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Living art casts shade at Harmony Arts Festival

Temporary installation planted with rye grass and clover
vermilion sands
Architect Matthew Soules crouches among the living components of Vermilion Sands, a temporary public art installation in West Vancouver erected for the duration of the Harmony Arts Festival. The canopy sculpture is comprised of 260 geometric modules planted with clover and rye grass.

The artificial and natural are purposefully woven together in art installation from a well-known West Vancouver-based architect at the Harmony Arts Festival.

Until Aug. 10, festival-goers can enjoy the living public art piece created by West Vancouver native and architect Matthew Soules. The contemporary art exhibition is featured at the Park Royal Beachside Patio. "There's a few different conceptual strands that come from a little bit different places and then get woven together to formulate an idea of what we're actually doing on site," said Soules, from Grenada, Spain, where he was working on an international research project until recently.

Soules was born, raised and educated in West Vancouver. He received his undergraduate degrees in fine arts and history at the University of British Columbia before attaining his master of architecture degree from Harvard University. He's also a professor at UBC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture while simultaneously running his own award-winning firm, Matthew Soules Architecture.

But despite the accolades and experience, this will be the first living art and architectural living exhibit he's composed in his home of West Vancouver.

"I grew up in West Vancouver. I went to elementary school and high school in West Van and now I'm living in West Van. This is the first time I've done a project in West Van, so it was really exciting to me," he said.

Soules was approached by Darrin Morrison, director and head curator of the West Vancouver Museum, about five months ago to submit a joint proposal through the B.C. Arts Council to do a temporary art and architectural installation at the local festival.

"Basically when you make one of the grant submissions, you have a general idea of what you're going to do but you don't know exactly what you're going to do," he explained, adding that two months ago they were approved for funding by the council. "We were very excited. And then we put pen to paper and started to conceive of what we could do."

It's important to note that Soules is also the live-in architect and resident curator at the B.C. Binning House. Its design and overall concept partially influenced the temporary art installation at the festival - particularly how the landscape translates into a modern art and design vocabulary, according to Soules.

The house, a national historic site in West Vancouver, was originally designed by the late Canadian artist Bertram Charles Binning, whose life's work influenced the likes of Arthur Erickson and other famous, world-renowned architects. For the West Coast, it's considered the first-ever modernist style home.

"B.C. Binning created all of these really amazing patterns with its squares, triangles, diamonds and patterned wall murals," said Soules, who lives in the house as well. "It's about simple shapes that are different colours that are repeated ... I think that in the field of geometry, there was the kind of meditation on the field and expanse of the landscape."

One of the conceptual strands for the installation translates "the colours and expanse of the landscape into a geometric mosaic," according to Soules. The other idea was to have a pragmatic art piece festival-goers can actually use, he added. "Given that August, if we're lucky, in Vancouver is the sunniest and warmest time of year, we thought what if we did something that provided basic shade and sun protection for festival-goers?" he said. "That's the second conceptual strand." The last piece of the puzzle incorporated in the design is to showcase the way nature and landscape interact with architecture.

"Me and my collaborators, or my staff, became interested in how we could do something that had a kind of dialogue between artificiality and nature," Soules said. "Basically, the proposal is to do a canopy roof sculpture that festival-goers can relax under, walk under and that the canopy is made up of a series of geometric modules."

Each of the 260 modules is comprised of growing plant material "that are all impregnated with clover seeds and rye grass," which were grown in West Vancouver's municipal nursery.

The modules were assembled more than a month earlier and the seeds were planted shortly after. The structures were all combined a few days before the festival's Aug. 1 start.

"I'm really fascinated with how architecture is this thing that surrounds us all the time in our lives," he said, "but it's often this thing that is in the background. It's something we just inhabit but often don't think about in the forefront of our brains."

And for Soules, he said he often meditates on how in subtle ways, architecture plays a role in creating new and different worlds.

"It as a necessity embodies a whole host of social, cultural, political and economic kind of forces and ideas," he said. "I'm most fascinated in architecture as a kind of manifestation of social ideas, economic forces. I think, always in my projects, I try to imagine them in the terms of the ... social, economic ideological worlds that they manifest."

For more information about Soules, visit his architecture firm's website at To learn more about the festival, check out