Olympic speed skating has been in the limelight recently, most notably for the U.S. team’s funding shortfall and its partnership with fundraising powerhouse Stephen Colbert. But when skaters take to the ice this month in the race for gold, they will be competing for air time with the architectural star of the show: the soaring roof of the Richmond Oval skating complex. Designed by the Vancouver, British Columbia, office of Cannon Design, the 512,000-square-foot facility houses a 400-meter parabolic track and seating for 8,000 tucked under a roof structure that spans 328 feet.
The 60-foot-high roof is supported by 15 glulam arches—designed with structural engineers Fast + Epp—spaced every 47½ feet along the length of the building. The arches are made of two layers of Douglas fir glulam sandwiched around steel ribbing reinforcement. A resulting plenum in each arch becomes part of a concealed network of HVAC distribution points. And that is not the only thing hidden from view: Cannon worked with StructureCraft to design and build a series of 12-foot-by-43-foot ribbed wooden panels that span the space between the arches and mask sprinklers, lighting, and other systems from view. “It is a unique thing to imagine,” Larry Podura, a vice president at Cannon, says. “It necessitated having plumbers and fire contractors move into the fabrication shop and collaborate. But it cleans the visual field.” Each 52-inch-thick panel has three triangular ribs that run perpendicular to the spanning arches. There are 31 panels between every set of parallel arches in the roof, each panel weighing 3,500 pounds.
The decision to use wood instead of a standard perforated decking was an easy one. “At the very beginning, there was a strong desire to express something of the regional character of our part of the world, and wood is an attractive, sustainable, warm material that we all agreed would be wonderful to integrate,” Podura said. Each ribbed panel is clad in standard 2x4 plywood, milled from trees reclaimed from the forest floor—victims of the insidious pine beetle that decimated much of the local tree stock. There are nearly 1 million board feet of this wood—tinged slightly blue as a result of the infestation—in the roof structure. The 2x4s are staggered, and the resulting openings (which look like linear perforations) expose acoustical material to help dampen sound in the arena.
When the medals have been handed out and the camera crews pack their bags, the Richmond Oval will not be left to lie fallow. It will find new life as a community center with room for basketball, badminton, and, of course, ice skating. Cannon will start that retrofitting process shortly after the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, with an expected completion date near the end of 2010.