Public Purpose: Jury Notes on the Winners of the 2020 Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence
Despite the disruptions of the pandemic, this year’s Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence had a strong showing. The annual competition for design- and construction-phase projects received 132 entries, and the third edition of our architectural photography awards received 32 entries.
Our jurors—architects Susan Fitzgerald, Michael Moxam and Stephan Chevalier, along with photographers Amanda Large and Younes Bounhar—also remained fully committed to the awards process. Before the pandemic began, Moxam offered to host the jury meeting in Stantec’s Toronto offices, and generously extended the offer even after the pandemic hit. Stantec’s staff were unstinting in their efforts to accommodate the jury with the appropriate precautionary measures. Part of the jury decided to meet in-person, well-distanced in Stantec’s largest meeting room. Other jurors opted to join the deliberations by video conference—a routine that is fast becoming part of business-as-usual.
As for the entries themselves? They show that Canadian architects are still amply producing innovative designs that are sensitive to their physical, social and environmental contexts.
The jury selected six projects to recognize with awards of excellence, and five to receive awards of merit. All of the selected projects have a strong connection to the public realm. This is the case even for the few private residential developments that were part of the selection. 90 Alexander, a mid-rise condo in Winnipeg designed by 5468796, snakes around an adaptively reused brick warehouse, creating a porous ground plane with room for laneways, courtyards and restaurants. Wardell, a small residential addition in Toronto by Ja Architecture, crafts an intricate brick sculpture that’s a jewel for its inhabitants, as well as for the street.
On the other end of the ownership spectrum, several municipal projects are remarkable in elevating public infrastructure to new levels. Place des Montréalaises, a new plaza connecting downtown Montreal with the Old City, leverages the change in grade between its two sides to dramatic effect, while honouring 21 women who were pivotal to the city’s development. It also shows how the City of Montreal’s commitment to public competitions has led to design excellence—in this case, the winning project by Lemay, Angela Silver and SNC Lavalin was selected following an open, international design competition.
A second project in Montreal, the Théatre de Verdure, took what might have been a relatively straightforward commission and gave it a fresh design lens. Instead of simply reconstructing the existing outdoor performance space, Lemay’s updated amphitheatre introduces a structure that opens at the back, integrating into the park’s landscape.
Water management infrastructure seems like a typology unlikely to merit design awards, but for the second year in a row, a water reservoir has been selected for an award. This year’s jury was captivated by a reservoir for the Tsuut’ina First Nation’s Taza Park development near Calgary, designed by Zeidler. A curvilinear enclosure serves as a security fence, but also supports solar panels and alludes to the structures of Indigenous teepees and natural beaver dams.
In this time of social distancing, many are longing for a return to fully opened museums, theatres, and community centres. The pleasures of such places is fully realized in the designs for the expansion of Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, and for the Calgary Japanese Community Centre. The Montreal theatre addition, designed by Saucier+Perrotte, reinvigorates the public-facing functions of the institution with an expanded main hall, new secondary performance space, and new balcony-level foyer—all while only slightly enlarging the existing footprint. In Calgary, Modern Office of Design + Architecture and Henry Tsang’s Japanese Community Centre is a poetic structure sheltered by a Möbius-like roof. Its embracing volume reflects an inclusive program, which adds a daycare and affordable seniors’ housing to the regular community centre functions.
Four awarded projects focus on research and education. Two projects by KPMB—Boston University’s Center for Computing & Data Sciences, and the CAMH Research Centre (designed with TreanorHL)—explore how larger buildings can integrate with their urban surroundings and embrace a sustainability mandate. The Boston University project will be the university’s first all-electric building; it limits its energy consumption in part through solar louvers that are a primary component of the tower’s architectural expression. The CAMH Research Centre uses a hybrid mass timber structure to limit its carbon footprint, and aims to be Canada’s largest public building that employs such a system.
