in keeping with the facility’s West Coast theme, but one that would also endure a salt-water marine environment. As a result, polished stainless steel was introduced into the structure and much attention was paid to the structural connections. Exposed timber structures are usually relatively unrefined and “rustic.” In this project the engineers, Fast + Epp, were able to carry through the project with an unusual level of detail refinement since they also fabricated and erected the structure through an affiliated company, StructureCraft Builders.

The expansion is a 7,000 s.f./650 m2 enclosure of a central courtyard. The space is a welcoming area for visitors to the entire Aquarium facility. The new roof is supported on three sides by the walls of existing buildings, and on the fourth (west) side by new beams and log columns which frame a long glass facade overlooking the killer whale pool. The roof is generally flat, with a pyramid vault in the centre. It stretches with clear spans of approximately 20 metres x 25 metres over the newly created Pacific Canada Pool and exhibit space.

The structure consists of exposed timber decking on parallam heavy timber used as purlins, beams, truss members, and as beam trusses in combination with stainless steel. The long glass facade features bow shaped mullions created from laminated, curved parallam wood combined with finely designed stainless steel.

The unusual three-dimensional geometry and variety of components and materials created many challenges. One interesting solution was the connectors for the pyramid base which transfer large forces and simplify the fabrication, shipping and erection of the roof.

As many components as possible were pre-assembled in the shop before shipping. Fast + Epp provided detailed design of all the timber steel connections and assisted the architect with final development of the exposed stainless steel details. Great care was taken to ensure accuracy so that the “kit of parts” would fit together well on site.

Throughout construction, the Aquarium remained open to visitors. Work began early every morning but overlapped with open hours. Fast + Epp were responsible for the erection engineering, and strategically placed a 60 ton mobile crane in a location that enabled them to balance the constraints posed by the site and the need to control pedestrian traffic.

The approach taken by the team enabled the client to save 10% on their budget for the roof structure, and produced a design that has won top architecture awards. The incorporation of a large amount of engineered wood promotes the environmental advantage of reduced wood waste, while using stainless and galvanized steels reduces corrosion and minimizes maintenance costs.

John Nightingale, president of the Vancouver Aquarium, commends the work: “The engineering of the Pacific Canada Pavilion roof structure was a key component to the success of the project, Fast + Epp, our structural engineers, worked through several design and engineering challenges to achieve the award-winning results, all while maintaining our need for visual beauty and stylistic harmony. Their work proved to be the ‘lynchpin’ for the effort which has drawn praise from Aquarium visitors, awards from the B.C. Institute of Architecture, and applause from other designers and engineers for innovation.”CCE

Project name: Pacific Canada Addition Roof at the Vancouver Aquarium & Marine Science Centre

Award winner: Fast + Epp, Vancouver (structural engineer)

Project team: Gerald A. Epp, P.Eng., Tim Lam, P.Eng., Brian Woudstra

Client/owner: Vancouver Aquarium

Prime consultant: Bing Thom Architects

Other key players: StructureCraft Builders (roof structure fabricator and erector), Shimizu Canada (general contractor)


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