Top architects on shortlist for proposed $48-million Edmonton Art Gallery

The proposed new $48-million Edmonton Art Gallery has attracted design bids by some of the best-known names in architecture that have been narrowed down to four heavyweight finalists, promising one of the most exciting new buildings to be built here. The shortlist includes Canada’s Arthur Erickson, Britain’s Will Alsop, Randall Stout of Los Angeles and Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid of London, England.

Only three submissions were to be chosen to make a final bid, but the interest was so extraordinary, the selection committee will announce four finalist teams. All four will make a brief presentation of their vision at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Festival of Architecture in Edmonton from May 5th to 7th. Final designs and models are due September 14th.

Alsop and Partners, whose innovative Ben Pimlott Building opened in January at Goldsmith’s College, London, UK, will be working with Toronto-based Quadrangle Architects Ltd. Alsop designed the recently completed Ontario College of Art and Design with Toronto’s Robbie/Young + Wright.

Arthur Erickson has expressed an interest to again work with Nick Milkovich of Vancouver. The two collaborated on the striking Museum of Glass, International Center of Contemporary Art, a $63-million art gallery and glass-blowing centre at Tacoma, Washington, which opened three years ago. Erickson also asked to work with Edmonton architect Gene Dub, famed for his 1992 design of Edmonton City Hall.

Hadid is considered by many as the most famous woman architect in the world, and the first to win the Pritzker Prize, one of the most prestigious architecture awards in the world. She has achieved international recognition for her highly expressive architecture, and her buildings are found in the US, Europe, China and Japan, and include the Centre for Contermporary Arts in Rome, Italy, and the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Randall Stout Architects Inc. of Los Angeles was commissioned to design the Chattanooga Hunter Museum of American Art, on a 25-metre limestone bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga.

A number of noteworthy architects unfortunately did not make the cut. Los Angeles-based Barton Myers Associates Inc, formerly based in Toronto, was not selected as a finalist. Myers is responsible for the renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Also sidelined is local Edmonton architect Richard Wilkin, whose design of the Citadel Theatre in 1976 helped Myers win the 1986 Governor General’s Medal for Architecture. Other firms out of the running include Canada’s own controversial Douglas Cardinal, New York’s Robert Stern Architects, Edmonton’s Stantec and Kasian Architecture, Germany’s Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, and Los Angeles’ Michael Maltzan.

The current downtown building was designed by local architect Don Bittorf in 1968. The site is zoned for 12 storeys, so any new proposals could utilize that kind of height, but that is considered unlikely. The architects have been asked to incorporate the existing facility into their plans if possible, but this requirement is not mandatory. A new building will meet the toughest standards for touring exhibitions, including minimal humidity and temperature fluctuations through the worst of an Edmonton winter and whether there are 50 or 500 people in the building. It will also increase the size of the building from 50,000 to 80,000 square feet. Exhibition space will grow from 16,000 to 35,000 square feet, and there will be more space for educational programs which are currently sold out.

The project was kickstarted by philanthropists John and Barbara Poole, who have given $5 million to help build a new art gallery. It is hoped construction will begin at the end of 2006.

Jac MacDonald of the Edmonton Journal.