Governor General’s Medal Winner: Remai Modern


The riverside gallery marks downtown Saskatoon as a major destination for art. Photo by Adrien Williams

LOCATION Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
ARCHITECT KPMB Architects (Design Architect); Architecture49 (Prime Consultant)

The Remai Modern is situated on Treaty 6 Territory, the traditional homeland of the Métis, on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Its mandate is “to enable transformative experiences by connecting art with local and global communities.” The architecture sought to build on the legacy of the Mendel Art Gallery—the city’s original and beloved centre for art and community engagement. Simultaneously, the building aimed to participate in the realization of a 30-year vision to develop Saskatoon’s south downtown into a vibrant riverfront destination, and to establish the city as a national and international destination for art.

Different scales of consideration influenced the architecture. The dramatic Prairie landscape and its crisp light—which have inspired Saskatoon’s artists, and contributed to art critic Clement Greenberg’s influential definition of modernism—led to a minimalist, abstract expression. The site’s L-shaped footprint and the adjacency of the existing Persephone Theatre drove the massing and orientation. The flat topography of the surroundings and the utilitarian beauty of regional agrarian structures inspired a stable geometry of stacked, rectangular volumes. Inside, the diverse needs of contemporary art prioritized the creation of a generous, continuous public realm and highly flexible gallery spaces.

Entrances at each end of the building integrate the gallery into the new pedestrian flows along the riverbank. Photo by Nic Lehoux

The public areas and gallery spaces support the Remai’s status as a leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse, and enable the centre to connect with locals as well as with the larger art world. The four stacked, cantilevered volumes are oriented to engage the city to the east and west, and the South Saskatchewan River to the south. The south elevation spans the entire length of the site, giving the Remai a striking presence on the river. Inside, each level offers dramatic views of the river and access to outdoor terraces.

The exterior is clad with copper-coloured mesh, inspired by the copper roof of the nearby Bessborough Hotel, built in 1932. The mesh provides shading, contributing to an environmental strategy to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent compared to similarly sized galleries.

Haegue Yang’s installation Four Times Sol LeWitt Upside Down—Version Point to Point, 2016-2017 is made from aluminum blinds, and responds to the scale and proportions of the atrium. Photo by Tom Arban

The architecture simultaneously looks backwards and forwards. It forges a strong relationship with the legacy of the Mendel, and supports the standing of Saskatoon as a creative city dedicated to lifelong learning. Ultimately, it has become the heart of the community—a place where locals and visitors gather to share their worldviews through the lens of art.

:: Jury Comments ::  This imposing museum makes a monumental statement about the continuing importance of art in Saskatoon. The gigantic cantilevered boxes showcase acrobatic engineering and minimal, crisp construction details. The boxes reach out to the sides of the site to capture views across the landscape to the South Saskatchewan River. Overall, it makes a coherent exterior expression out of a complicated program, organized internally around a canyon-like atrium.

Read Canadian Architect’s review of this project here.

A second-floor terrace looks east to the river. Photo by Adrien Williams

PROJECT TEAM Bruce Kuwabara, Shirley Blumberg, Matthew Wilson, Paulo Rocha, Matthew Krivosudsky, Terry Kim, Marcus Colonna, David Poloway, Klaudia Lengyel, Jessica Juvet. Architecture49—Grant Van Iderstine, Ron Martin, Brad Cove, Jim Yamashita, Rick Linley, Jaret Klymchuk, Corrine Golden, Phil Harms, Michael Conway, Geoffrey Bulmer, Calee Gushuliak, Ian Douglas, Daryl Hnylycia, Donna Todd, Neil Hulme | CLIENT City of Saskatoon and the Remai Modern | STRUCTURAL Entuitive | MECHANICAL Crossey Engineering | electrICAL/SECURITY/IT/AV Mulvey + Banani | climate Transsolar | LANDSCAPE Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg | COST Turner & Townsend cm2r | ACOUSTICS Daniel Lyzun & Associates | VIBRATION Aercoustics Engineering Ltd. | CIVIL/TRANSPORTATION mmm Group | code Leber | Rubes | LIGHTING Tillotson Design Associates | FOOD SERVICES Kaizen Foodservice Planning & Design | OCCUPANCY October 21, 2017 | BUDGET $80.2 M