Museum of Anthropology at The University of British Columbia
The First Nation Gallery

Vancouver, Canada





1670 m2



Length of exhibit fronts

407 m

The UBC’s Museum of Anthropology is one of Canada’s foremost teaching museums, renowned for its Northwest Coast collections and its collaborative approach to working with First Nations and other cultural communities. Now, a major renovation and expansion has extended its role as a public and research institution.
The project, by bringing 50% more of the museum’s holding into view, has created unprecedented opportunities for research, teaching, and public enjoyment. Accessibility was the driving force of the renovation and now UBC’s expanded “visible storage” allows scholars, students, originating communities, and the public to easily explore the collections’ interpretations.

Building project: Stantec Architecture, Noel Best, Vancouver

Restoration project: Graham Downes Architecture Inc., Steven Hoard, San Diego

Exhibition design: Anthony Shelton, Skooker Broome, David Cunningham, MOA–Vancouver

The challenge

UBC’s Museum was looking for a “partner” that could provide a superior display product and rise to the intellectual and design challenge of conceptualizing and building a new type of display system for the First Nations exhibit, representing the core of the museum’s collection and mission. The MOA entered its relationship with Goppion with a clear concept of what the cases were meant to achieve, yet were unsure of how – or even whether – it was possible to realize their vision. Case interiors had to be easy to reconfigure to accommodate the vast number and sheer variety of objects on display – everything from a seal-bone fishhook to a cedar canoe.
We had to create cases for the 1,400-square-meter gallery under exceptionally rigorous time and budgetary constraints. The installation was further complicated by the simultaneous renovation of the building itself, the needs of the many stakeholders, and the logistics of international shipping and customs. Over the course of a year, Goppion and the MOA held numerous site meetings in Vancouver and Milan, out of which arose the elegant, customized design-build solution represented in the pages following.

The solution

Although the Study Collection for the MOA had been successfully displayed for some time in an early and effective “open-storage” solution, the museum clearly understood that the vastly expanded exhibit would require reimagining both the drawer and glass-faced case systems. Goppion’s custom solution arose from our unique ability to understand the client’s needs and our unparalleled ability to design and adapt the case form and function to meet them. We took the initiative to develop a unique anti-racking, damped closure, progressive opening, drawer glide system for the 3-meter wide x 1.5-meter-deep drawers used throughout the exhibit. Ultimately, our engineered solutions met and exceeded conservation and security requirements. The display environments, both drawers and glass-faced cases, support simple and rational access by both museum staff and authorized researchers. Throughout the process, Goppion designers and project managers used video conferencing and face-to-face meetings to share 3-dimensional models and files. The skills and expertise of the design team, working in concert with the client, resulted in unique and creative solutions to the myriad challenges of design, manufacturing, and installation noted above.