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SFU art museum a bridge between residential and academic communities

Warren Frey
SFU art museum a bridge between residential and academic communities
PERKINS + WILL — Simon Fraser University is moving forward with a new art museum that will not only house the school’s art collection but also provide learning spaces for students and interactive areas for the surrounding residential community in Burnaby Mountain. The above rendering is not the final design, but a concept.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) is looking to anchor its new neighbourhood with an art museum that provides for both the past and future.

The proposed 12,000-square-foot SFU Art Museum will have to not only house and display various artwork but also function as a community hub and an academic facility.

“It has to have exhibition space, storage space, offices and interactive space where students and others from the community can participate in activities,” said SFU chief facilities officer Larry Waddell.

He added the building must be a “Category A” facility, which he explained is the designation that allows for travelling exhibits.

“It basically establishes the physical parameters for security and climate control, as some art can’t be taken anywhere and has to be stored in a place where it’s adequately protected,” Waddell said.

The structure will also be the anchor building of UniverCity, a series of mixed-use neighbourhoods at the heart of the SFU Burnaby Mountain campus.

“This is the last mixed-use lot, a mixture of commercial, retail and residential. The building will be right across from the university and provides a bridge between the residential community and the academic campus,” Waddell said. “It’s where town meets gown.”

Because the site is quite large and will also house commercial facilities, the exterior of the building will need to stand out from the surrounding structure, he added.

“Developers are going to have to design a mixed-use building that somehow from the outside will let you know there’s something special in there,” Waddell said.

The southeast corner of the lot is where High Street meets the campus road, Waddell said, and “there’s a real opportunity to mark that corner and to articulate the space in a big way.”

Being part of a mixed-use community, he added, creates the opportunity to do more than if the art museum was an isolated facility.

“We’ll have SFU galleries coming together with the faculties of education, communications and the arts, and they’ll be working together to have a gallery which has an academic as well as a community engagement component,” Waddell said.

While the Simon Fraser campus is at the top of Burnaby Mountain, Waddell said the challenge in planning and building the facility will come from the constraints of urban development, not the elevated location.

“We face similar challenges to anyone in the Lower Mainland trying to build things these days. It’s a busy part of the campus, and it’s almost like being in an urban location,” he said. “You have to consider where your workers are going to park, and how you get cranes in.”

Residences surround the site on three sides, he added, and since the campus is located in Burnaby contractors have to follow the same noise bylaws as those at the foot of the mountain.

A further logistical hurdle exists with a busy bus exchange across from the development which will have to be moved for building to occur.

“Part of the process is moving the bus exchange. Once the museum is built it will shift to an on-street drop off and pick up area with buses moving onward to a layover area,” Waddell said.

The project is being financed by a substantial donation from the Marianne and Edward Gibson Trust along with funding from SFU’s capital development fund.

“Ed Gibson was the very first director of SFU’s gallery as well as a charter faculty member. He saw the importance of arts in university life and had a real desire to improve the quality of the facilities,” Waddell said.
Gibson passed away in 2012.

The current gallery is approximately 1,100-square-feet, which Waddell said “enables small showings.”

“Gibson imagined something much bigger, with various types of activities and that could really support educational activities. He wanted students involved in the things an art museum can do as opposed to a gallery,” he added.

A request for proposals for the project is out. According to an SFU release, the museum is slated for completion by 2022.

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