Governor General’s Medal Winner: South Haven Centre for Remembrance


The charred wood cladding contrasts with Edmonton’s winter snow.

LOCATION Edmonton, Alberta
ARCHITECT SHAPE Architecture with PECHET Studio and Group 2 Architects
PHOTOS Ema Peter Photography

One’s memory of visiting a cemetery is marked by time: the position of the sun, the quality of light, the weather on a particular day. Some may visit a cemetery a single time for a ceremony; for others, cemeteries are experienced through ritual trips that span a lifetime. The South Haven Centre for Remembrance memorializes these moments in time, spatially capturing the quality of the seasons through the interplay of light, shadow and darkness.

The unique nature of a non-denominational cemetery services building was coupled with the rare opportunity to position a building within a vast twenty-one hectare site. The architects chose to create a partially submerged landform building, which they conceived as a wandering line in the landscape, providing visual connections to and from the Centre. A thirteen-metre-high tower emerges from this form, making symbolic reference to the surrounding grave sites, monuments and columbaria.

A thirteen-metre-high tower marks the presence of the Centre, alluding to nearby grave monuments.

The main entry is through a vestibule that provides a compressed moment of darkness, with oversized steel pivoting doors opening to a luminous interior space. A framed view of the downtown skyline is seen across the winter-garden courtyard. Throughout, the design includes areas for silence, reflection and pause.

The organizational strategy spatially distinguishes between the ephemeral and the permanent. Areas that accommodate short visits are associated with the ephemeral, responding to the natural characteristics of light, sound, weather and seasonal change. The permanent corresponds to burial and the physical records associated with sustaining memory—these areas form the foundation of the building, as they service the memory of the individuals laid to rest in the cemetery.

The building is conceived as a partially submerged landform that has a low-slung presence in the cemetery.

The building’s overall character considers seasonally modulating light patterns inside, as well as the long, crisp winter shadows that are cast from the building’s edges outside. On the exterior, a combination of black hot-rolled steel panels and charred shou sugi-ban accoya cladding contrasts with winter snow and gives the building a striking presence throughout the year.

Atop the tower, a large triangular clerestory allows diffuse north light to enter the meeting rooms. The form and development of the tower evolved through multiple iterations to optimize the quality of light. Particular attention was given to how light and shadow casts within the tower on the summer solstice. The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), and the reverence of light and shadow within the tower are celebrated on this annual datum.

The interior is simply finished in light-coloured wood.

:: Jury Comments ::  This building, situated just outside downtown Edmonton, features a simple program housed in intriguing enigmatic forms, dramatized in the contrast of shapes between graveyard tombstones and the burned-timber shapes. On the inside, well-proportioned windows frame views, while on the outside, the building is meant is to be experienced in the round, with multiple readings and surprises. The interplay of light and shadow creates a mood that is at once weighty, mysterious, sombre and serious—appropriate to the notion of remembrance, but without mawkishness.

PROJECT TEAM Dwayne Smyth, Nick Sully, Jessica Mcgillivray, Scott Keck, Kate Busby, Avery Titchkosky, Benjamin Fisher, Bill Pechet, Anneliese Fris, James Townsend, Eric Hui | CLIENT City of Edmonton | STRUCTURAL Fast + Epp | MECHANICAL Clark Engineering | ELECTRICAL Arrow Engineering | LANDSCAPE Design North | CIVIL V3 | SUSTAINABILTY Sébastien Garon | CONTRACTOR Krite Construction | OCCUPANCY January 1, 2019 |