The Butterfly Piano—Fighting for Beauty

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Outside the Fairmont Pacific Rim, a luxury Vancouver hotel, there is a magenta, graffiti encased pavilion housing a new pop-up art gallery entitled Fight For Beauty.

This exhibition is based on a book (of the same name) written by Ian Gillespie and highlights various creative collaborations that manifest themselves in some of the more inspirational architectural projects and artworks.

Gillespie is primarily a property developer, his company, Westbank, is responsible for some of Canada’s most design-orientated buildings. He is keen to ensure all his projects have the highest artistic credentials, creating “a positive impact on how people live today”.

Fazioli Butterfly Piano

The Fazioli Butterfly Piano at the “Fight for Beauty” exhibition. Photo: Ema Peter

One of the key exhibits that can be seen in the Fight for Beauty pavilion is a piano. It is a very special piano—a Fazioli. In terms of quality, Fazioli is one of the top four piano-makers in the world. They produce exquisite hand-made instruments from a factory in Sacile, an hour outside Venice. The Westbank-Fazioli connection illustrates Gillespie’s philosophy of artistic collaboration.

Westbank and Fazioli

Westbank first worked with Fazioli when they commissioned a custom black lacquer piano for the Vancouver Shangri-La Hotel. This instrument perfectly compliments the dark chocolate and caramel tones of the interior of the hotel. Fazioli have also created other custom instruments for Westbank:

  • A white Fazioli with a three-dimensional walnut inlay inside the lid can be seen (and heard) at The Fairmont Pacific Rim (Vancouver), in the lobby lounge.
  • The Fazioli located in the lobby lounge at the Shangri-La Toronto celebrates one of Canada’s great musical artists – Joni Mitchell. The piano, finished in white oak, has the first verse of “My Old Man” engraved on the lid. Interestingly Fazioli fitted an extended prop so that passers-by could read the lyric. The sheet music of that song is embroidered on the piano cover.
TELUS Fazioli piano

The angular TELUS Fazioli piano. Photo: Westbank Corp.

  • Architect Gregory Henriquez designed the Fazioli for Vancouver’s TELUS garden development. This is a stunning instrument finished in natural wood with the inside of the lid mirrored so as to display the intricate workings of the piano.

The Butterfly Piano

Westbank and Fazioli’s latest instrument is the aforementioned Butterfly piano. One of celebrated architect Bing Thom’s last projects was the design of a new development in downtown Vancouver entitled the Butterfly. This is a 56 storey residential property, with a plan view reminiscent of the wings of a butterfly.

Thom died in 2016, and his design team were tasked with creating a piano to compliment the new building. This is the first piece of work the team produced that didn’t have Thom’s input, and as such is considered a tribute to their famous mentor. The Butterfly Piano’s design matches the vivacious curves and flow of the building. However the piano’s intricate styling was also heavily inspired by Alexander McQueen’s iconic 2003 Shipwreck dress.

Ian Gillespie and Paulo Fazioli

Ian Gillespie and Paolo Fazioli discuss the design for the Butterfly Piano. Photo: The Collective You

The piano itself is a Model F212 (7ft) Fazioli. This is the perfect sized instrument for smaller venues such as hotel lobbies, piano bars, etc.

the Butterfly piano's casework construction

The construction of the Butterfly Piano’s intricate casework and leg assemblies. Photo: The Collective You

The stunning decorative casework is carved from wood, however metal is used to reinforce the legs which must take the full weight of the instrument – nearly 400kg. Virtually all processes are done by hand including the final sanding and polishing.

butterfly upright and grand pianos

A Rameau butterfly upright and a Wurlitzer butterfly baby grand. Photo [R]: Shaupoo, CC BY-SA 4.0

Many of you will be aware of earlier instruments that were also called butterfly pianos, but for a different reason. A piano with a symmetrical lid hinged in the middle was often referred to as a butterfly piano. This was because of the obvious wing shape connotation. The photos above show examples of a modern butterfly upright and a butterfly grand.


Fighting for Beauty

At the exhibition, the Fazioli Butterfly Piano sits on a plinth that reflects the shape of the building from which it gets its name. Over 40 other exhibits surround the piano, and all illustrate key moments in the “fight for beauty.”

The Fazioli Butterfly Piano at Westbank’s “Fighting for Beauty” exhibition. Photo: Ema Peter

“One of my hopes with this exhibition is to underscore the vital role that beauty, the stimulating, provoking and life-altering kind, plays in our lives and the importance of recognising beauty – housing it, producing it and keeping an eye open for it,” commented curator Ian Gillespie.

Fight for Beauty is open seven days a week – Sunday to Thursday from 11am—5pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11am—8pm. It is a free exhibition and open to the public until December 17. The pavilion is located outside the Fairmont Pacific Rim, 1038 Canada Pl, Vancouver.

“The Collective You” is a Vancouver based photographer. 

The Fazioli website has more information and photos of the Butterfly Piano.

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