Alberta is known for many things: flat prairies, oil, frigid winters. But the province is by no means touted as an architectural hub—that hasn’t stopped some architectural firms from getting creative, though. What the province might lack in quantity, it makes up with quality, with a handful of buildings receiving national and global acclaim. Some of these structures have been around for decades, while others have only been standing for a couple of years. The following is a collection of some of the top architectural structures around Alberta—all of which can be tackled during a summer road trip.
We can’t have an architectural tour without mentioning the capital city. Your road trip will kick-off in Edmonton and proceed onwards.
Drive down to West Edmonton Mall (stay with us here) and visit the La Maisons Simons department store (located in Europa Boulevard). The store—a $40-million renovation designed by award-winning firm Figure3 and realized by Montréal’s Lemay Michaud Architecture Design—involved the construction of a new glass-box extension in order to house a massive crystalline installation piece “Aurora” by Toronto-based architect Philip Beesley. The sculpture, which takes inspiration from the aurora borealis, is composed of laser-cut acrylic, mylar glassware and custom computer-controlled circuitry that responds to human movement, creating a gentle rippling-ocean effect for viewers gathering below.
A short 12-minute drive northeast will take you to the Peter Hemingway Fitness and Leisure Centre (formerly known as Coronation Pool)—located on 13808 – 111 Avenue, beside Ross Sheppard High School—which to this day remains an internationally known facility in the architectural world. Built between 1968 and 1970, architect Peter Hemingway was tasked to design a new Olympic-sized pool for Edmonton as a centennial project. Taking inspiration from the National Gymnasium and Pool in Tokyo, Japan, Hemingway created a structure that mimicked the crest of a wave and rolling landscape of Alberta’s mountains and prairies through wood, concrete, steel, cables and glass.
Driving east towards Borden Park will take you to the Vaulted Willow, comissioned by the Edmonton Arts Council and created by Brooklyn-based architect Marc Fornes and his experimental design studio TheVeryMany—whose work can be found throughout the United States and France. While the structure is more architectural folly than the aforementioned buildings, it makes the list for being a lightweight, self-supported installation composed of 721 aluminum shingles. The 20-foot-tall pavilion is said to illustrate the “reciprocal relationship encompassing experiments in non-linear architectural typology (multiple entries, distributed feet with branching and spiralling legs), structural differentiation (bifurcation of structural download forces, tighter radii of leg profiles for rigidity) and programmatic possibilities for a winding playground (hide and seek),” according to Fornes on the project’s website. The bright colours of greens, blues, purples and pinks are an extention of the park’s environment, creating a two-way Cheshire scheme.
The fertile basin of Pipestone Creek, near Wembley, AB, has been dubbed a “palentologist’s dream” as the area is the fifth-largest dinosaur bone bed in the world. But it is also getting acclaim from architects for the Philip J Currie Dinosaur Museum—located 19 km west of Grande Prairie—which was fashioned by Toronto’s Teeple Architects. Completed in 2014, the building uses an A-frame design to mirror the paleontogical process of reconstructing dinosaurs and the act of excavation within its unusual geometric shape. The
40 020-square-foot museum incorporates the bone bed and building through topographical changes that allow visitors access and views from both the inside and outside of the facility. Using locally sourced beetle-kill timber for the structural support provides an overall skeleton-like appearance at this paleontology museum.
No list is complete without a mention of a skyscraper, and luckily you don’t have to go far to see The Bow, the tallest building in Canada outside of Toronto. Located in downtown Calgary, The Bow stands a staggering 58 storeys tall. The building—designed by Foster + Partners with Zeidler Architects Partnership and Sturgess Architecture—is a sustainable feat as its convex facade is faced towards the wind, which minimizes the amount of steel required for the diagrid system. The building’s inward curvatures creates a series of atria that act as a climatic buffer zone by insultating the building and reducing energy consumption by as much as 30 percent.