The Biosphere Centre

The CBT has begun the process to establish the Clayoquot Biosphere Centre. Within the UNESCO themes of education, science, and culture, the centre will invite local community members and visitors from around the world to a place of equitable sharing, learning and reconciliation. We envision a welcoming space, where residents, visitors, and researchers feel equally comfortable, and where scientists and storytellers can share their valuable data and teachings.

The CBT, non-profit and cultural organizations, and First Nations who we serve will have flexible and well-equipped state of the art facilities. The Biosphere Centre will address the urgent community need for accessible, affordable, and safe space to deliver new programs and initiatives, positively impacting community health and vitality.

CBT purchased 301 Olsen Road in Tofino, which will be the permanent home of the Biosphere Centre. Through a collaborative community consultation process, a proposed site plan and design concept was developed in June 2020. The current design was developed in consultation with the Crab Dock Neighbourhood and changes have been made to the design to reduce building size and massing, to retain the residential character of the building on Olsen Road and to protect the privacy of the adjacent properties. 

CBT worked closely with District Planning & Public Works staff on a Traffic Impact Assessment and a Site Servicing Brief to understand and address issues impacting the Crab Dock Neighbourhood, such as vehicle & pedestrian safety, parking, and surface water drainage. Both reports concluded that the proposed development of the Biosphere Centre would not result in any negative impacts on the surrounding neighbourhood or to the District’s utilities infrastructure.

A Zoning Bylaw Amendment and a Housing Agreement for the Biosphere Centre received unanimous approval and was formally adopted by the District of Tofino Council on April 12, 2022, clearing the path for the project to proceed forward into the subsequent phases, including detailed design and capital fund development.  Members of all communities served by CBT will have opportunities to contribute to the building of the Biosphere Centre.

Learn more about our recent community engagement and design process below, and read our Q&A here. If you support this community goal and would like to contribute your skills or resources to help us achieve it, please contact CBT Executive Director Rebecca Hurwitz.

Current Status

CBT plans to continue design development of the Biosphere Centre. Through this process details of the building design may change while the proposed site zoning, massing, and building uses will likely remain the same as they are currently represented in the conceptual design as shown here. The current design was developed in consultation with the Crab Dock Neighbourhood and changes have been made to the design to reduce building size and massing, to retain the residential character of the building on Olsen Road and to protect the privacy of the adjacent properties. 

Community Collaboration

Engagement sessions were held with the CBT Board and stakeholders. These included both in-person and online ‘open house’ sessions. Using insight and information from stakeholders, alongside analysis of the program and site conditions, MOTIV Architects developed multiple design options. 

With active participation from the CBT building committee, the design was refined to a single option to be presented to the broader community. 

Public Engagement - What We Shared

Some of the key features of the design included:

  • Lower-profile form along Olsen Road containing residences.
  • Angled gable form containing community uses.
  • Community Meeting Space on top floor given views toward the water.
  • Provision of protected outdoor spaces (patios, large overhangs).
  • Use of wood and other local, sustainably-sourced building materials is important.

Public Engagement - What We Learned

Some of the resonating feedback from the neighbours and the broader community were as follows:

  • Building scale and massing were too big for the site.
  • Privacy concerns re: overall height of building and overlook from upper floors into neighbour’s backyard.
  • Importance of maintaining residential character along Olsen Road.
  • Incorporating of vegetation, landscaping, flowers, trees, etc. to soften approach from Olsen Road.
  • The building form and character seemed appropriate for proposed use along Campbell Street.

Utilizing this feedback, the design was revised to address these concerns.

Design - Organization

The planned uses within the new Biosphere Centre include office and meeting space for the CBT, a community gathering room, an Elders’ room, a teaching kitchen for food preservation programming, a residential component and necessary support and service space for these programs, including on-site parking. 

The ground floor provides ample parking for CBT & community uses and includes access to two residential units facing Olsen Rd.

The second-floor entrance is level with Campbell St grade and includes the Elder’s room, CBT offices and meeting spaces, and community archives. 

