2009 SAB Awards Winner: Aquaquest

The Marilyn Blusson Learning Centre

Jury comments - This simple, thoughtful building intensifies the density of the site and achieves good energy and water conservation. The design has a modest, pleasing feel, and the building is well oriented for sun and shading. The project is also innovative in its use of rainwater collecting, and use of sea water for cooling.

With one million annual visitors, the Vancouver Aquarium is a community meeting space for learning, exploring and connecting with marine life and conservation efforts. Located in the heart of Stanley Park, the project adds 4,050 sq.m of offices, gallery and exhibit areas, classrooms, and ancillary spaces to the existing Vancouver Aquarium facilities.
The primary purpose of Aquaquest is to teach the community the importance and positive impact of making ecologically-driven choices. Through environmentally responsible design and the application of innovative technologies, the building itself becomes an effective vehicle for educating visitors young and old about sustainable design and its connection to our quality of life.
The building program is organized so that the most commonly occupied spaces are located at the perimeter and benefit from direct natural light, while service areas are located primarily in interior and below-grade spaces. The need to build within the existing aquarium footprint forced a two-level solution in which offices are located below grade, lit by a longitudinal light well. In addition, the landscaping of the building entrance was sculpted to allow natural light into the offices.
The 50 sq.m Living Wall on the south side of the building provides habitat and food for local insect and animal species, and as a focal point for visitors, strengthens the connection between building and nature.
Extreme water efficiency is achieved through the installation of Vancouver’s first approved rainwater harvesting and reuse system. The building’s roof drains are piped to an existing 180,000 litre reservoir. The harvesting system collects rainwater from roof drains and redirects it to a storm water storage system. The collected rainwater is then used to supply water for irrigation [including the Living Wall] and toilet flushing.
Radiant heating and cooling is provided through exposed ceiling slabs, which reduces energy consumption as well as providing superior thermal comfort. Low level displacement ventilation reduces fan power consumption and provides superior indoor air quality.  A high efficiency condensing boiler and a titanium seawater heat exchanger are also utilized to reduce energy consumption in the building.
Nearby Burrard Inlet provides a constant source of fresh seawater for the marine exhibits, with stale water being returned to the ocean. The heat exchanger collects excess heat from the building and discharges it into the return flow.  Temperatures were carefully calculated so that there would be no negative effect on the aquatic life in Burrard Inlet.  The radiant cooling system, in conjunction with the heavy building mass, allows the use of this cooling water flow without the need for a chiller.
The facility serves as a showcase for responsible and sustainable building design, offering the opportunity to learn about aquatic life, while emphasizing the importance of protecting our natural environment.


  • Client Vancouver Aquarium
  • Architect Stantec Architecture Ltd
  • Structural Engineer Equilibrium Consulting Inc.
  • Mechanical Engineer Cobalt Engineering Ltd
  • Electrical Engineer MMM
  • Landscape Architect Sharp/ Diamond
  • Code Consultant LMDG
  • Exhibit Design Aldrich Pears
  • Aquatics James Pederson
  • General contractor Stuart Olson
  • Photography Colin Jewell  /  photo 1 courtesy of the Vancouver Aquarium


  • Structure Integrally Coloured Concrete, steel framing and glued laminated timber; roof by Soprema
  • Exterior Curtain wall by US Aluminum; wall system from the outside: integrally coloured concrete, 3in. Dow rigid insulation, 3-1/2 in. steel stud, 1/2-in. gypsum wallboard, R17 total
  • Interior Ceilings painted white with low-voc ICI Dulux to reflect light; carpet [Mannington Variations]; low-formaldehyde MDF, fire-retardant plywood panels; pendant, fluorescent and linear lighting, Douglas low-voltage lighting controls, energy-efficient lighting by Cooper Lighting
  • HVAC Viessmann boilers, S.A. Armstrong pumps, and air handling units by Engineered Air

Project Performance

  • Energy Intensity 208MJ/m2/year
    Including both base building and process energy
  • Water Consumption from municipal sources   255 l/m2/year
    Including both base building and process consumption
  • Local materials [800 km radius] by value  28%
    Recycled material content 16%
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