The Venue: Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

The Venue is a profile series from Laura Murray Public Relations that ventures behind the scenes of Metro Vancouver’s foremost arts and culture venues, diving into the past and unveiling the unique stories and events that have made an indelible impact on our city’s creative community.


Direct from the notebook of the original tour guide, this post is part of a two-part series focused on the design and acoustics of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

When the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts opened its doors in the spring of 1997, there was much anticipation in the arts community and in the media regarding the warm, clear acoustics of the unique mid-sized concert hall. However, being situated on the Northwest corner of the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) meant there was also much to be made of the spectacular natural setting of the venue’s location.

Chan Centre entrance. Photo:

Chan Centre entrance. Photo: Nic Lehoux

The Chan Centre was designed by Vancouver-based architect, Bing Thom, who is also renowned for projects ranging from the Sunset Community Centre in Vancouver to the new Arena Stage in Washington, DC.

It was Thom’s vision that the Chan Centre design should incorporate as much of the natural setting as possible that helped him to win the commission. Thom was determined to maintain the adjacent forest and to build the Chan Centre into the hillside in order to reduce the overall size of the 11-story venue. Four of the stories were built below ground allowing the trees in the adjacent Dorothy Somerset Grove to dominate the location rather than the building itself.

The building materials selected include a weathered, soft grey zinc cladding for the exterior – which helped blend the building into the oft-overcast Vancouver skies – a warm, Eastern white maple, exposed concrete, and steel for the interior. It was very much the intention to keep the natural building materials on display rather than covering them up with elaborate carpeting or tapestries.

Upon stepping through the main doors you will find yourself in the rotunda, which houses the ticket office and coat check. If you look up you will notice the lighting set against a dark blue background, which is meant to resemble a starry night sky.

Chan Centre Glass Lobby. Photo:

Chan Centre Glass Lobby. Photo: Nic Lehoux

In order to continue the dissolution of boundaries, Thom relies extensively on light from the 18 foot canted glass walls running the entire length of the lobby. The glass lobby allows the audience goer to be able to see out to the forest even while inside the building. Outdoor lighting throughout the forest also allows this setting to continue, even during nighttime performances.

Throughout the building you will find large concrete pillars providing important structural support, but also serving to reflect the large, old growth trees in the grove outside.

The next time you are inside the Chan Centre, look around and see if you can find any other natural elements incorporated into the stunning design of this award-winning venue.

Categories: MPMG