The third floor is home to a community meeting space and teaching kitchen. A west-facing exterior covered courtyard and south facing sun-deck provide much needed weather-protected outdoor gathering space.

Design - Massing

A series of simple, deliberate moves responding to constraints and opportunities of the site helped to guide the architectural design for the Biosphere Centre. 

Some of these moves included:

  • Lifting the building to create space for parking.
  • Orienting residences toward Olsen Rd.
  • Accessing residences at grade.
  • Stepping building away from both streets.
  • Emphasizing roof form - referencing Nuu-chah-nulth Longhouse typology.
  • Creating outdoor opportunities for gathering.
  • Providing weather protection.

Design - Materials

The building will utilize wood as its primary structural material, a material steeped in the culture of west coast architecture going back centuries. This wood structure will be expressed throughout the interior of the building creating a warmth in contrast to a more rugged exterior.

The exterior cladding materials also draw inspiration from everyday materials that have become emblematic of Tofino and the west coast of British Columbia including cedar shakes/shingles and vertical wood cladding.

The project includes a public art component providing building elements integrated into the architecture in addition to stand-alone pieces. This reinforces an established project mandate to utilize local trades and craftspeople to provide skilled and unskilled labour on the project.

Sustainability Targets

The project team continues to articulate and define sustainability targets for the Biosphere Centre that align with the vision and values of the CBT. We aim for a balance of environmental, economic, social and cultural targets that reflect our region. 

A sample of goals for the Biosphere Centre include:

  • Balancing energy performance with simplified design of the systems (operational).
  • Achieving a robust procurement policy - offering local economic and social benefits through construction and operations. 
  • Respecting Nuu-chah-nulth culture and ways of building. 
  • Providing generational connection - allowing stories and knowledge to be passed on.

Biosphere Centre Timeline

2022 - District of Tofino Council votes unanimously to approve the rezoning of Olsen Rd. and formally adopts the new zoning bylaw and housing agreement.

2021 - Zoning Bylaw Amendment Application for the Biosphere Centre Site received approval to proceed and unanimously passed 2nd Reading by the District of Tofino Council.

2021 - CBT engages social procurement experts, Buy Social Canada, to help ensure that the construction and operation of the centre maximize local economic, cultural, human, physical, and social benefit.

2021 - CBT works closely with District Planning & Public Works staff on a Traffic Impact Assessment and a Site Servicing Brief to understand and address issues impacting the Crab Dock Neighbourhood, such as vehicle & pedestrian safety, parking, and surface water drainage. Both reports conclude that the proposed development of the Biosphere Centre would not result in any negative impacts on the surrounding neighbourhood or to the District’s utilities infrastructure.

2020 - Zoning Bylaw Amendment Application for the Biosphere Centre Site received approval to proceed and unanimously passed 1st Reading by the District of Tofino Council.

2020 - CBT initiates community engagement and concept design for the Biosphere Centre.

2019 - CBT purchases 301 Olsen Road to be the future home of the Biosphere Centre.

2018 - CBT launches the Biosphere Centre Endowment Fund and welcomes support from a small group of dedicated donors.

2017 - CBT continues to search for a central location that is a match for its vision and principles.

2015 - CBT explores the social enterprise model and develops a business case; Location analysis of multiple site options conducted.

2014 - CBT Board sets the vision for the Biosphere Centre grounded in Nuu-chah-nulth principles; Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations invites the CBT to continue to situate the Biosphere Centre in Tla-o-qui-aht Territory, in the heart of the Biosphere Region and to continue to serve all communities in the region from this central location. This invitation was witnessed by Chief Anne Mack of Toquaht Nation, as well as Violet Clark representative of Ahousaht Nation.

2012 - CBT invites community input to the Biosphere Centre concept and considers different models for its future home

2008 - CBT Board sets Biosphere Centre as one of three core priorities to be achieved over the next 10-20 years

Pre-2008 - Through the late 90’s and 2000’s, multiple local organizations express interest in building an environmental research and education centre linked to the UNESCO Biosphere designation (2000).