Squamish Modern: Definition Through Design - Squamish.com | Squamish Culture Online
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Grappling for definition through design is a part of Jayne Song’s day to day. Alongside her colleagues in their glass-walled office in the Garibaldi Highlands, Song creates forms and assembles details of the constructions that will give meaning to our built environment of tomorrow.

“We try to make it feel like it’s been grown here in Squamish,” she says.

Such is the endeavour of anyone in the architecture and design space who is invested in the outcome of their projects. Squamish is on the cusp of a new era of architecture; there is an inextricable sense of place tied to that.

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Cornerstone Building- Photo: AKA Architecture

“One thing that people talk about quite a bit is the identity of Squamish. It’s not Whistler, it’s not Vancouver, and we find that’s an interesting question for us as architects too,” explains Song.

Her projects at AKA, the local firm that has been contracted for some of Squamish’s big new projects including the Green Technology Centre on the Oceanfront and The Main, a new housing development at Main and Cleveland.

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The Main- Image: AKA Architecture

Squamish’s architecture, like its residents, its geography, and spirit, is a dynamic of looking back and understanding where we’ve come from and looking forward to where we want to go.

We’ve got an industrial legacy and strong First Nations, but we’re also adopting the modern and contemporary design elements of a new stage in existence.

The particulars of this new architecture vary from person to person, but the sweeping strokes of form are what those in the design and architecture space are sorting out–project by project.

The Squamish vernacular is being honed and strengthened. It’s an exciting period to be able to define ourselves through our built environment.

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Queen of Peace Monastery- Photo: Andrew Doran

The Legacy

Andreas Kaminski, the other principal at AKA, explains some of the references to Squamish’s industrial legacy for the Main project.

“Particularly on the bottom floor where the public is in direct contact with the building, we’re bringing in materials like corten steel.

It looks weathered and rusty and something that is really typical of industrial structure we would have seen on the waterfront in years gone by,” he says.

Corten Steel - Considered Design Inc.
Corten Steel – Photo: Considered Design Inc.

From old wooden piles erect in Howe Sound to rusty logging chokers in the forest, the relics of forestry are found throughout this area. Song and Kaminski, strive to reference that in their work.

“All through Squamish there’s lots of abandoned infrastructure. You can stumble upon it anywhere,” adds Song. “We’ve looked at the site and tried to develop a materials palette and character for this building that felt like it belonged in that area.”

Fused with contemporary design elements like lots of glass, the legacy sentiment gives designs their distinction. It’s a reference to what has come before, but also a look forward to how people will use this space in the coming decades.

Winds of Change

Alison Magill and Julian Pattison originate from the U.K. After moving to Canada and residing in Vancouver for a stint, they moved to up the highway Squamish and brought with them their sensibilities from their previous two geographies. The pair now run Considered Design Inc, a landscape architecture firm in town.

For the Main building, Magill and Pattison are tasked with doing the landscape components, of which there are plenty. The entire top of the building is a green roof, and a third floor terrace will have places for residents to garden and hang out.

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Photo: Considered Design Inc.

The most pronounced feature of their plan is the adoption of an environmental attribute.

“If you are standing on Cleveland avenue. It’s either coming in or it’s going out, explains Pattison.

The wind, he says is a clear distinction of this environment that is incorporated into the design of the building. “It becomes the edge of a garden bed or this overhead snaking trellis or for the shapes on the sidewalks,” he says.

Photo: Considered Design Inc.
Photo: Considered Design Inc.

“We’re taught to respond to the nature of the land,” explains Magill.

In many ways, this idea of incorporating natural phenomena into the design of buildings is quintessentially West Coast Modern. Broadly, West Coast Modern involves use of timbre, stone, and glass in forms that protect from the winter rains and shade from the summer sun. It is the pervading regional style. The question of the day is determining the Squamish specific.

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Photo: Considered Design Inc.

“It’s all about the sense, from the bigger picture of the West Coast, down to the smaller aspect of the fact that this is a logging town and there’s heritage here and this is a native community,” notes Magill.

Refining the Future

Magill and Pattison are pleased to be able to bring a creative freedom to their work. It’s something that they find more of in Squamish than in other regions they’ve worked. Many cities maintain very regimented guidelines around what type of design can exist on the outside of buildings and particularly, how a project can overlap with public space.

For the Main building, Magill is finding that “The city planners really like the idea of creating this sense of something that is uniquely Squamish. They were like ‘yeah, awesome, let’s do it: lights in the sidewalk, pigment-dyed concrete and all sorts of stuff.’”

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Photo: Considered Design Inc.

This overlapping zone between the public and private domains is another matter of definition for our built environment. Magill and Pattison were pleasantly surprised with the District of Squamish’s response to their initial concepts.

“They were totally willing to taking this line into the public domain, for the benefit of the public domain. It was a real eye opener with how dramatically different the thinking here is,” says Magill.

Photo: Considered Design Inc.
Photo: Considered Design Inc.

When it’s said and done and the concepts are set in stone and you’re walking down Cleveland Avenue in front of the Main, you won’t be able to discern when you move from the public street into a private cafe for a coffee.

From our industrial legacy to our contemporary elegance, Squamish Modern is coming into its own. The new developments coming to town are bigger and more numerous than Squamish has ever experienced. Squamish, after all, is booming, and so too are the considerations around how we design our buildings and continue to make an appealing, desirable place to live.

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Drew Copeland

The author Drew Copeland

Drew Copeland is a wordsmith by trade; he also enjoys spending time in the hills. Some of his other work can be found at storiesandsuch.ca
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