Public Colonnade: Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Phase 3 Expansion, Fredericton, New Brunswick
A loggia-like addition to Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery augments the city’s public realm.
PROJECT Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Phase 3 Expansion (Harrison McCain Pavilion), Fredericton, New Brunswick
ARCHITECT KPMB Architects
TEXT Peter Sealy
PHOTOS Doublespace Photography
The recently opened Harrison McCain Pavilion at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, offers a powerful thesis on what makes good public space. The answer contained within the elegant volume of this 836-square-metre pavilion is not centred on ownership or function, although these factors are certainly relevant. Instead, it is a matter of generosity—of architecture’s ability to enclose a broadly accessible public realm. Designed by KPMB Architects, the McCain Pavilion gives equally to the gallery’s visitors and to the citizens of Fredericton while asking little in return. In so doing, its elegant loggia and light-filled enclosure celebrate the renaissance of an institution now moving beyond a tempestuous period of legal drama over its world-class collection in the early 2000s.
Inserted between the original Beaverbrook building (a mid-century modernist design by Neil Stewart which dates from 1959) and Queen Street, Fredericton’s main thoroughfare, the pavilion raises the public realm both physically and symbolically. In plan, it uses a well-integrated series of ramps and steps to mediate between the low-lying street, which floods every spring, and the Beaverbrook’s existing galleries. What was once an awkward exterior entrance has been elevated into an enticing procession through delightful spaces. The presence of a fireplace contributes to this sense of civic ritual while also adding a touch of domestic warmth.
The design of the exterior colonnade is an exercise in parallax, causing an oscillating effect of solids and voids as the viewer’s position shifts—be it inside or outside. As a result, the pavilion hovers between classical monumentality and lustrous transparency. Distinct from many neoclassical buildings, the colonnade does not limit visitors to an axial approach. Instead, an exterior ramp placed laterally behind the colonnade draws visitors tangentially—and almost unconsciously—into the pavilion. Meanwhile, the façade’s gentle curve echoes the bends in the Saint John River and Queen Street at the Beaverbrook’s riverfront site. In so doing, it offers a subtle moment of deference to the Second Empire-style provincial Legislative Building across the street. The columns themselves were the result of a propitious collaboration with a precast concrete fabricator in Saint John, New Brunswick. Each one has the same cross-section but is rotated differently, while the intercolumniations are varied.
A newly commissioned mural by the Mi’kmaq artist Jordan Bennett fills both walls which frame the wide ramp linking the McCain Pavilion and the original gallery. The bold colours and symbolic forms of It pulls you in: it pushes you out provide a visual focus to this moment of transition. The presence of Bennett’s mural is an assertion of Indigenous presence within the institutional confines of the gallery and of this latter’s desire to welcome new publics within its walls. Together with the McCain Pavilion’s mute palette, the ensemble of art and architecture ennoble the public realm.
The notion of indoor public (as opposed to private) space saw a welcome revival around the turn of this century, with museums leading the way. While the commodification of the museum experience is unmistakable—one may think of the title of Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop—at their best, spaces such as the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall or the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Galleria Italia offer grand public rooms, perfect settings for solitary reflection or chance encounters.
While conceived on a far smaller scale, the McCain Pavilion successfully shares a similar ambition. As KPMB partner Shirley Blumberg and senior associate Matthew Wilson state, “This is a pavilion for looking at Fredericton, a social and community hub in which public life emerges.” The McCain pavilion is frequently used for events, with its ramps and steps creating an impromptu forum for public gatherings. Yet it is the pavilion’s uncontested ability to celebrate quotidian experience—such as drinking a coffee on a winter morning while gazing at the legislature—that is its greatest attribute.
Balancing between restraint and dynamism, KPMB’s superbly detailed design provides New Brunswick’s capital with an outstanding and generous work of public architecture, whose qualities one hopes will be emulated elsewhere.
Architectural historian Peter Sealy is an Assistant Professor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.
CLIENT Beaverbrook Art Gallery | ARCHITECT TEAM Shirley Blumberg, Matthew Wilson, Francesco Valente-Gorjup, Jinsu Park, Jonathan Santaguida, Lukas Bergmark, Ramin Yamin, Gerald DesRochers| STRUCTURAL Eastern Designers and Company Ltd.| MECHANICAL Crandall | ELECTRICAL RSEI Consultants Ltd. | LIGHTING DotDash | SIGNAGE Entro | BUILDING SCIENCE JMV Consulting | ACOUSTICS Aercoustics | AREA 836 M2 | BUDGET $11 M | COMPLETION September 2022