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2018 MCHAP

Audain Art Museum

John and Patricia Patkau

Whistler, Canada

March 2016


John Patkau / Patkau Architects Patricia Patkau


David Shone (Project Architect)


Audain Art Museum


James Dow


The design navigates three powerful determinants. First is the need to house both the permanent exhibition of Michael Audain’s collection and temporary exhibits from across Canada and around the world. The second determinant is the beautiful but challenging site, a former municipal works yard which, although endowed with a magnificent coniferous canopy, is located within the floodplain of Fitzsimmons Creek and in need of environmental remediation. The third determinant is the enormous snowfall typical of Whistler, averaging nearly 15 ft. annually. Our design responds to these determinants by projecting a volume of sequential public spaces and galleries into an existing void within the surrounding forest. It is elevated a full story above the ground and crowned with a steep roof enclosing administrative and back-of-house support. The plan doubles as an integrated thermal strategy by using non-gallery zones as buffers between the demanding gallery environments and the exterior envelope. Form and siting work with existing trees to embrace a reclaimed forest meadow. The design projects a volume of sequential galleries into the forest, a full story above the ground, crowned with a steep roof enclosing administrative and back-of-house support. Building character and interiors are restrained to provide a quiet backdrop to the art and the surrounding natural landscape. Clad in dark metal, the simple form recedes into forest shadows while inviting entrance with openings of luminous wood. A bridge at street level draws visitors from Whistler Village over the floodplain, through the trees, and onto a sky-lit covered porch overlooking the meadow.


The Audain Art Museum is a private museum in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. It houses Michael Audain’s personal art collection, which consists exclusively of British Columbia art from the late 18th century to the present. It includes one of the world’s finest collections of precolonial First Nation masks, a superb collection of Emily Carr paintings, and works by some of Canada’s most significant post-war artists, as well as works by internationally regarded contemporary artists of British Columbia. The relationship between the Audain Art Museum and its immediate environment is complex and delicate; with the site in need of rehabilitation and the building in need of extra protection from the environment. The site is ideal for two reasons. With its tall coniferous canopy, it suits the client’s vision of nesting the collection in the regional landscape. It is also adjacent to Whistler Village, the hub of pedestrian activity in town. The partially forested site is within the floodplain of Fitzsimmons Creek, a dynamic glacier-fed mountain wash. Floodwaters are known to carry large debris, limiting buildable footprint. The building is therefore elevated a full story on six robust piers to minimize its profile within potential floodwaters. Foundation, structure and construction materials were selected to meet the demanding 2500 year ‘debris torrent’ flood proofing criteria. This elevated massing takes advantage of the site, while negotiating its dangers. The trade-off is that it incurs the exposure of greater surface area to the elements, which is handled by a high performance envelope.


Michael Audain acquired his collection slowly, living with the works, forming personal relationships with each piece. Above the breadth of medium, style, era, and the regionalism of the collection, this sense living with art and creating an opportunity for others to so, that characterizes the purpose of the Audain Art Museum. Alongside the modern and contemporary regional art are a number of pre-colonial masks created by the Coast Salish, Haisla, Nisga’a, Haida, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuxalx, Gitk’san, Tlingit, Heiltsuk, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Nuxalk nations. The Museum is under covenant that these artefacts will never again be sold, or leave British Columbia. AAM is the first museum devoted to the art of a single Canadian province making it a cultural watershed for the nation, the province, and the local community. It is a new anchor for the growing Resort Municipality of Whistler which has ambitious goals for livability, sustainability and cultural richness. The Whistler Cultural Connector, a footpath which unites various cultural institutions, passes directly through the Museum and its site, which preserves mature trees and is repopulated with indigenous flora. The Audain Art Museum meets Category ‘A’ gallery standards and provides space for temporary exhibits. With a program of up to three special exhibits per year, the Museum helps make Whistler something more than an outdoor resort town. Mo Douglas, executive director of Arts Whistler has said, “The Audain has been a key part of establishing the kind of cultural strength that exists in Whistler. It has helped elevate all of us.”

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