Downtown’s Got Big (Architectural) Style

Downtown Edmonton is starting to look good, and Edmontonians are taking notice. This post dives into the architecture and design of some of the new buildings taking shape in Downtown.

“I love the CN Tower”.

It’s not a sentiment shared by all Edmontonians, but Carol Belanger, City of Edmonton Chief Architect, has a soft spot for Downtown’s modernist buildings. It’s against these solid structures that new styles of architecture are beginning to come alive. And the juxtaposition is going to look good.

“We’re starting to see some really cool architecture,” continued Belanger, “the big buildings are really stepping up their game.”  So, let’s take a tour of a few of the new buildings of Downtown…

Stanley Milner Library

A recent renderings of the new Stanley Milner Library.

A recent rendering of the new Stanley Milner Library.

A recent rendering of the new Stanley Milner Library.

A recent rendering of the new Stanley Milner Library.

Bookending Churchill Square, and opposite the once controversial City Hall, the Stanley Milner Library is set to undergo dramatic renovations that will change both the exterior and interior of the building, starting in 2017.

Soon, the exterior will be replaced with a striated facade that stretches out towards significant Downtown landmarks. The facade will break open offering glimpses from the city into active library spaces, at the same time providing striking views from the library into Downtown.

The interior of the space will also see a transformation featuring more opportunities for collaboration, learning, exploration, and quiet study. The new design will incorporate better connections to the LRT, Churchill Square to the north and Centennial Plaza on the south.

To Belanger, the design brings abstract concepts like transparency and accessibility into the everyday lives in Edmontonians. Large windows and skylights will open up the space, increasing the natural light. A large community room will overlook Churchill Square. The library is one of the most visited buildings in Downtown, and the new design celebrates the power of this community-builder.

Royal Alberta Museum

Rendering of the new Royal Alberta Museum

Rendering of the new Royal Alberta Museum

20120410 New Winter Scene (1)

Rendering of the new Royal Alberta Museum

For Donna Clare, Principal at Dialog, the new museum’s design weaves together both natural and man-made characteristics of Alberta.

To illustrate this, let’s pause for a brief history lesson: If you’ve driven the streets of Edmonton on either side of the river valley, you know that at times, the grid starts to morph with the shape of the river. That’s because the roadways were built using both the English and French street grids. While the English maintained a fairly rigid north-south, east-west grid, the French formed their streets to follow the river. The new museum’s asymmetric site sits directly on the spot where the two grids converge. In fact, the new lobby is placed at the intersection of the two “lost” streets: 104 Avenue and 98 Street.

To celebrate our natural history, the architects designed the Children’s Gallery to feel like an aspen forest. The central staircase curves towards the second floor, reminiscent of mountain streams in the Rockies. Corridors run along the exterior walls so people passing by can see the curators at work. With over 2.1 million artefacts, it can be a stunning curiosity  to see the curators moving ancient tapestries, fossils and ancient objects through the halls.

Interior staircase in the Royal Alberta Museum

Interior staircase in the Royal Alberta Museum

Hyatt Place
The cantilevered glass of Hyatt Place is already an outstanding addition to the Downtown skyline. Anchoring the soon-to-open Armature (96 Street), the hotel will bring a sense of excitement to the east end of Downtown and the Quarters. “There is nothing like it in Edmonton,” explained Belanger. The new hotel will be open for guests in the early summer.

 Hyatt Place under construction, summer 2015.

Hyatt Place under construction, summer 2015.

Kelly Ramsey Building

SW Podium View (lighting) (1)

The facade of the pre-fire Kelly and Ramsey buildings is being rebuilt on the podium of the new Kelly Ramsey building.

When the original Kelly and Ramsey Buildings were destroyed by fire, the developers worked with the City of Edmonton to ensure that the historic facade is being rebuilt on the new building.

NorQuest College’s Singhmar Centre for Learning

NorQuest College’s Singhmar Centre for Learning is planned as a LEED Silver 22,500 m², four-storey building facing Capital Boulevard, flanked by 103 Avenue and 107 Street. It will feature labs, a teaching child care centre, a new library, food services, student activity space, and an Aboriginal student centre.

The future of NorQuest College’s expansion

The future of NorQuest College’s expansion

Here are a couple of the recent additions to the Downtown that have set a high standard for all new buildings that come after them.

Boyle Street Renaissance

Boyle Street Renaissance Phase 1

Boyle Street Renaissance Phase 1

The Boyle Street Renaissance Phase 1 features affordable housing units and a community centre.

Art Gallery of Alberta

The Art Gallery of Alberta has become an architectural beacon in Downtown.

The Art Gallery of Alberta has become an architectural beacon in Downtown.

And what do you think? What are some of your favourite new and old architectural gems in Downtown Edmonton?

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4 Comments
  1. Christopher Wilcott
    8 months ago

    Although I didn’t live here before they were demolished, I really love/miss the old courthouse and post office buildings.

    They were true gems and it’s a shame we lost them in the name of progress.

  2. Harbuksh
    8 months ago

    This newly proposed design, which deviates from the original proposal, is an unmitigated disaster. With the original design, I would have been happy to donated to the fund to renovate the library, but this new design is unbefitting this City, Churchill Square, and the citizens of this City who have waited so long for a Renaissance in our architecture.

    STICK TO THE ORIGINAL DESIGN.

  3. Miriam
    7 months ago

    I wish the Kelly Ramsey building looked as good as in the rendering. Well, it looks pretty good in real life, except they used dark corporate glass in the windows of the historic facade instead of the clear glass shown in the rendering. They used the same dark corporate glass as used in the tower. I suppose they thought the use of the same glass would make for a smoother transition from the historic facade to the tower, but this dark glass in the historic facade looks terrible.

  4. Peggy
    6 months ago

    Many of these “rénovations” and new buildings do not reflect anything of the neighbourhoods or architecture surrounding them. A case in point is the Hyatt Building–boring, clashing with the nearest brick building so close, no greenery around the building, a small entrance for cars and pedestrians….Sorry architects and the City. Not good enough nor reflective or our heritage.

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