By ANN ROSENBERG
The design of the Richmond Olympic Oval is a winner
The Richmond Olympic Oval has essentially been completed within the projected $178,000,000 budget months before the facility will house some 8,000 fans of long-track speed skating (and other events) during the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games.
The mammoth 506,000-square-foot Olympic venue and future Centre of Excellence for Sports and Wellness, was overseen by the international architectural firm of Cannon Design whose descriptive slogan is an ideas-based practice. On May 15, 2009, according to a Richmond city hall press release, this building, which is attracting attention because of its ingenious roof structure and green building methods, won an Award of Excellence for Innovation in Architecture (Science) from The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.
The Oval is set in the middle of a 32-acre tract of land situated on the banks of the Fraser Rivers South Arm, a few minutes away from Vancouver International Airport. On adjacent property, the Kwok Brothers of ASPAC Developments (the firm responsible for the much-praised Coal Harbour community in Downtown Vancouver) is masterminding plans for the new Oval Riverfront development project where high-rise residences are now under construction.
In August, Richmonds public art planner Eric Fiss gave me a tour of the Oval and the public artworks completed in 2008. Inside, the sports facility was a hive of activity. People looked small in this vast space, but the sky-like colours of the mammoth geometric shapes that covered the brutal rawness of the concrete walls and the intricately composed curved sections of the wooden roof, humanized and gentled the environment.
Whether looking up before entering or marvelling at the ceiling of the vast space when standing within the Oval, the vault constructed by Deltas StructureCraft Builders commands attention. The roof is comprised of a multitude of curved "wood wave" panels utilizing 2x4s cut from B.C. pine-beetle-killed wood. The wood construction ensures the ceiling is light in weight, has good acoustics and is relatively economical to repair. The "wood waves" were set down on 328-foot-long wood-steel composite crossbeams.
First Nations artist Susan A. Point created the 23-foot-tall cast concrete Buttress Runnels on the north side of the Oval facing the water garden in consultation with Cannon Design and Structure- Craft. These run-off channels are integral to the rooftop system that collects rain water for the building's toilets and many other uses.
When water courses down over Point's low relief sculptures of teeming fish and alert herons, her Buttress Runnels allude to salmon streams, the ecosystem of the Fraser Delta and the traditional Coast Salish way of life.
Other artists have created works that are beautiful to look at and stimulating to think about. I hope to review them next summer when all aspects of the Oval are complete, when the water garden has had a chance to mature and the sports and wellness centre has assumed its post-Olympic profile. Don't wait until then to view Buster Simpson's Ice Blade and Janet Echelman's Water Sky Garden.
Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.