When Rafael Santa Ana Architecture Workshop (RSAAW) began the project of restoring the interior of the headquarters of the Architecture Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) in Vancouver, Canada, they knew it would be a complicated process. Renovations, particularly in designated heritage buildings such as the AIBC, are daunting, typically involving a diverse group of stakeholders, significant red tape, and challenging fiscal and temporal constraints.
The original building is a 1911 vintage steel and concrete build by A.A Cox. Since then it has undergone two renovations, one a full restoration to create a showcase 'green' building by sustainability pioneers Busby + Associates Architects and an additional interior intervention in the 1990s by Roger Hughes + Partners. Instead of seeing the layered history of the space's design as a constraint, RSAAW used it as a source of inspiration,creating an intervention that respects the diversity of the building's history and seeks to build on and modernize it, as opposed to attempting to preserve or return the building to its original state.
The AIBC needed to remain operational throughout the renovation, so the project was staggered across three distinct phases under three separate permits. Beginning in 2017, the first phase comprised the demolition of a previous tenant's space and a renovation and expansion of the AIBC's atrium gallery space used for public gatherings and exhibits. The second and third parts completed between 2018 and 2020 comprised renovations to interior workspaces with a goal of adding flexibility and performance capacity in order to accommodate the AIBC's growing workforce. A key element of the process was reconfiguration and rethinking of workspaces.
In order to make the gallery a truly multipurpose space, RSAAW took advantage of the existing structure and attached a secondary steel frame adapted to the atrium fenestration and supporting a system of foldable partitions. These partitions function as movable walls, allowing the gallery to be subdivided into a lecture hall or smaller break-out rooms when necessary, or when they are retracted, to operate as an open space to provide a new context for exhibitions, receptions, seminars and meetings.The wall concealing the foldable partitions does double duty by hosting overhead mechanical functions and storing furniture for the various layouts.
Glass and steel were used to complement the previously exposed structural system of the general assembly room across the atrium, layering elements of the building's history within the design. In a more contemporary iteration of its sustainable design roots, wood slatting was introduced as a finish to conceal mechanical systems and to accentuate the frame of the glazed atrium.
The historical evolution of the building was thus embedded within both visual and programmatic elements of the renovation. The capacity for a diversity of workspace layouts facilitated by the folding partitions both prolongs the longevity of the interiors and creates space for future reconfiguration based on evolving spatial needs. Both symbolically and practically, it re-emphasizes adaptability as a core principle of sustainability as well as prioritizing health and wellness of the workspaces.
By anchoring the renovation in a solution designed to embed flexibility, the updated AIBC workspace respects the building's design history and cultural heritage whilst simultaneously updating it into a chic, efficient, and contemporary iteration with built-in sustainability features, safety upgrades, and enhanced loccupant wellness elements. The intervention guarantees flexibility and adaptability to evolving spatial needs long into the future whilst reflecting and expressing the values of inclusivity, openness, service orientation, and proactivity that guide the AIBC as an organization.