Designed by Montgomery Sisam, a building for the University of Toronto’s Koffler Scientific Reserve provides accommodations for students and researchers residing at the facility, north of the city. In keeping with the environmental focus of the venue, the building takes a scientific approach to sustainability, prioritizing passive cooling and ventilation techniques, and targeting net-zero-energy and net-zero-carbon sustainability goals.
A final award goes to a school in Shefford, Quebec, by Pelletier de Fontenay with Leclerc. Designed under the umbrella of the province’s Lab-École initiative, the school clusters classrooms into pavilions surrounding a central courtyard, creating a variety of opportunities for students to collaborate together and interact with the natural world.
Each year, we ask each of Canada’s dozen architecture schools to nominate their three best graduating student projects for consideration. This year, our jurors selected a trio of projects to recognize. Sarah Klym, of the University of British Columbia, uses detailed architectural renderings to imagine a future where machines shape agricultural landscapes using a fine-grained approach attuned to local soil conditions and microclimates.
University of Waterloo graduate Jason McMillan studied the use patterns of housing in Arviat, Nunavut to propose design strategies that would better respond to the region’s warming climate and ongoing housing shortage.
John Jinwoo Han looked to his local neighbourhood of Milton Park, near McGill University, proposing a dance school addition that almost undetectably fits in to the existing urban fabric.
For our architectural photography awards, the jury singled out Salina Kassam’s intricate and intriguing image of the Massey Hall restoration site to be recognized with an Award of Excellence.
Three additional photo awards of merit completed their selection: an image of a construction site in Winnipeg by Lisa Stinner-Kun, a residence shot in winter by James Brittain, and a moody photo of the Pavilion Pierre-Lassonde in Quebec City’s Musée nationale des beaux-arts, by Félix Michaud. Each of these photos elicits a particular atmosphere. Like the best architectural designs recognized in this year’s awards, the photos go beyond simple documentation to create a sense of place and of story.
While not recognized by the awards, the jurors were intrigued by a number of other submissions.
Two submissions caught the jury’s attention for their handling of mass timber. 2150 Keith Drive in Vancouver, by DIALOG, freed up its interior floorplates by deploying a mass timber seismic bracing system at the periphery of the building, marked on its exterior with a honeycomb exoskeleton. A set of new buildings for the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories campus, by HDR, tackled one of the biggest challenges of mass timber—the integration of building systems. In the HDR design, channels integrated with the column and beam design allow the concealment of cables, while a split-column design provides for prefabricated components that can be precisely connected to beams.
Strategic thinking drove the success of another notable project—the BESIDE set of modular cabins, designed by Montreal-based Appareil Architecture. The jury was impressed by the evolution of a set of cabin typologies, as well as by the dedication of the client, who intends to preserve 900 acres of private parkland surrounding a hub of 75 cabins.
The materiality and detailing of other entries was also of interest to the jurors. They were drawn to P4, a parkade design by Jodoin Lamarre Pratte and Lemay, whose metal scrim transforms in appearance from the perspective of cars, buses, and pedestrians moving around the structure. The Henley Rowing Centre in St. Catharines, Ontario, for its part, was notable for how it deftly combined light steel columns, glass walls, and a mass timber roof. Designed by MJMA, the pavilion-like training facility appears to almost float above its waterfront site.
Materiality was also at the forefront of a student project that won the jury’s appreciation. Titled Existenzminium, the project by University of Toronto graduate Graham Oglend explores the notion of creating a house entirely from aluminum. The result of the somewhat absurdist exercise is a dwelling with dynamic floor and walls in constant motion—along with a rich, complex understanding of the properties of aluminum.
Our congratulations go out to all of the winners, as well as to all of those who entered Canadian Architect’s Awards of Excellence this year.
The award-winning projects are presented in full in the December 2020 issue of Canadian Architect, available in print and online. Be the first to find out about Canadian architecture news, including our 2021 awards cycle, by subscribing to our free digital magazine and e-newsletter here.