Hidden amongst the evergreens, near the resort village of Whistler, Patkau Architects’ sublime Audain Art Museum is both abstract and restrained.
Audain Art Museum
Patkau Architects, Vancouver, Canada
John Patkau, Patricia Patkau, David Shone and Michael Thorpe with Mike Green, Marc Holland, Cam Koroluk, Dimitri Koubatis, Tom Schroeder, Luke Stern, Peter Suter and David Zeibin
The alpine resort town of Whistler, British Columbia, has a gingerbread-village-come-to-life vibe, even when summer turns downhill skiers into mountain bikers. Modern is not a word that would be used to describe the town’s architecture. That changed last year with the opening of the Audain Art Museum, designed by Vancouver firm Patkau Architects: a two-storey L-shaped building that weaves through a forested site just off the main pedestrian strip.
Built as a venue for a vast collection of West-Coast art owned by developer and philanthropist Michael Audain, the museum is home to landscape paintings by Emily Carr, historic masks by Northwest Coast First Nations artists and mural-sized photographs by conceptualist Jeff Wall.
Before the building could exist in harmony with nature, it first had to withstand her challenges; not only does the region accumulate more than 4.5 metres of snow annually, but the building site overlaps a floodplain. In response to these conditions, Patkau developed a steep, asymmetrical peaked roof to shed the snow, and floated the building a storey above the ground on a series of sturdy pillars.
“The Audain Art Museum sits on a precarious site and hovers without touching the ground, except in two places: with a monumental stair and a bridge. Its main connection is with the landscape, and it is absolutely beautiful.” – Nader Tehrani
The floor plan zigzags through existing clearings, with only one tree removed to make way for the 5,203-square-metre building. Its black steel-and-aluminum-clad form merges with a forest of Engelmann and Sitka spruce, making it next to impossible to see its entire profile from any one point. “The forest is the filter,” is how John Patkau described this effect to The Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic.
Visitors enter via a bridge at treetop level, which leads to a porch lined with the same pale hemlock that clads the museum’s interiors. Along the east elevation, a glazed corridor frames views of an adjacent meadow and the forest beyond, reminding visitors that the landscape behind the glass is as much a part of the experience as the artwork, and just as worthy of preservation.