In late summer 2022, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (VCBF) invited British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) architectural science students to take part in a design competition for a pavilion – a place to foster friendship under the cherry trees – to be built for the 2023 festival.
Six teams vied for a chance to have their design featured at this year’s festival, with a VCBF panel of judges picking the winning team.
Dominick Kasal, Anna von Euw and Brandon Ambros won for their design of ABLOOM.
Made of wood, hand-dyed pink and white fabric and an aluminum base plate, the pavilion is meant to mimic a cherry tree in bloom.
According to the winners, “ABLOOM resonates with the landscape and embodies the spirit of the festival with sensitivity and elegance. The tree is chosen because of its significant cultural value of gathering, acting as the anchor for the community. This sentiment is carried through the structure, acting as a physical anchor for the installation, offering a natural enclosure for the festival’s performers and attendees.”
The VCBF invitation came with conditions.
The architectural students’ proposal had to be made to last for more than five years and provide weather protection for a small group of visitors.
In addition, all of the pavilion’s component parts had to fit inside a cube van, be able to be assembled by a group of volunteers with no building training and installed on either a hard or soft surface with no foundations.
After it had been completed, ABLOOM made pop-up appearances on Fraser Street in south Vancouver and at David Lam Park in Yaletown.
Jody Patterson, head of BCIT’s bachelor of architectural science program, said it takes less an hour to assemble ABLOOM “if all goes well.”
“I have a time-lapse video of our first installation in the rain, hail and snow,” said Patterson. “That took a little longer than planned, because the wood was wet and hands were cold.”
Helping the BCIT students design a pavilion that could become a reality were architectural and engineering professionals from Revery Architecture, Fast + Epp, Abaton Projects and Durante and Kreuk Ltd.
Patterson said the nature of the project for the students changed over time.
“The Cherry Blossom Festival project, as it was proposed to BCIT in September 2022, was almost entirely focused on its design,” said Patterson. “But gradually the students took on more and more responsibility for sourcing materials and actually building the pavilion.”
Patterson said the students learned a variety of other useful skills from taking part in the competition, such as design, project management, communications and public relations.
“The competition itself was not a stretch for the students,” said Patterson. “It was well within the skill sets we teach. But the material fabrication and hands-on building experience was the real learning experience, because the architectural science program emphasizes design and construction documentation.”
BCIT’S cabinetmaking department helped the students make and assemble the wooden “branches” of the pavilion tree.
“To fabricate the wood elements of the pavilion, BCIT joinery instructors helped the students program each piece of wood on our five-foot-by-12-foot flat table CNC (computer numerical control) machine,” said Bill Nash, head of the cabinetmaking department.
“The students made their drawings of the components and the CNC-controlled router followed the drawings and made the cuts, with me and instructor Andrew Pavle advising them,” he said. “After they made the cuts, the students sanded and then assembled the pieces of wood so they were able to hold up the fabric.”
Nash said the project was a successful collaboration between two different BCIT departments.
“The process was really enjoyable, from an idea to the computer screen to the CNC machine and then to the real world,” he said.
Linda Poole, founder and artistic creative director of the VCBF, said the festival started in 2005 as an intra-community cultural festival to celebrate the fragile beauty of cherry blossoms.
“An architect on the board of the Cherry Blossom Festival suggested we hold a design competition for BCIT architectural students this year,” said Poole. “A judging panel of six architects and engineers picked the winning team. It won $2,000 to be divided between the three of them.”
Poole said there are about 45,000 cherry trees in Vancouver.
“Most of them are a 1930s gift from Vancouver’s sister-cities of Yokohama and Kobe in Japan,” she said. “Since then the Vancouver Park Board has planted more cherry trees, and now they’re in every neighbourhood of the city.”