(This week, Business Edge real estate columnist Kenton Friesen takes a look at some of Edmonton’s oddest buildings.)
“That’s the ugliest thing. It should be blown and the park should be extended,” says a woman who works within eyeshot of the Legislature Annex.
Given her less-than-flattering appraisal, she prefers to be referred to simply as a government employee.
A colleague agrees something went wrong in the design. “I think I heard it was intended to be a temporary building,” he quips.
Built in 1953, the 10-storey Legislature Annex sports some of the oddest features in Edmonton architecture. In contrast to the high-sheen standard of many office buildings, its windows are hazed by heavy metal screens. Bathroom privacy-like glass partners a turquoise hue.
|Kenton Friesen photos, Business Edge|
|The Legislature Annex sports some of the oddest features in Edmonton architecture.|
To be fair, if the building was hidden among others of its era somewhere along Jasper Avenue, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. But standing proud on the Legislature grounds, in close vicinity to the no-expense-spared ageless grace of the Legislature Building (built with Calgary sandstone, Vancouver Island granite and Italian marble), the annex causes many viewers to shudder.
The Legislature is likely the most photographed building in Edmonton, but how many of those shots include the Annex? It is my assumption most camera viewfinders know the value of their borders.
Yet, contrast has its place.
Take, for instance, the University of Alberta campus.
Somehow, its diversity adds authenticity to its reputation as a place where the world comes to learn. The Butterdome is not meant to be a twin to the University Hospital. The diversity continues with the newer buildings. The Telus Centre for Professional Development, with an elliptical glass wedge jutting through its centre, may not be the most practical building on campus. But it is instantly redeemed by its eye-catching appeal.
|This blue-and-pink building does its part to make Edmonton colourful.|
The Electrical and Computer Engineering Research Facility is a good-looking addition to the university’s eclecticism. The variety of brick and stone work and polished glass is capped by a distinctive seal and speaks to functionality and class.
Effective contrast is a lesson that never grows old. A drive through Old Strathcona uncovers a multitude of housing design gems, each possessing attitude yet contributing to the consummate whole.
Builders such as Habitat Studios have had tremendous success erecting new houses among the old, while retaining the integrity of the neighbourhood.
On the other side of the pendulum is the design of Faculty Court, a newer building that stands as sentinel to the 109th Street entrance to the Old Strathcona district.
Maria Koopman lives in the neighbourhood and describes her take on the building. “I don’t think it fits in with the neighbourhood – especially the front,” she observes.
It’s not a building that shouts obscenities when you drive past, but it’s quietly disturbing. There’s no flow with the community and the designers appears to have tried too hard and then given up, adding some (usually grungy) blue vinyl siding on the bottom as a limp attempt to provide protection from passersby.
I’m a fan of distinction and creativity that operates in direct connection to logic and functionality, but sometimes distinction can go too far. One example of this is the Oliver highrise, which was once adorned with putrid green horizontal stripes.
On the top, in large letters, it challenged, “DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER.”
Of course, everyone walking by is going to knock on the manager’s door just to see if there’s some sanity within the monstrosity. The colours have recently been transposed to the taupes all Edmontonians understand.
Colour is a personal thing, but some colours are more personable than others.
Stretching the colour envelope is a new townhouse development on 98 Avenue’s Dowler Hill. While I admire the intestinal fortitude required to make the colour choices and appreciate builders leaving taupe for the conservative populace, this building doesn’t quite work for me. It’s probably more to do with the quick changes from vinyl siding to stucco.
I stand in the minority on this one, though, as nearby construction workers Shane Lemke and Levi Blanchard both appreciate the development entirely.
“It’s a modern look – more up-to-date,” says Lemke, adding that he would much sooner live there than the less-flashy development next door.
There will be some stumbling on the journey toward a more colourful city, but Edmonton could use the vibrancy.
Christenson Development’s first major Railtown complex was originally given an awful burnt-orange trim that failed the taste test in more ways than one.
Fortunately, the builders realized the error and swapped the colour for a more compatible and eye-pleasing burgundy.
Edmonton has been protected from the function design mayhem of Vancouver’s leaky condo scene, with practicality eclipsing cutting-edge design elements in Alberta’s North. Somewhere in between lies the fascinating middle ground where the eye feasts and the soul is at peace – and the water only pours through the downspouts.