Photographic credit: Robert Lemermeyer
On October 13 2005, after an intense global architectural competition, Randall Stout Architects, Inc. was selected to design a new Alberta art gallery. The runners-up were Alsop Design Limited; Zaha Hadid Architects and Arthur Erickson / Nick Milkovich Architects.
The 85,000 square foot art gallery was designed by Los Angeles Architect Randall Stout, who says he wanted visitors to feel welcome in the grand structure. “I want them to feel uplifted, that this is a warm inviting place,” said Stout.
The $88 million project was funded by a capital campaign with major support from all three levels of government and private donations. With a large portion being footed by taxpayers, there has always been criticism on the pricetag, but politicians say the grief was worth it.
“We’re never going to please everybody all the time,” said Mayor Stephen Mandel. “We have to make tough decision”¦this one in my mind was not difficult. You have to have iconic buildings to define your city, this is an iconic building.”
The AGA now enjoys a facility as modern as that of any art institution, around 75% more exhibition space and an operating budget that has been nearly tripled to $7-million. Its ability to borrow and display art has vastly improved. “It is the AGA’s dream that a rebuilt, renewed Art Gallery of Alberta will serve as a cultural centre of excellence for the Alberta community today and beyond, for generations to come,” says Allan Scott, Chair, AGA Board of Directors. “Our new building was planned, designed and constructed by an extremely talented and dedicated project team and the tireless AGA staff. The team deserves a great big thank you from everyone.”
The old concrete building, which was known as the Edmonton Art Gallery until a $15-million gift from the province in 2005, which was later upped to $27-million, was never carapaced with the stone cladding that architect Don Bittorf intended. As a result, explained Catherine Crowston, the AGA’s chief curator and deputy director, private and institutional collections wouldn’t lend their sensitive artworks to the old AGA because too much damage-causing moisture penetrated into the building.
Celebrating its prominent location on Sir Winston Churchill Square in the heart of the Arts District in downtown Edmonton, the design of new AGA extends the Gallery into the community, welcoming visitors to experience art first hand. The design takes inspiration from the city of Edmonton’s unique northern environment and urban grid. Angular windows are juxtaposed against a winding 190-metre steel ribbon that references the forms of the North Saskatchewan River and Aurora Borealis. The movement of this continuous stainless steel structure through the Gallery’s interior and exterior reinvents the museum’s public spaces, continually connecting visitors with their downtown surroundings.
The building is crafted from three key materials: patinated zinc, high-performance glazing, and stainless steel. These materials reflect Edmonton’s dramatic weather pattern and the extreme contrast of the long days of summer and the short days of winter, allowing the building to transform in response to its natural surroundings.