Agnes Reimagined releases two new architectural renderings

After an international call for design architects in early 2022, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre announced Toronto-based firm KPMB Architects, led by architect Bruce Kuwabara and Indigenous Affairs consultant Georgina Riel as the collaborators on Agnes Reimagined. The team has now released its first renderings of the new building.

Agnes Reimagined, which “inhabits” the former home of Agnes Etherington (1880-1954), built in 1879, has seen over a century worth of history that has been wrought with adversity. In 1954, Etherington bequeathed her home to Queen’s University to create a new art centre, one that would “further the cause of art and community.”

The original home is in the design stages of a renovation and the art centre is being rebuilt. Two architectural renderings have emerged from the first year of talking and sharing circles (continuing throughout 2023) and close architect-client collaboration to give speculative form to the vision.

“Together with KPMB’s diverse and integrated design team, throughout 2022, we undertook a community-engaged design process to further an approach to design that mirrors the ethos of our project. This inclusive design strategy is slow and intentional, ensuring that Agnes’s future architecture is a proposition for new ideas, not a container for old systems,” says Queen’s University.

An exterior view from University Avenue depicts a new curvilinear addition in dialogue with the historic Etherington House, the latter to be transformed into a live-in artist residency and community-facing cultural hub.

Exterior Composition for Agnes Reimagined, showing the new curvilinear addition (left) in conversation with the heritage Etherington House (right). Rendering by Studio Sang courtesy of KPMB Architects.

The University further states that the new three-floor configuration supports: “A 200% increase in exhibition and alternative programming spaces for curatorial experimentation and public engagement across the centre’s collections and contemporary art commissions; the first-ever Indigenous self-determination spaces for the appropriate care, ceremony and access by Indigenous communities of their ancestors and cultural belongings currently residing at Agnes; and new art study spaces, technical art history and art conservation labs—all of which reimagine the entangled civic, social and pedagogical role of a 21st century university museum.”

“Like art, great architecture is a transformation of tradition and can change the way we see, experience, and relate to each other and the world. True transformation invites new ways of thinking, creative processes, new forms and expression,” says Bruce Kuwabara, Founding Partner, KPMB Architects. “Agnes Reimagined offers a rare opportunity for a paradigm shift in museums in Canada, and the world, through clear-sighted collaboration, a commitment to innovation, all through the journey of decolonization and the recovery of Indigenized worldviews.”

“Agnes’s Living Room.” Ground floor concept for Agnes Reimagined. Rendering by Studio Sang courtesy of KPMB Architects

The transformation will additionally include state-of-the-art western art conservation labs set alongside Indigenous self-determination spaces. As well as a new generation of art conservators from Queen’s Art Conservation program, which will be trained in both western and Indigenous care practices and cultural protocols. A live-in residence inside the museum will ensure that artists’ practices are at the centre of the facility’s work, and provide opportunities for extended stay by Indigenous community members visiting at Agnes

Agnes’s mission and vision make it clear that this is not a typical cultural project. “The museum of the 21st century can no longer simply be a container of history, as if history has no bearing on our changing contemporary world,” says Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator. “Agnes Reimagined will be a dynamic culture-making hub and an active civic and social force—mobilizing the transformative power of art to create more equitable, inclusive and sustainable worlds. Agnes will thrive equally on her deep community roots and global reach, and importantly, innovate within their intersection.”

A fully accessible renovation of the historic Etherington House into a community-facing, participatory project space, trans-disciplinary cultural hub, and live-in artist’s residency honours Agnes Etherington’s original bequest of her house to Queen’s to create an art centre to “further the cause of art and community.”