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Curvaceous Creation

Undulating green metal roof produces winning orchid design

One hundred and twenty million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, a magnificent flowering plant came into being: the orchid. An orchid's exotic composition is almost alien in appearance, extravagant in the extreme, yet possessed of a delicate intricacy. Its unique form is the inspiration for the 2013 Metal Architecture Design Award in the Metal Roofing Category: the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. When the center's design was awarded to the Vancouver office of Perkins+Will in late 2007, architects were challenged to create a building that not only would increase visibility for and attract more visitors to the approximately 54-acre internationally recognized garden in Vancouver, but also meet the highest goals in sustainable building design. The one-story, 19,000-square-foot visitor center achieves both goals.

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"Keeping in mind the garden setting, we looked for inspiration to guide this project to make it iconic and as sustainable as possible," says the project's designer, Harley Grusko, IA-AAA, LEED AP BD+C, an architectural designer with Perkins+Will. "We were captivated by the image of an orchid. We were inspired by its quite curvaceous form and its meaning in relation to this project's sustainability goals. A flower harvests energy from the sun and doesn't produce waste. It's a fully integrated system and it spoke to the project's sustainability goals." Growing from an architectural oculus, the orchid design was achieved with "undulating green roof 'petals' that float above rammed earth and concrete walls," says Grusko. "These petals and stems are connected by a vegetated land ramp that links the roof to the ground plane, encouraging use by local fauna. We didn't want to tie our hands by what we thought was conventional design. We wanted to push the boundaries from a design perspective, let loose, and be as creative as possible."

This design attitude and its execution impressed all three judges so much they all put this project at the top of their voting results for the roofing category with one stating that "no other material other than metal would have been able to make those forms."

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Keith Panel Systems (KPS) Co. Ltd., Vancouver, fabricated and installed approximately 12,000 square feet of Alucobond naturAL from 3A Composites USA Inc., Statesville, N.C., in a custom plain mill finish and 4-mm thickness on the center's roof with a custom KPS attachment system. The material provides extraordinary flatness and rigidity, excellent formability, low weight and outstanding weather resistance.

"Our challenge was not to make art out ofmetal, but to cover art (the building) with metal and maintain its shape," says Doug Dalzell, general manager, KPS. "The building was made out of wood that could be shaped and glued to assist in creating all of these forms. We used our technology, CAD software and shop equipment to develop an understanding of this building's form. A decision was made that Alucobond would be the best material to achieve this three-dimensional challenge. It can be 'alive.' The material had to go up and down and sideways at the same time to achieve these undulating roof lines. There are both positive and negative curves in this design."

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"The roof edge had to be built from a durable material with a specific look to accentuate the roof lines that undulate in three dimensions," says Rebecca McDiarmid, GSC, LEED AP, project manager, Ledcor Group, Vancouver, the project's general contractor. "From the first factory mock-up, it was clear that KPS was able to get the Alucobond to create a much smoother roof line with a lot less seams than what had been designed initially. There's so much more flow to the edge of the roof." The judges' positive response is shared by the public. "The response to this building has been quite overwhelming," says Grusko. "When you go to the site now, it still looks at fantastic as the day it was installed. We wanted to increase the garden's visibility and captivate passersby. We've done that three times over in attendance."


VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Completed: October 2011

Total square footage: 19,000 square feet

Building owner: Board of Parks and Recreation, Vancouver

Architect: Perkins+Will Canada, Vancouver,

General contractor: Ledcor Group of Companies, Vancouver,

Metal roof fabricator/installer: Keith Panel Systems Co. Ltd., Vancouver,

Metal roof panels: 3A Composites USA Inc., Statesville, N.C.,