Canadian architect Scott M. Kemp designed the Yukon Suspension Bridge and Interpretive Centre, located in northern British Columbia, Canada.

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The Yukon Suspension Bridge by Scott M. Kemp Architect

The Yukon Suspension Bridge is situated on the historic South Klondike highway which links the cities of Whitehorse and Skagway and follows the historic Klondike Gold Rush trail of the late 1800’s. The Interpretive Centre is located near the summit of White Pass on the spectacular Tutshi Canyon and tells the story of the prospector’s journey over the historic Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett and Dawson City. The centre also gives insight into the area’s natural history, explaining the local landforms and indigenous plant and animal life. The interpretive centre is a seasonal operation with the major customers coming from the Alaskan cruise ships landing at Skagway during the summer months

In such a spectacular natural setting, the goal of the design was to augment the natural beauty of the site while heightening the visitor’s experience. The area is also rich with historical artifacts of past industrial activities with an abandoned silver mine and ore tram lines located off the highway close to the site. The wooden structures – dating back almost a hundred years – lent inspiration to the Center’s design. The architectural vision also embraces First Nations concepts with fingers of 2×4’s reaching out in welcoming friendship. It is a blend of modern-day architecture with a historical feel – open to and blending with the natural environment.

The layout of the centre gently responds to the natural topography of the site. A progression of wooden decks and walkways, located in natural clearings between existing trees, journeys through the site providing opportunities for spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Outdoor exhibits illustrate the human history of the Gold Rush and the natural environment with a four cable suspension bridge providing access across the canyon. Two buildings are situated to create an entrance and frame a view of the suspension bridge and exhibition deck on the far side. The buildings contain retail, coffee shop and caretaker facilities.

In order to have the Centre opened by the start of the Cruise ship season at the beginning of May, construction started March 1st 2006. Wood was the obvious material of choice.
With five feet of snow on the site and temperatures at times as low as -38 degrees Celsius, simple wood construction was a necessity. No concrete was available in such a remote site and in such temperatures. All foundations are pads build on grade and the buildings and decks hover above the land with no excavations required. The buildings are constructed entirely from dimensioned lumber and glu-lam beams. A goal of the project was to demonstrate that standard dimensioned lumber could be used to create an elegant fully exposed wood structure. The columns are made from sandwich construction built up from standard 2×6, 2×8 and 2×10 lumber. Dimensioned timber braces bolted to the glu-lam and sandwiched between the members of the built-up columns provide lateral bracing. The glu-lam beams, columns and bracing act as a moment frame that braces the building. The end walls act as shear walls. The building is designed for a snow load of over 10 feet with large roof overhangs to minimize snow buildup against the building. At the main entrance a lattice of 2×4 on edge is mounted to the glazing and structural columns. The lattice provides shading on the glass to help modulate solar heat gain and to provides a pattern on the façade that translates shadows into the building as the sun shines through the wood.

Due to the fragile nature of the northern environment, care was taken to minimize any negative impact due to the development. No trees were removed and the layout of the building and exhibit decks were located in existing clearings. Pad foundations build on grade and wood substructure minimized disturbance of the existing plant life. Care was taken to maintain existing storm water movement on the site and an existing storm culvert from the highway was upgraded to channel water across the site while eliminating erosion. The development is completely self-contained with no contaminates entering the pristine environment. Water use is minimized with waterless urinals and dual flush toilets. All sewage is tanked and removed from the site. Due to the seasonal use of the facility, building orientation and extensive glazing was utilized to provide heating through solar heat gain during the long northern summer days. Extensive daylight minimizes electrical needs and provision was made to incorporate future use of solar and water turbine energy. All goods used on site are recycled and the exposed wood structure required minimal finishes resulting in little or no off-gases. The result was a transparent building full of sunshine – celebrating the long days of light in the north.

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Email Scott M. Kemp Architect: [email protected]

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