Jun 24, 2020

A single luminaire solution helps a bus shelter welcome visitors to Whistler, British Columbia

By Naomi Fisher

The countdown is on. Having planned your getaway months ago, tonight you begin the task of packing your outdoor life essentials into a checked bag and one filled-to-the-brim carryon. Destination known—Whistler, British Columbia. It’s merely hours now before you’re transported to a world-class, year-round mountain oasis.

The plane touches down. The sun grazes the horizon as you transfer from aircraft to highway coach and onto the next leg of your journey. Winding along the road where the Pacific Ocean meets colossal coastal mountains, the bus climbs north through the heart of the Sea to Sky Corridor. The sunlight’s magic hour fills your eyes and nighttime falls; the hum of the engine allows your wearied eyes to rest and you dream of the outdoor playground that awaits. Before long, you feel the bus shift as it turns off the highway. A voice comes over the loudspeaker, “Welcome to beautiful Whistler, British Columbia.” Your eyes open as the bus pulls into the Whistler Gateway Loop. You’ve arrived.

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You step off the bus and breathe in the crisp mountain air. There is a chill of excitement, yet you feel warm under a glow of honeycomb light. A timber shelter covers you as you take in the village and unobstructed mountain view; it’s just what you imagined.

This is the Whistler Gateway Loop: an estimated $6.8-million redevelopment project completed in the fall of 2018. For many, this is the first point of entry into the internationally renowned mountain town and a main transportation hub to thousands of daily visitors.

The city of Whistler awarded Public Architecture + Communication the task of designing the landmark structure. No stranger to working in the civic and public transportation realm (UBC Transit Shelter), the award-winning architectural firm designed what would become an iconic focal point for the resort municipality. To reinforce the outdoor shelter against seasonal weather conditions, Public partnered with structural engineering firm, Fast + Epp. Together, the team developed a structure that would ultimately “make visitor shuttle services to and from Whistler more efficient and attractive,” notes Whistler’s then-Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

Public designed an expansive 154-ft long by 42-ft wide fractal-inspired timber shelter composed of 78 triangular glulam wood cells and limited vertical support columns to maintain site lines and ease of pedestrian passage. The Gateway Loop sits in a central location—neighboring the Whistler Visitor Centre, public parking, pedestrian walkways, storefronts and lodging—thus a key component of the project, says Martin Pardoe, manager resort parks planning, was to “improve Whistler’s nighttime lighting experience.” Enter lighting artist, Victor Quezada of AES Engineering, who was added to the team by Brian Wakelin, a principal with Public Art + Communication.

Though Quezada was brought into the fold with two weeks lead time, it was an easy yes. “Brian and I have an ongoing relationship and have collaborated on many projects in the past. This was an expedited, large-scale light integration, involving a unique interior ceiling structure on a limited budget. But I saw the potential of minimalist design, with maximum impact. I knew what lighting I wanted to use right away,” he says.

Taking into consideration Whistler’s transit illumination requirements, achieving Dark-Sky compliance and a requisite placement of the luminaires to the structure only, Quezada’s concept consisted of utilizing LED linear encapsulated luminaires (from Skylla TV) to illuminate 27 portions of the 9-ft by 9-ft triangular ceiling cells. Playing off the geometric aesthetic of the structure and wood, Quezada created his own playful, dramatic pattern to set the lighting tone. “It was a one brush stroke strategy,” says Quezada, referring to his creative use of just one luminaire specification to light the entire structure.

Recognizing Whistler’s year-round environmental conditions, Quezada selected a 2700K LED luminaire with a 95 CRI. When filtered through the luminaire’s waterproof encapsulation, the light appears as 3400K CCT to the naked eye—emitting a slightly cooler tone. The luminaire seamlessly showcases the architect’s design and the natural wood graining, while matching the ground plane with existing ambient lighting conditions. A photocell activates the shelter lighting when ambient light levels are 1 footcandle or less.

To comply with zoning bylaws and solve the impact of light trespass onto adjacent properties, streets and lanes, while simultaneously providing safety of the ground plane, Quezada performed a series of calculations and renderings to determine a 1 fc on average light level, with a contrast ratio of 3:1. Public incorporated a 9-ft long notch to conceal the lighting at the glulam ceiling level. This strategic placement, says Quezada, “integrated lighting into the cells to mitigate the glare, not to mention making it vandal proof.”

Quezada adds that the introductory narrative of our jet-set traveler arriving in Whistler is an important element in design and one he often considers when conceptualizing his work. “I want my work to evoke emotion and drama.” This was Quezada’s first project since joining AES—he did not disappoint. His contribution to the project emphasized Public’s overall strategy and design. The Whistler Gateway Loop received a 2019 IES Award of Merit and a 2019 IESBC Award of Merit for Outdoor Lighting Design. The lighting design came in under budget, met the illumination requirements, achieved Dark-Sky compliance and reduced light trespass, all with the stroke of just one lighting brush.