Cowichan Visitor Centre

Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre
Duncan, British Columbia
Architecture and Urban Planning
Cohlmeyer Architecture

The Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre is a landmark building providing orientation for tourists and a meeting space for residents.

Situated along the Trans-Canada Highway, the visitor centre is highly visible to passersby. With its strong architectural form, the building is reminiscent of Vancouver Island’s historic barns.  

The visitor centre, which exhibits carefully crafted details made from locally sourced materials, benefits from green technologies that reduce operating costs and limit environmental impact. The centre shares a large site with the BC Forest Discovery Centre. The new site plan redefined public areas and vehicular flow for the two institutions.

This striking building and associated landscaping has turned an underdeveloped site into a welcoming public facility.

 

The building is constructed with locally harvested cedar, reflecting the tradition of batten siding seen on local barns. However, the battens are reversed and lined with galvalume flashing to reduce rainwater intrusion and to create a strong architectural statement.


Traditional barns are a regular feature of the Cowichan Valley agricultural landscape and the concept for the visitor centre’s design.

The south side of the visitor centre retains the familiar historic Cowichan Valley barn elevation. A diagonal cut creates the broad facade that faces the highway.


cowichan-visitor-centre-cohlmeyer-architecture-14.jpg
Design explorations of the south facade of the visitor centre.

Design explorations of the south facade of the visitor centre.

cowichan-visitor-centre-cohlmeyer-architecture-15.jpg

An existing wetland was expanded and adapted to mitigate runoff. This expansion creates a visual connection to surrounding areas of marsh and woodland.

An existing wetland was expanded and adapted to mitigate runoff. This expansion creates a visual connection to surrounding areas of marsh and woodland.

An energy-efficient public space was created by incorporating:

  • natural lighting,

  • a passive solar hybrid system that collects and redistributes heat through flooring,

  • an insulated prefabricated building system (Pacific SmartWall®),

  • collection of rainwater and greywater for irrigation and to flush toilets,

  • carbon dioxide sensors to detect increased occupancy and open louvres to bring in fresh air, and

  • an electric vehicle re-charging station.


Corten steel piers reflect the rugged forest and agricultural industries of the Island.

Corten steel piers reflect the rugged forest and agricultural industries of the Island.

A positive process and a positive result

A joint venture among several stakeholders, the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre was built to meet the needs of more than one client. To move the project forward, a positive working relationship between client groups was established. The project was adjusted and refined to accommodate multiple needs and visions. This new-found cooperation was pivotal to making the visitor centre a reality.

Circulation for parking, pedestrians and cyclists is better defined. An additional entry road eases movement during annual events. In keeping with the project’s emphasis on sustainable design, landscape improvements take advantage of natural drainage patterns, increase water retention and moderate runoff. Rainwater and greywater are collected and used to irrigate landscaping and to flush toilets.

 
Site plan

Site plan

Building floor plan

Building floor plan

 
cowichan-visitor-centre-cohlmeyer-architecture-2.jpg

Credits:
Landscape Design, Cynthia Cohlmeyer
Structural Engineer, Crosier Kilgour & Partners
Mechanical Engineer, GD Stasynec and Associates
Electrical Engineer, Pro Engineering
General Contractor, Kinetic Construction
Prefabricated Wall Panels, Pacific Homes
Rainwater Harvesting, Rainwater Connection


Beautifully and Artfully Crafted