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Beech and Ipe - Rocky Mountain High




Nestled in Banff National Park’s Bow River Valley is an epicenter of cultural advancement. Founded in 1933 by the University of Alberta, Department of Extension, the Banff Centre began with a single drama course. Since then the institution has continually developed into a globally respected arts, cultural and educational institution and conference facility.

In 2004 the Province of Alberta provided $20 million dollars to fund a major redevelopment of the Banff Centre campus, and the three-story facility was completed in 2010. The master revitalization plan developed by the Toronto-based firm Diamond and Schmitt Architects places the Kinnear Centre for Creativity and Innovation at the physical and programmatic heart of the campus.

Jack Diamond, principal of Diamond and Schmitt Architects, led the project which meets the criteria for LEED Gold Certification. “Often in architecture you’ve got to resolve opposite and opposing requirements,” says Diamond. “From a functional point of view and an aesthetic point of view, exotic wood was used throughout the project to resolve all of those issues. It is my firm belief that contemporary architecture is not always sterile, and wood is a huge help in creating warmth and a sympathetic environment.”

Inside Out

The purpose of the Kinnear Centre is to provide a place for meeting, studying, exhibiting, performing and rehearsing for the many varied disciplines of the Banff Centre. To achieve this, the architect had to create a space that could accommodate multiple functionalities without appearing disjointed. “In order to unify the space visually and to foster interaction, we’ve got a large spine that runs through the center of the building. It is really like a gallery with natural light coming through three stories,” says Diamond.

“One of the ways we created continuity through the discrete areas of the building was to specify the same material on the vertical surfaces going up all three volumes. And what better material to use than wood?” Wood slats made from European steamed beech (Fagus sylvatica) are used to unify the interior aesthetic. “The wood has a wonderful grain and warmth; it is the color of dark honey.” One of the programmatic challenges of the Kinnear Centre’s interior was to accommodate the quieter pursuits of the Banff Centre, such as literary arts, visual arts and film, within the same building as performance-oriented disciplines like theatre, music and dance. “You want quiet in this kind of circumstance,” says Diamond, “so behind the slats of European steamed beech is sound absorbing material.”

Outside In

People in Banff are very conscious of the pristine landscape of Banff National Forest, therefore the natural surroundings influenced the design of the Kinnear Centre. The horizontal minimalist exterior contrasts with the impressive mountainous landscape.


“The beech and ipé used in the exterior and the interior of the Kinnear Centre serve the project both in terms of aesthetic beauty and functionality. They integrate the concept with the form.”

Jack Diamond, principal, Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. (Photography by Tom Arban)

Diamond specified ipé (Tabebuia spp.) sunshades along the exterior of the building resulting in a structure that blends harmoniously with the very prominent landscape. “A pure glass and steel building would not help that sense of uncontrolled nature, so having the severity of the glass interspersed with the ipé brise-soliel (sun-breakers) accomplished the objective to fit the site aesthetically.”

Beyond the look of the building, the ipé sun shades are also functional and practical. “In this case we had to have good visibility, but we also needed to have some control,” says Diamond. “So the complete glass facade to the learning center and library is mitigated with the ipé slabs that are set at an angle. This helps with shading while still allowing wonderful views of Bow River Valley beyond. The other aspect of selecting ipé for the exterior is that obviously there are several maintenance concerns in extreme climates such as in the Rockies, so the material has to be extremely durable and dependable.”

Environmental Impact

The Kinnear Centre was designed and built with careful attention to environmental impact. The building’s scheme employs a variety of sustainable initiatives including an efficient exterior building envelope, sun shading, and low-E glass to reduce energy use. Exterior materials including zinc, exotic ipé, stone and glass were chosen for their appropriateness to conditions as well as their durability, and all interior finishes were selected on the basis of long-term performance and low emissions. Even the building and installation processes were carried out with the utmost respect to the natural environment.

James Wallace of RGO Window Coverings in Calgary was the project manager for the exterior ipé sunshades and the interior motorized roller shades, both of which played an important role in the aesthetics and functionality of Kinnear Centre’s design. RGO custom milled the 12-inch wide, 1 ¾ -inch thick FSC-certified ipé slabs for the project, as well as ipé sofits and balcony railings for the building. “The project was fun and unlike anything we had ever done, but there were some challenges to the install,” says Wallace.

The first challenge was the availability of FSC-certified ipé. When the project was underway in 2008 and 2009, Wallace experienced a delay in delivery of materials because FSC-certified ipé was difficult to source. In 2011 ipé is still available, but finding the species with an FSC-certification is challenging, often leading designers who require FSC-certification to seek out alternative species with similar characteristics.

For projects like this, ipé has become the standard species requested because it’s what people know. There are other alternatives for exterior applications; cumaru (Dipteryx odorata) is becoming more specified, as is garapa (Apuleia leiocarpa) and massaranduba/Brazilian redwood (Manilkara spp).

“The other challenging issue about the install is that the Kinnear Centre is built basically into the side of a mountain in a national park so we could not use a lift,” says Wallace. Instead, RGO contracted with Rope Access Calgary, a company that essentially hires out mountain climbers. RGO hoisted the timber with lanyards and pulleys up the side of the building to the climbers who were waiting, suspended to hand install the ipé shades. “It was a good project for us,” says Wallace, “We really enjoyed doing it.”

The strategically positioned, multi-purpose Kinnear Centre provides the Banff Centre with a much needed learning facility, one technically equipped to service a wide variety of artistic and innovative pursuits while resonating with its surroundings. “The beech and ipé used in the exterior and the interior of the Kinnear Centre serve the project both in terms of aesthetic beauty and functionality. They integrate the concept with the form,” says Diamond. And in the end, the design of the building itself matches the intent of the Banff Centre and its dedication to investing time, ideas and money in cultural development. 

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Copyright© 2011 by the International Wood Products Association. Published by Bedford Falls Communications, Inc. and circulated to an audience of 20,000 architects, designers, distributors, manufacturers, and users of imported wood products in North America.

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