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Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Photo: Ema Peter
Photo: Ema Peter


Mark Thompson, Architect AIBC, MRAIC, ANZIA, LEED AP BD+C, partner at Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, says the 55,000-square-foot Vancouver Aquarium building in Stanley Park has walls with a curved, organic form intended to evoke animal life and water. Stanley Park borders the downtown area and is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. The design team wanted the cladding for the $45 million expansion and renovation to mimic fish scales and began with a review of colored materials that could achieve this effect, he says.

A total of 12,000 square feet of 3A Composites USA Inc.'s 4-mm-thick Alucobond aluminum composite material (ACM) with a Spectra Sakura color finish was installed on the aquarium in a pressure-equalized wall system. The ACM cladding changes colors from green to pink hues.

Thompson says the green-to-pink combination fit in Stanley Park because it was subtle. "As you move around the building, you see a change in coloration," he says. "And, as the sun moves across the building, it changes color as well. The curve looked good with the Sakura; it really produced the desired effect."

Keith Panel Systems Co. Ltd. fabricated and installed 580 Alucobond Spectra Sakura panels in five sizes for the project, completed in June 2014. The Alucobond Spectra Sakura panels were installed with a staggered panel joint layout intended to heighten the fish-scale effect. "The fish-scale look produced with the Spectra Sakura is definitely a feature of these walls," Thompson says. "We were looking for an architectural element that was uniquely evocative of the aquarium's mission."

The curvilinear design fits with Stanley Park's large trees, pools of water and the aquarium's outdoor exhibits that wind in and out of fixed natural areas, Thompson says. "The material also had to be durable," he adds. "In a salt-water environment, the building's cladding had to be corrosive-resistant. Additionally, we needed a low-maintenance material because this is a major public building."

Carlo Gatti, business development manager at Keith Panel Systems, says Spectra Sakura was chosen because it provided the marine life aesthetic that the architect wanted. The underwater effect was enhanced with horizontal LED light strips placed in a random pattern within the reveals of the wall panel system, he says.

Panels were field measured to ensure a proper fit at all of the detail interfaces. They were installed with Keith Panel Systems' system A, a dry-joint compartmentalized and pressure-equalized rainscreen system.

The Spectra Sakura ACM was installed primarily on the aquarium building's eastern and western elevations, which flank the main entrance. Additionally, 3,600 square feet of 4-mm-thick Alucobond in custom River Zinc Metallic was installed as canopy fascia and within circular skylight wells.

Thompson says the aquarium grew piece by piece since opening in 1956 in a 9,000-square-foot facility to occupy more than 100,000 square feet. "This latest project gave us the opportunity to take an incongruous set of expansions and renovations and create a more unified image," he notes. "We wanted to give the aquarium an identity and presence within Stanley Park that would increase its value to the city."

General contractor: PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., Richmond, British Columbia
Architect: Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, Vancouver
Fabricator: Keith Panel Systems Co. Ltd., Vancouver
Metal wall panels: Alucobond by 3A Composites USA Inc., Statesville, N.C.,