Pulled from the landscape

- June 19, 2008

Ron Burdock with WHW Architects was the project architect for the Joggins Fossil Centre. (Nick Pearce Photo)

No fossil fuels will burn to power a new museum dedicated to interpreting Nova Scotia’s premier fossil site.

Officially opened on Earth Day last month, the Joggins Fossil Centre in Joggins uses 38 per cent less power than a traditionally designed building. Some of its sustainable features include a 50 kilowatt wind turbine generator, solar hot water heating system, a cistern to capture water for non-potable use and a grass roof to reduce extremes in heating and cooling of the building.

“It was such a fascinating project to work on,” says Ron Burdock, project architect with the Halifax firm WHW Architects. “We had a very courageous client (Cumberland Regional Economic Development Agency) who knew what they had was pretty spectacular.”

SEE PHOTOS: A spectacular showcase

The centre is a showcase for the fossils which have been gathered nearby over the past two centuries and the area’s coal-mining history. It also acts as a departure point for guided tours of the nearby sea cliffs, which contain one of the world’s most complete fossil records of life during the carboniferous period, between 300 and 360 million years ago. Tracks on the floor in the front lobby replicate a journey the lizard Hylonomus lyelli, the first known reptile, took more than 315 million years ago.

Inspired by the sea cliffs, the building is as beautiful as it is innovative. Located on the site of the Old Joggins No. 7 Coal Mine, the centre overlooks the cliffs and the beach on the Bay of Fundy below. The building itself is cliff-shaped, with the siding on the walls mimicking the sedimentary striations in the cliffs. It was built using local materials, including sandstone cladding and hemlock siding.

“What we wanted is to create a sense of the building being pulled out of the landscape,” says Mr. Burdock, a Dalhousie architecture graduate. Other members of the “Dal/DalTech/TUNS team” who worked on the project included Lisa Tondino, Tina Smith, Stacey Hughes and Master’s student Jonathan Carmichael on a co-op placement.

At 1,186 square metres, the floor plan of the building is split in half on a diagonal, like a fault line, says Mr. Burdock. The design allows parts of the building to be shut down during times of the year when fewer visitors are expected, keeping the other half open for community use and the researchers who will be based there.

The building’s architects have just won the medal of excellence from the Lieutenant Governor’s Design Award for Architecture. Mr. Burdock is also hoping for gold LEED certification from the Canadian Green Building Council.

The Joggins Fossil Centre is open Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The centre is located in Joggins, about a half-hour drive from Amherst.


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