Transforming the Queensway Transit Exchange

A striking wood design encourages community placemaking in Kelowna
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
by Cheryl Mah

A new transit bus exchange in Kelowna, B.C. is a visually stunning example of what is possible when it comes to budget constrained public buildings. A bus stop is one of the simplest forms of shelter, but can surprisingly offer opportunities for design innovation.

The Queensway Transit Exchange, a transit island housing eight bus stops, serves as an important destination and central transit hub in downtown Kelowna. In need of an upgrade, the project was identified as a placemaking opportunity to create a unique structure that would not only provide a protective shelter but also to encourage ridership and a sense of community.

“We wanted to make a significant statement for the transportation district and the City of Kelowna – to clearly identify this as an important hub and encourage community in a safe environment,” says Scott Taylor, project architect at VIA Architecture.

The desire for an iconic structure led the architectural team to focus on using wood to achieve a simple but elegant curved roof over the existing transit island. Inspiration for the canopy’s long curvilinear shape was drawn from the surrounding landscape of rolling hills. The final design was optimized for both form and aesthetic.

To achieve the design vision, two major glulam beams were used to create a striking 60m long and 9m wide undulating timber canopy supported by steel “Y” columns on a large raft slab foundation.

“We wanted the area to have a visually open design. The structure is only supported by a single row of four steel columns,” says Taylor, adding the structure also includes aluminum wind diverters and lattice screens. “It was a tricky composition to get the lattice work right and to account for wind loading and the size of the roof.”

Built as an all-weather facility, the transit exchange now covers the centre island of the old bus loop, creating a brighter and inviting space to provide transit users with shelter from the elements.

Instead of the eight individual glass and aluminum bus shelters spread around the island, transit users gather in three centralized waiting areas on the island, says Taylor. Seating pods, comprised of wooden curved and linear bench seating and individual basalt stone seating, encourage a feeling of congregation.

The use of a very limited palette of materials was not only effective aesthetically, but helped to overcome a tight budget.

“A big challenge was the budget which was about $800,000 to cover a large area. We went with a simplified structure, using the two main glulam beams and then applying glu-laminated timbers over the beams for a thin, light roof,” says Taylor. “We wanted a very delicate shape so with the GLT system, the edge profile of the roof is about 9 inches deep.”

Using the GLT system for the roof structure and as a finish ceiling also lowered construction costs and shortened the construction time. Other challenges included minimizing vandalism and maintenance (using high performance paints and finishes and anti-graffiti coatings), poor soil conditions and groundwater table.

The Douglas fir glulam beams were fabricated in Penticton by Structurlam and shipped to the site for assembly, says Taylor.

Although the tight budget was challenging, Taylor says good design doesn’t require large amounts of money to be spent on a project. “A good design can be simple and elegant and solve many problems all at once.”

To increase the feeling of warmth, up-lighting is used within the canopy. “LED lights the underside of the roof which reflects down a warm, inviting glow,” he says.

Completed in April 2015, the award winning canopy structure is part of the $5.6 million multi-phase Queensway Transit Improvement project. The final phase involves a security pavilion to be built across the street of the bus loop. It will include washrooms as well as a small commercial space.

The innovative use of wood and technical engineering excellence for this project recently earned it a Wood WORKS! BC 2016 Wood Design Award in the Institutional Wood Design, small category. The judges were impressed with the “sheer size and unique shape” of the glulam beams used which “push the limits of possibilities” for mass timber panel construction.

“We were really honoured. There were 17 entrants in our category so we were up against stiff competition,” says Taylor. “The City of Kelowna went out on a limb with this project and supported us and fought for our design vision.”

He attributes the success of the project to a collaborative team effort, adding VIA Architecture founder Alan Hart provided invaluable input. “We had a great group of people from the city to the structural engineer Fast + Epp that came together to create something unique.”

The Queensway Transit Exchange is part of Kelowna’s downtown revitalization efforts, providing an important and prominent landmark as the city transitions from its small town roots.

“That area of downtown Kelowna is experiencing a renaissance – new hotel, office towers, parkades – plus revitalization projects along the waterfront,” says Taylor. “The transit exchange is one component of that effort to transform the area.”

Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Design Quarterly. 


PHOTO: Ed White

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