2023 RAIC Awards: Carol Bélanger

Winner of a 2023 RAIC Advocate for Architecture Award

Photo by Laughing Dog Photography


In the past decade, Edmonton has become a hotbed of contemporary Canadian architecture. At the centre of this transformation is City Architect Carol Bélanger. In 2005, then-mayor Stephen Mandel stated, “Our tolerance for [architectural] crap is now zero.” This gave Bélanger—who started working with the City of Edmonton in 2005 and became its City Architect in 2009—a clear mandate to demonstrate architecture’s vital role in the growth and transformation of the city. 

Bélanger has since facilitated the design and construction of public spaces and facilities that have improved the daily lives of many Edmontonians, and in doing so, garnered excitement and respect for what good architecture can mean for a growing city.

The Northwest Campus for the Edmonton Police Service was designed by Teeple Architects and IBI Group. Photo by Andrew Latreille


Radically revamping the procurement procedure has been fundamental to the City of Edmonton’s architectural revitalization. In the quality-based process developed by Carol Bélanger, the first stage goes beyond typical proposal requirements to include applicants’ previous design awards and publications, the firms’ design process (including parti diagrams, renderings, technical details and final photography), and proponents’ experience presenting to Design Review Committees. The scoring of these additional sections allows the City to objectively measure architectural quality. 

HCMA and Dub Architects’ Jasper Place Library features a skylight-pierced concrete shell roof. Photo by Hubert Kang


In the second phase of the procurement process, the quality-based model is further advanced by including a section related to a vision for the project—which may include a parti sketch, a site strategy, or precedent images—allowing the City to determine how a firm might start to think about the design. Between the two stages of this process, a significant amount of a firms’ score is determined by their ability to demonstrate design quality and thinking. Fees make up only 10% of the overall score, and fee score is determined by adherence to the provincial fee guidelines, disincentivizing under-bidding on projects.

A further innovation instigated by Bélanger is the inclusion of the client on the selection committee, so they understand the complexities and nuances of the procurement process, and take responsibility for the selection as the project progresses. “That way they have skin in the game and they understand the breadth of consultants we have to pick from,” says Bélanger. “You want to make sure there’s a good relationship.”

gh3*’s Real Time Control Building for the City of Edmonton won a 2020 Governor General’s Medal in Architecture. Photo by gh3*


As proposals develop into projects, Bélanger has a unique ability to support and help navigate architectural teams through complex public processes. Bélanger and his staff are involved in projects from concept design through to the completion of technical drawings, as facilitators and advocates. Their presence is key in supporting creative freedom for design teams while ensuring critical oversight.

As another means to champion architectural excellence, Bélanger initiated and managed one of the only open national design competitions that Canada has seen in the last few decades. The competition for five relatively small park pavilion buildings drew the attention of architects across Canada, resulting in 130 entries from firms ranging from emerging talent to highly experienced. The completed structures have all been recognized with local or national design awards—including one which received a Governor General’s Medal in Architecture. More importantly, they are appreciated by the public, and are a testament to a burgeoning interest in civic buildings. 

Designed by HCMA and Dub Architects, the Mill Woods Branch Library, Seniors’ Centre and Multicultural Facility stitches an intergenerational social hub into a suburban shopping plaza. Photo by Ema Peter


Bélanger sees the mentorship and support of emerging architectural firms as fundamental in ensuring that the culture of design grows and matures in the City of Edmonton. Firms can qualify for the city’s standing roster for small projects with similar criteria to the larger procurement process, in which demonstration of design judgement and commitment is as important as the firms’ portfolios.

While Bélanger is respectful of his position as a public servant and is careful in his advocacy, he has spread the word that all Canadian citizens should be re-energized and re-engage with urban design. He has been in speaker in academic settings where he informs students about the role architects can have in influencing the public sector, to conferences where he advocates for the importance of the City Architect position. At the symposium Les temps de la Qualité in Montréal, he was part of examining four project to determine criteria for architectural quality; at a roundtable convened by Jennifer Keesmaat, then Chief Planner of Toronto, he advocated for a rigorous, impartial and transparent procurement process structured to produce design excellence.

Bélanger can be credited with initiating an era for change in Edmonton, with an influence which has gone beyond the city’s boundaries. His advocacy throughout Canada has established new benchmarks for Canadian architectural excellence. Through championing architectural quality and ambition, Belanger has effectively transformed public policy and public opinion—as well as the City of Edmonton’s reputation.

Jury Comments :: Carol Bélanger is not just an advocate for architecture, but an advocate for procurement reform, design excellence and civic life. Since his appointment, Edmonton has become an exemplar of contemporary Canadian architecture. The projects he has shepherded through the city shape the public realm, and are marked by high-quality design and construction. Whether located in the urban centre, a community park, or a suburban mall, the resulting work encourages citizens to engage with architecture and city building—and demonstrably improves the lives of those who use it. 

Bélanger’s advocacy and support for the procurement and execution of great design is an inspiring example to municipalities, professionals, and the public, and sets a beautiful example for improvements in procurement processes across the country. 

The jury for this award included Brent Bellamy, Charles-Mathieu Brunelle, Michael Green, Jenn McArthur, Shallyn Murray, and Betsy Williamson.