March 11, 2016
by Graham Livesey
Castle Downs is one of five park pavilions recently constructed in Edmonton. Photo: Raymond Chow
Open design competitions can be game-changing for a young firm. But major architectural clients in Canada are reluctant to hold them, as they prefer procurement processes that control the end results more narrowly. Architects in English Canada often look with envy to Quebec, where provincial competitions have raised the quality of design and established a generation of innovative, award-winning studios. However, even the Quebec system has become burdened with pre-qualification requirements, and emerging firms struggle to compete for both public- and private-sector work against well-established practices.
Amongst these closed doors, there is at least one open threshold. In 2011, as part of its ambitious architectural overhaul, the City of Edmonton held a national design competition for five park pavilions. The competition, juried by Steve McFarlane, Janet Rosenberg and Pierre Thibault, drew 139 submissions from 95 architecture firms across the country, mainly less-established practices. The five winning schemes were by gh3 (Borden Park and Castle Downs District Park), the marc boutin architectural collaborative inc. (John Fry Sport Park), Dub Architects (Mill Woods Sport Park), and Rayleen Hill Architecture + Design (Victoria Park).
The completed pavilions are now open. Each graces a major green space in the city. This includes older parks—like the recently revitalized Borden park, an inner-city pleasure ground founded in 1906, and Victoria Park, an urban river valley green space established on land acquired in 1912 and named for the enduring queen. The other three parks are newer and further from the downtown core, with the pavilions providing support facilities for sports fields.
Clad with one-way mirrored glass, Borden Park Pavilion plays with the fragmented reflections of its verdant surroundings. Photo: Raymond Chow
The circular pavilion recalls earlier park structures, including a carousel and a bandshell. Photo: Raymond Chow
Toronto-based firm gh3, founded in 2005 by Pat Hanson, FRAIC, and Diana Gerrard, secured two of the pavilions with their striking entries. Combining expertise in landscape architecture and architecture, the practice has developed a body of work characterized by minimalism and precision. Their Borden Park scheme was particularly evocative in the competition rendering. A circular glass-clad structure supported by an elegant wooden frame, the design presented both an element in the landscape reminiscent of a bygone carousel, and an object with an elusively transparent and reflective character. Some of the qualities inherent in the original design have been lost in translation: a value-engineering process (seemingly inevitable in all projects, however procured) effected the final height, structure, glazing and organization. The end result, clad in mirrored glass, lacks the proportion, coherence and delicacy of the original scheme, while remaining a photogenic addition to Borden Park.
Distorted reflections also feature in the Castle Downs Park Pavilion, which sits between a parking lot on one side and a sports field on the other. Photo: Raymond Chow
An all-blue interior adds to the surreal atmosphere. Photo: Raymond Chow
On the other hand, gh3’s project for Castle Downs District Park is a very successful realization of the scheme depicted in the competition submission. Located in north Edmonton adjacent to a recreation centre, the pavilion serves various sports fields and acts as home base for the Edmonton Seahawks Football Club and the Edmonton and District Cricket Club. Beyond washrooms, the facility provides meeting space, a snack bar and sports equipment storage. The pavilion is carefully sited to add spatial structure to a vast suburban context. Organized in a slightly bent bar, the design originally evoked the signature green, red, yellow and blue of the Hudson’s Bay Company; in the final building, the colour scheme has been changed to a consistent deep blue. The strongest feature of the design is the use of polished stainless-steel cladding arranged on undulating panels. These are intentionally installed to create the distorted reflections found in amusement arcade funhouses. From up close, as well as from afar, the effect is significant and surprising, boosting the presence of the longish pavilion. Inside, materials are durable and the pervasive use of blue enhances the surreal experience.
Topped by a boxy volume that doubles as a billboard-like sign, John Fry Pavilion includes six team changerooms. Photo: Bruce Edward / Yellow Camera
On the long side of the pavilion, full-height panels flip up to create a canopy entrance to a public courtyard with a concession and public washrooms. Photo: Bruce Edward / Yellow Camera
Exterior walls made from translucent Kalwall panels allow for daylit changerooms that remain private and secure. Photo: Bruce Edward / Yellow Camera
The marc boutin architectural collaborative, based in Calgary, won the commission for the facility in John Fry Sport Park, named after a former alderman and mayor. Located amidst a half-dozen ball fields, the pavilion includes public washrooms and changing facilities for use by various baseball and softball leagues in south Edmonton. Led by Marc Boutin, FRAIC, the practice is relatively young, yet has won many awards regionally and nationally for their carefully considered building and public space designs. The original competition entry—which was concerned with creating a sense of place by defining edges, scale and a public space—underwent significant change during the process of realization. These transformations resulted in a more tightly arranged and coherent design. The final pavilion is well-sited, and uses a galvanized steel structure and translucent Kalwall panels very effectively to create a skin-and-bones expression. The interiors are bathed by natural light during the day, and the pavilion glows like a lantern at night. Large panels on the south side of the building flip up when the building is in use, creating a canopy over a public court that gives access to washrooms and the concession.
The minimalist Mill Woods Sport Park Pavilion is a strongly horizontal presence within a group of ball fields in south Edmonton. Photo: Jim Dobie
Careful detailing characterizes the metal-and-glass structure. Photo: Jim Dobie
A lobby-like entrance provides sufficient room for teams to organize their gear. Photo: Jim Dobie
The Mill Woods Sport Park pavilion, by Edmonton firm Dub Architects, is also embedded within a group of sports fields in south Edmonton; developed since 1982, the park is framed by two high schools and a large recreation centre. Dub Architects, the most established of the practices here, is one of Alberta’s leading design firms, with provocative new projects adding to a robust portfolio of heritage preservation and development work. Their pavilion houses a meeting space, change facilities, and storage for baseball, football and soccer equipment. The winning proposal featured a simple building with a green roof, united with an earth berm and a sculptural armature supporting a large array of photovoltaic modules. Unfortunately, in the final scheme, both the berm and the sculptural array had to be cut from
the project—perhaps due to over-optimistic preliminary costing undertaken during the jury phase. The result is nevertheless an elegantly resolved pavilion executed in glass, black masonry and steel.
