Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

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Vancouver, BC
Canada
Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

Located on a wooded promontory overlooking the Strait of Georgia, the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology is sited on lands whose ownership rights were never ceded by their traditional owners, the Musqueam people. The museum houses more than half a million artifacts, with an emphasis on First Nations and Northwest Coast ethnographic objects. Simulating the landscape of Haida Gwaii, the archipelago off the coast of British Columbia that is home to Haida people, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander designed the grounds as an outdoor museum. Her collaborator, architect Arthur Erickson, looked to Haida post-and-beam architecture for inspiration in designing the adjacent concrete-and-glass building. The museum opened in 1976 but was considered unfinished by Oberlander and Erickson without a permanent reflecting pond, as originally planned. Ultimately realized by Oberlander in 2010, the pond was built during a second phase of works that added a courtyard to the building, surrounded by plants traditionally used in Musqueam culture.

On the museum’s southern edge, a crushed stone path leads beneath wooden, Musqueam post-and-lintel structures to a remnant World War II-era gun emplacement before continuing to an ethnobotanical area planted with maples, hemlocks, mahonia, and ferns. Two nineteenth-century-inspired Haida houses open onto a flowering meadow that stretches between the main building and the forested cliffs to the west. The meadow, planted with an Oberlander-devised low-maintenance native seed mix, undulates in the direction of the North Shore Mountains beyond. At the base of the main building, First Nations totem poles dot the vegetated perimeter of the reflecting pond and shell beach. Earthen mounds along both the pond and the meadow path were intentionally ordered to selectively reveal views of mountains, coastline, and various art installations.