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Vancouver Architecture the Bing Thom Way


You have to be inside a building to experience it; a photograph isn’t enough. Great architecture is an interactive experience of light, texture and sound. That is what Michael Heeney, principal and executive director of the Vancouver firm Bing Thom Architects, wants everyone to know.

Bing Thom himself was born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver. He worked with famed Canadian architect Arthur Erikson before starting his own firm, Bing Thom Architects, in 1981. He started off with small projects and slowly gained momentum until he hit the big time with some well-known local and international achievements.

The Chan Centre

This modified shoebox-shaped building consists of three performance venues: the Chan Shun Concert Hall, the Telus Studio Theatre and the Royal Bank Cinema. The soft grey, zinc-panel-covered exterior houses an acoustic masterpiece. According to Bill Pechet, architect and professor at UBC, “The smart thing about the Chan is being able to tune it; you can raise or lower the ceiling and adjust the curtains around the exterior walls.” The Chan Centre is built in the middle of a forest, creating an alluring relationship between the interior and exterior. When you look out from the foyer, you are surrounded by a panoramic view of the trees.

View from the Chan Centre

Yuxi Opera House

Heeney took the mayor of Yuxi, a city in the Yunnan province in China, to a concert at the Chan Centre. Mayor Yang Zonyong was so impressed with the venue that he is reported to have said, “I want one of those. Just give me the drawings, I’ll take it back and build it.” The Chan was built for western music, but the mayor thought the acoustics would sound just as powerful in China. That was not the case, so Bing Thom Architects designed an opera house that would compliment Chinese arts. The Yuxi Opera House’s glass walls emulate the paper doors of a traditional teahouse, while its red sandstone and metal create a modern feel. At dusk the audience chamber lights up like a lantern.

Central City

Central City is a mixed-use building; it houses the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University, Central City Shopping Mall and business offices all under one roof. Surrey is one of the fastest-growing cities in Canada, and Central City helps to unify it. It has become a place where the community can gather and co-exist. There are three parts to the building: a tower, a podium and a galleria. The use of glass and metal allow for a dynamic view of the surrounding landscape. 

Inside Central City

Aberdeen Shopping Centre

The Aberdeen Shopping Centre in Richmond is unlike most North American malls: it is colourful and cheerful.The vibrant mix of red, green and blue glass panels allow sunlight to filter through to the interior in different colours.

Sunset Community Centre

The free-flowing lines of the new Sunset Community Centre at Main and 52nd Avenue remind some people of brush strokes. The building’s organic shape stands out from the straight-edged structures that line Main Street. From an aerial view, the Sunset Community Centre looks like an open five-petal flower.

Pacific Canada Pavilion

Imagine stepping down into an underwater world and being able to view things from a fish’s point of view –that’s the perspective the Pacific Canada Pavilion exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium creates. The exhibit shows what you would see if you went diving in Burrard Inlet; it contains the same fish and plant life that are found naturally in the water off Stanley Park.

If you have doubts about visiting any of Bing Thom’s structures in person, Heeney says it best: “People have to see our work and experience our work – ideally more than once. They can appreciate what we were thinking with how the light comes into the building at different times of day and how people use the space.”

2010 Pacific Rim Cover, Image of woman covered in gold jewelry and adornments.

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