Architects are about to draw a new picture that will redefine Edmonton's cultural sector for years to come.
With the Edmonton Art Gallery (EAG) and the Royal Alberta Museum - formerly the Provincial Museum of Alberta - both embarking on major expansion projects, two of the city's major cultural icons are about to get full-scale makeovers.
Though design choices have yet to be finalized, Edmontonians are gearing up to expect innovative changes to these cultural cornerstones, which will both remain in their current locations.
The downtown EAG, adjacent to Churchill Square, and the Royal Alberta Museum, minutes away from the city core in the neighbouring Old Glenora district, are in the process of nailing down final designs. In the case of the EAG, submissions were received from 25 architectural firms around the world.
|Courtesy of Edmonton Art Gallery|
|The Art Museum of West Virginia in Roanoke, W.Va., above, is the work of Randall Stout Architects of Los Angeles, one of the four finalists for the renovation of downtown Edmonton's Edmonton Art Gallery. The Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., below, is the creation of the finalist team of Arthur Erickson/Nick Milkovich (Vancouver) and Dub Architects (Edmonton). (Above, Copyright Randall Stout Architects, Inc. 2005.)|
"There were at least 10 architects who didn't make the first cut who were people we never imagined would submit," says EAG executive director Tony Luppino. "The response we got for our submissions was extraordinary.
|Courtesy of Edmonton Art Gallery|
"We approached 40 different architectural firms with personal invitations and we also put it on the architectural competition site."
Cohos Evamy Architecture, in partnership with Lundholm Associates Architects, has already been chosen from a shortlist of four candidates and is in the process of completing its architectural schematic for the recently-rechristened Royal Alberta Museum, renamed as part of Alberta's centennial celebrations during the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in May.
EAG officials expect to announce their architectural selection on Oct. 13.
The four finalists are Alsop Partners (London, England) and Quadrangle (Toronto); Arthur Erickson/Nick Milkovich (Vancouver) and Dub Architects (Edmonton); Zaha Hadid (London, England), and Randall Stout (Los Angeles).
The two projects will total about $228 million, with the pricetag on the EAG changes pegged at $48 million and $180 million for the Royal Alberta Museum.
The art gallery plans to increase its square footage to 80,000, up from its current level of 50,000 sq. ft.
"It has been under discussion and review for probably 10 years, at least, but these sort of projects take that long," says Luppino.
"Just before I got here, the idea was to tear down the building and build a whole new building. But for several reasons we revised that approach when I got here. One was economics and it was really sort of wasteful to tear it down. There are a lot of good elements that function very well, like our theatre."
Luppino, who has worked at the gallery for just under two years, adds that the building's structure is fundamentally sound.
|Copyright Roland Halbe; image courtesy of Edmonton Art Gallery|
|Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati is the work of Zaha Hadid of London, England, one of the four finalists.|
Further, the architecture of its current building, described as the Brutalist style, is "very Canadian and very unique," he says.
When completed, most likely in the early part of 2009 - with construction beginning in 2007 - the new EAG will have almost double the exhibition space and include increased educational facilities.
A key component will also see the gallery's entire environment brought up to meet museum standards - an environment where the temperature only varies by 2°C and the humidity by just two per cent - standards that didn't exist when the current gallery facility was built in the 1960s.
As to what the new EAG will ultimately look like, Luppino says "choosing an architect will be based on selecting those who are interested in creating a building right for Edmonton rather than just (creating) a building that can be a great museum anywhere in the world. It's very much about a piece of architecture that's exciting and innovative, but essentially allows us to serve the community through better programming."
Plans are also well under way at the Royal Alberta Museum, says Tim Willis, the assistant director for Project Renewal, the name given to the facility's redevelopment.
"We started in April 2003 when the provincial government announced some money to start planning for the renewal of museum. The first two years were spent doing what we felt was really important to ask ourselves: 'What type of museum do we want to become before we start planning the exhibitions?' " The answer, says Willis, is "when we've completed this project, what the museum will be is an expression of the Alberta identity - and by that I mean in all of its facets, whether you have lived here for generations or whether you've came (here) yesterday."
Now 141,000 sq. ft., the renewed Royal Alberta Museum will add 100,000 sq. ft., doubling what Willis calls the "visitor experience" and storage capacity.
"This is a major renovation and expansion of the main building," says Willis, who notes that they will likely demolish the old archives wing. "It is not a space we can renovate."
|Image courtesy of Edmonton Art Gallery|
|The Ontario College of Art and Design Sharp Centre, a project by Robbie/Young & Wright Architects and Alsop Architects.|
Government House, the original home of the lieutenant-governor and now the official government reception centre for visiting dignitaries, will remain intact.
Part of the overall plan includes 10 new visitor experiences, including a "time machine" called Ancient Alberta that will explore the province's landscape at different periods.
A children's museum will also appeal to kids aged 18 months to six years old, Willis adds. "We're going to build a new history gallery that will tell the Alberta story from a very personal perspective and a biodiversity gallery, which will take you to places that you probably have never imagined, for example, a microscopic tour of your own backyard."
New underground parking will accommodate 400 vehicles and the existing ground level parking lot will be turned into an interpretive park of native Alberta plants.
Construction is scheduled to start somewhere between the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007, with estimates for completion between 2009 and 2010.
Both Luppino and Willis are thrilled by the cultural boost that Edmonton will receive once the projects are completed.
"I think that these two projects happening at the same time is unbelievably good news for the city," says Willis. "Great cities around the world always have great art galleries and great museums. There is so much evidence now to show that people will choose to live in a city that has a high quality of life and places like art galleries are museums are absolutely essential to a high quality of life."
(Laura Severs can be reached at email@example.com)