British Columbia

A tendency to leak: staff at MOA ensure safety of artifacts amid heavy rains

The familiar drip that follows a heavy Vancouver storm is a sound all too familiar to the staff of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.

Famous architect's buildings are known as both striking and sometimes slippery

Staff at the Museum of Anthropology are used to the leaky roof that follows every Vancouver rainstorm. (David Horemans/CBC News)

The familiar drip that follows a heavy Vancouver storm is a sound all too familiar to the staff at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia [MOA].

And they're employing a tried and true tactic to mitigate potential water damage: big, plastic buckets strategically placed around the building to catch the seemingly never-ending dribble.

"This building was opened in 1976 so it's over 42 years old now, so, over time, things have been sort of deteriorating a little bit," said acting director Moya Waters.

In fact, it's become somewhat of a choreographed routine, where staff and conservators proactively move antiques and collections from leak-prone locations, while keeping a diligent eye out for newly formed fissures.

Plastic pails are placed throughout the great hall to catch the falling rainwater and mitigate water damage. (David Horemans/CBC News)

"The cultural assets of this building are the most important thing to all of us here at the museum and we would never, knowingly, put any object here at risk," said Waters.

"This is our mission to protect and preserve these objects for the communities where they originated and for the public who want to visit them."

Waters says no artifacts or artworks have been damaged by the water.

A soggy ceiling has plagued the MOA for many years, but it could soon become a distant memory as the museum prepares for seismic upgrades and a new roof. The whole project is expected to be completed over the next year.

Arthur Erickson's Museum of Anthropology opened in 1976. (Christopher Erickson/www.arthurerickson.com)

'Why do all your buildings leak?'

The MOA was designed by the late Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, whose long resume includes the provincial courthouse and Simon Fraser University.

Erickson was known for his striking and dramatic designs, however, most of his buildings shared something else in common: an inclination to leak, according to an Erickson biographer.

Arthur Erickson with Geoffrey Massey. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. Designed 1963. (Simon Scott/www.arthurerickson.com)

"I guess I became aware of this almost from the outset of my experience coming here to B.C.,"  said David Stouck, author of Arthur Erickson: An Architect's Life.

"My wife and I came here to teach at Simon Fraser. The university was still under construction. It was 1966 and there were lots of pails out to catch the drips."

While he admits he is no architect or engineer, the biographer believes engineers in B.C. weren't fully equipped to put Erickson's designs into waterproof form.

Erickson, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 84, often designed flat-ceilinged structures inspired by their natural surroundings.

Stouck says that Erickson was never afraid to sacrifice engineering know-how in order to achieve his dramatic creations.

And never was that clearer than when Stouck attended a public gathering at which Erickson was present. It was held at the acclaimed architect's Eppich house in West Vancouver. 

Helmut and Hilda Eppich house. Designed in 1972 by Arthur Erickson Architects. (Rr Parker/Wikimedia Commons)

The biographer recalls a moment when a guest shouted from the crowd "why do all your buildings leak?"

Stouck says that upon hearing the question, Erickson smiled and said "the imperfections of nature have never bothered me."

"There was a hush over the audience for a moment and then the buzz started. Of course, this made a lot of people angry that he would take such a cavalier attitude," said Stouck, with a laugh.

Some of Erickson's most famous designs include Robson Square, the renovations at the Vancouver Art Gallery and the 63-storey, twisting skyscraper Trump Tower.

Arthur Erickson with Nick Milkovich Architects, MCM and DYS Architecture. Trump International Hotel and Tower, Vancouver. Conceptual design, 2005. (www.arthurerickson.com)

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