Audain Art Museum
The 56,000 SF Audain Art Museum, nestled between the mature coniferous trees of the site, connects the community to the richness of Whistler’s Indigenous history and the contemporary culture of British Columbia.
Exposed to the extreme winter conditions that Whistler is known for, located in a high seismic zone and situated in the floodplain of nearby Fitzsimmons Creek, the expressive structure provided a number of design challenges. In addition to the environmental conditions, the modern gallery loading, spatial demands, complex geometry and a desire to achieve daring cantilevers, required thoughtful and innovative structural solutions.
Whistler, BC, CAN
First Nation Location Name
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The Audain Art Museum was constructed to preserve and display Michael Audain’s art collection which includes a large collection of First Nations masks, paintings by Emily Carr, and many other pieces of artwork that tell the story of British Columbia from the 18th century to the present.
Built in a floodplain in Whistler, BC, an area known for its heavy snowfall, the building presented many opportunities for creative problem solving.
One of the first challenges was the site: both the flooding risk and the soil that consisted of silty deposits from thousands of years of sporadic flooding.
In order to mitigate the flooding risk and avoid damage from debris during a flood, the whole building was elevated a full storey above the ground. This meant that the heavy loads affiliated with a museum had to be transferred long distances to the building’s few vertical supports that meet the ground.
An elegant steel frame with double-storey height tall trusses weave through the space, providing solid support and connection to the vertical elements.
To align the sculptural forms with the structural elements, extensive 3D modelling was used to refine the geometry and provide a dialogue between designers, which shines through in the completed work.
Whistler’s famous snowfall, while great for skiing, presented a couple of challenges to the project.
First, the weight of so many feet of snow can be difficult for any roof. Steeply pitching the roof helped, but the main entry roof is shaped in such a way that snow can accumulate without shedding.
Equilibrium worked with specialist snow consultants to refine the snow loads acting on the structure, and then designed a steel member acting simultaneously as a beam and an arch to hold up the vast entrance roof.
Using this approach minimized the size of steel elements to achieve the light aesthetic of the roof desired by the design team.
The cold and snowy climate of Whistler presents a second challenge: A short construction season.
In order to install the roof as quickly as possible, offsite prefabrication was utilized as much as possible.
The roof is made from panelized wood construction, pre-fabricated with a membrane already installed in the shop (including the required quality control inspections).
This allowed for the building to be closed up soon after the completion of the steel frame, greatly reducing the construction schedule and limiting exposure to the winter climate.
Creating the dramatic open spaces required for the gallery, while minimizing the use of material, required a different approach to the lateral system resisting the earthquake forces.
The structural solution utilized Scorpion bracing from Cast Connex, the first such use of this seismic system on any building worldwide.
The novel bracing system, developed by Cast Connex in collaboration with research carried out at the University of Toronto, creates a yielding fuse that is extremely ductile, as well as being replaceable after a seismic event.
This approach reduces the seismic forces, allowing for the large open spaces, while limiting the damage sustained and providing easy repair after an earthquake event.