Designed around existing site features, the Victoria Park Pavilion follows the curve of a skating rink. Only three trees needed to be removed for construction. Photo: Jim Dobie
Glulam primary and secondary structures give the interior the warm character of a cabin in a forest. Photo: Jim Dobie
Rayleen Hill Architecture + Design of Halifax, founded in 2010,
developed the winning scheme for the Victoria Park facility. Rayleen Hill, MRAIC, has developed a compelling body of work in a short period
of time, focusing on a range of small-scale projects. Victoria Park supports hiking, sports fields, golf, tobogganing, and a large outdoor speed-skating oval in the winter. Hill’s original design called for a two-storey building adjacent to the oval and supporting a floating observation level. The
constructed building is one storey, yet still curves and tilts to follow the shape of the oval. A well-integrated response to its context and program, the structure is supported by glulam beams and exposed wood decking, and isclad mainly in black-finished corrugated metal siding. It provides a changing area for skaters, public washrooms, and houses the Zamboni; landscaped swales and a rain garden drain water onsite during the warmer months, as the site has no storm-water sewer access.
There is no doubt that open design competitions are healthy for a nation’s design culture, and that Canada does not hold enough of them. Edmonton should be commended for hosting a national competition that allows younger firms to access public work, which can be notoriously difficult to obtain. The success of any competition is enhanced by engaging a distinguished jury, such as the one assembled here.
It is also evident that between the competition and the executed work, a lot can happen. Among the five Edmonton pavilions, two of the projects were substantially redesigned (John Fry Sport Park and Victoria Park), and two were compromised by budget cuts (Borden Park and Mill Woods Sport Park). Nevertheless, the results are a testimony to the City of Edmonton’s commitment to the competition process.
A tour of the pavilions, guided by Carol Bélanger, Edmonton’s enthusiastic and tireless City architect, provides insight into the City’s ambitions for the projects. A process that took four years to complete has resulted in a series of well-considered structures. Each pavilion enhances its context, both functionally and symbolically. Bélanger hopes that there can be a second round of pavilions, also developed from a national competition. If there is, it will undoubtedly attract an even larger number of submissions than the first, as architects from across the country—especially younger firms—vie to both secure a public commission and to be part of Edmonton’s architectural renaissance.
Graham Livesey is a Professor and the Associate Dean (Academic-Architecture) in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary.
Borden Park Pavilion | ARCHITECT gh3 | CLIENT City of Edmonton | ARCHITECT TEAM Pat Hanson, Diana Gerrard, Louise Clavin | STRUCTURAL Chernenko Engineering Ltd. | MECHANICAL Vital Engineering Corporation | ELECTRICAL A.B. Electrical Engineering Inc. | LANDSCAPE gh3 | CONTRACTOR Jen-Col Construction Ltd.| AREA 245 m2 | BUDGET $2.1 M | COMPLETION March 2014
Castle Downs Park Pavilion | ARCHITECT gh3 | CLIENT City of Edmonton | ARCHITECT TEAM Pat Hanson, Diana Gerrard, John Mckenna | STRUCTURAL Chernenko Engineering Ltd. | MECHANICAL Vital Engineering Corporation | ELECTRICAL A.B. Electrical Engineering Inc. | LANDSCAPE gh3 | CONTRACTOR Krawford Construction | AREA 547 m2 | BUDGET $4.53 M | COMPLETION March 2015
John Fry Sport Park Pavilion | ARCHITECT The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative Inc. | CLIENT City of Edmonton | ARCHITECT TEAM Marc Boutin, Mike Deboer, Jerry Hacker, Sean Knight, Matt Lamers, Alison MacLachlan, Kristin St. Arnault | STRUCTURAL RJC
Consulting Engineers | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL Williams Engineering Canada Inc. | CIVIL CIMA+ | LANDSCAPE Earthscape Consultants | INTERIORS The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative Inc. | CONTRACTOR Pentagon Structures Ltd. | AREA 590 M2 | BUDGET $3.97 M | COMPLETION June 2015
Mill Woods Sport Park Pavilion | ARCHITECT Dub Architects Ltd. | CLIENT City of Edmonton | ARCHITECT TEAM Gene Dub, Michael Dub, Chris Woodroffe, Eric Barritt, Walter DiTommaso, Jasmine Graham, Randy Wong | STRUCTURAL Fast + Epp | MECHANICAL Vital Engineering | ELECTRICAL Arrow Engineering | CONTRACTOR K-Rite Construction Ltd. | AREA 700 m2 | BUDGET $2.6 M | COMPLETION July 2014
Victoria Park Pavilion | ARCHITECTS RHAD Architects (Design Architect) with Group2 (Lead Local Consultant) | CLIENT City of Edmonton | ARCHITECT TEAM RHAD—Rayleen Hill, Beth MacLeod, Jordan Ludington, Justin Loucks. Group2—Anneliese Fris, James Townsend. | STRUCTURAL Fast + Epp | MECHANICAL Vital Engineering | ELECTRICAL A.B. Electrical Engineering | LANDSCAPE/CIVIL ISL Engineering | INTERIORS RHAD Architects | CONTRACTOR EllisDon | QUANTITY SURVEYOR Cost Tech | AREA 520 m2 | BUDGET $3.75 M (including site development) | COMPLETION November 2015