Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan

ARCHITECT Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects in association with Smith Carter Architects and Engineers
LOCATION Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

To be built in one of Canada’s fasting-growing urban communities and healthiest economies, the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is critical to the urban vitality of Saskatoon. It contributes to the realization of a 30-year plan to transform Saskatoon’s south downtown into the River Landing, an urban redevelopment project to create a cultural and community hub between the city and the South Saskatchewan River. The gallery is conceived as the civic heart of River Landing. 

Since the Mendel Art Gallery opened its doors in 1964, the city has nearly doubled in size, diversified its economy, embraced a global perspective, and become known as the “Gateway to the New North.” The new gallery builds on the Mendel’s legacy to serve the city and its environs, and the design responds to community, context, resources and program. It focuses equally on the gallery spaces and the spaces between the program to offer Saskatoon and its citizens a comfortable, engaging public realm through all seasons, and particularly during the extreme cold winter months. 

The massing strategy responds to the L-shaped site located between 1st and 2nd Avenues. It faces south to the river, and east to one of a series of roundabouts that connect the city to the riverbank. The form responds to the low, flat topography of Saskatchewan’s prairie landscape and evokes agrarian traditions of building indigenous low-rise rectilinear sheds and barns. Four cantilevered horizontal volumes engage the river edge to the south and 2nd Avenue to the east. The south elevation spans the length of the site and the ground floor is fully glazed to provide continuous daylit public spaces with access to the river. Entrances at each end integrate the gallery into the new pedestrian flows along the riverbank.

Each of the four stacked horizontal volumes is designed as flexible loft space and oriented for views to the river. The horizontal stratification maximizes south exposure for views and access to natural sunlight. Double-height areas and atria draw light deep into the floor plate, optimizing the low sun angles for passive solar heat gain. Overhangs and screens block sunlight during warmer seasons. These and other architectural and technical strategies are designed to collectively achieve 50% lower energy consumption compared to international gallery standards.

Every public space on every level is organized to face the river, and a central atrium organizes the plan, while supporting a daily range of amenities and special events. The ground floor features a generous connecting stair which initiates a continuous path–an interior, vertically connected community street–through all levels.

The exterior will be clad in a copper-coloured metal screen. The use of copper was inspired by the Bessborough Hotel (CNR, 1932), one of Saskatoon’s historic architectural landmarks located further north along the river.

The new architecture of the gallery simultaneously looks back and forward. It forges a strong relationship to the legacy of the Mendel and creates a platform to reinforce the role of art for the “advancement of Saskatoon as a creative city dedicated to life-long learning.”

DN The public spaces outside the individual galleries, the gallery lounge, conference rooms and administrative space seem to take full advantage of what I would imagine as magnificent views of the South Saskatchewan River and the incredible changing skies that dominate this part of the country. The building has a strong sculptural quality with cantilevered box elements floating away from the main building mass, which gives the gallery a sense of presence and gravitas.

PS The rational composition of gallery and theatre volumes on the banks of Saskatoon’s river valley will be a compelling addition to the city’s south downtown precinct. The project is well situated and will bring an important cultural identity to the city’s green-space development. I was intrigued by the clarity of the ecological mandate for the gallery, the effectiveness of which will certainly be tested by the large surface areas at cantilevers and the scheme’s many glass walls. 

CLIENT City of Saskatoon and The Art Gallery of Saskatchewan
ARCHITECT TEAM Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (Design Architects): Bruce Kuwabara, Shirley Blumberg, Matthew Wilson, Paulo Rocha, Matthew Krivosudsky, Terry Kim. Smith Carter Architects & Engineers Incorporated (Architects of Record): Grant van Iderstine, Brad Cove, Neil Hulme, Marcus Colonna.
MECHANICAL Crossey Engineering
ELECTRICAL Mulvey + Banani
LANDSCAPE Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg
INTERIORS Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
MUSEUM PLANNING CONSULTANTS Lundholm Associates Architects
COSTING ttcm2r
ACOUSTICS Daniel Lyzun & Associates
SECURITY, IT, AV Mulvey Banani
CODE Leber Rubes
SIGNAGE Enro-Creative Fire
LIGHTING Tillotson
AREA 11,500 m2 base building and parking
BUDGET $71 M construction cost; $84 m project cost
COMPLETION Spring 2015