Seeing Saanich Municipal Hall in a new light

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Saanich Municipal Hall is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, an event that has spurred me to finally notice its architectural élan.

Despite its readily apparent distinctiveness — all those curves, all that amazingly detailed concrete — I didn’t really appreciate it until I attended a celebration event on Tuesday night in the building’s council chambers. Several speakers spoke in admiration of how much thought went into its design, and how that design still works 50 years later.

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Among the highlights that were pointed out:

The central, open, atrium-style staircase, which eases access to the various departments, and allows natural light to flood in, without glare, from an innovative skylight.

A council chamber that was designed with acoustics in mind, with angles, protrusions and coverings that quell echoes and project clear sound. A speaker can be heard without a microphone. It’s also a council chamber with a bit of drama — the audience sits in semi-darkness, while the council sits in a well-lit stage-like setting.

The concrete work is artful. There are a variety of intricate textures and angles, along with an abstract interpretation of the Saanich crest.

Prior to my architectural awakening, Saanich Municipal Hall had caught my notice for three main reasons: I went there to pay my property taxes (until I switched to online), I use its parking lot to get access to the Lochside Trail, and when wandering adjacent Swan Lake Sanctuary, it’s a handy place to find a washroom. I am a little taken aback at how I didn’t bother to look around a little, and appreciate the building.

I am inclined to place some of the blame on busy Vernon Avenue, which the front of Saanich Municipal Hall faces. That busy road has, in a way, marooned the building. You don’t see many people walking to it. It’s not the people place that it could be because of all that traffic.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2 and Thursday, Dec. 3, the public is invited to tour the building. At 10 a.m. Wednesday, there’s a lecture titled “The Mayors of Saanich”; guided tours are on offer 10:15 a.m. to noon. Self-guided tours are noon to 4 p.m., and again on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wade, Stockdill, Armour and Partners was the architectural firm for Saanich Municipal Hall; Peter Blewett was the primary designer.

A Times Colonist story about the building and its 50th anniversary.

Photo - Saanich Municipal Hall
Saanich Municipal Hall, the side facing busy Vernon Avenue.
Most people enter from the "back," the parking lot side, which faces Swan Lake.

Saanich Municipal Hall interior.
Saanich Municipal Hall's central, open stairwell, which is lit by a skylight.
[Photos: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist]

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