Skip to main content

Beautiful design can show up in a hospital, in a park, and even under an expressway. That’s the message of the 2018 Governor-General’s Medals in Architecture, which recognize the country’s best projects.

Many of these buildings continue the mainstream of Canadian high architecture, devoted to natural materials, quiet forms and craftsmanship; Omar Gandhi, a first-time winner, moves that tradition along. But there are divergent voices in the muscular steel of Winnipeg’s 5468796 and the minimalism of Toronto’s GH3.

The latter’s work, a pavilion in Edmonton’s Borden Park, comes through an ambitious city program of demanding design excellence for all public buildings − a powerful model for the rest of the country. Quebec, as usual, dominates the list; four medallists came through design competitions in that province. In their ambition and careful execution, these structures set a high bar for governments and developers across Canada.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Audain Art Museum in Whistler, B.C.Patkau Architects Inc

Audain Art Museum

Whistler, B.C.

Patkau Architects

Vancouver’s Patkaus are widely seen as masters in their field, and this small art museum in Whistler, which I praised in 2016, is among their more subtle works. The museum seems to float above its site, a black wooden ship anchored in the woods; while the galleries are quiet, the corridors, windows and dramatic entry stair push visitors to engage with nature as well as art.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Borden Park Pavilion in Edmonton.GH3

Borden Park Pavilion



Park pavilions are modest buildings, but this – with thanks to the patronage of Edmonton’s city architect – is a remarkably restrained and finely detailed piece of architecture by Toronto’s gh3. This drum-shaped pavilion places zig-zagging wooden columns behind a skin of reflective glass. At night, the place is a lantern in the park; during the day, a place of respite that leaves you linked to the landscape.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Casey House in Toronto.Hariri Pontarini Architects

Casey House


Hariri Pontarini Architects

Hospitals are a notoriously difficult type of building to design, and this small facility – as I wrote last fall – delivers an uncommonly humane and beautiful interior for HIV/AIDS patients, rich with natural light, woodwork and limestone. The restoration and reuse of a grand house, by ERA Architects, adds variety and richness to the place.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Complexe Sportif Saint-Laurent in Montreal.Olivier Blouin

Complexe Sportif Saint-Laurent


Saucier + Perrotte Architectes and HCMA

A composition of two huge, angular masses − one black and one white − this building demonstrates how the big boxes of recreational centres can be turned into high architecture. On an undistinguished site – an arterial road in Saint-Laurent Borough, near the Montreal airport – the building stands as a grand sculptural work. Inside it opens up into two large volumes, a pool and a soccer stadium, each filled with spatial drama and spiced up with accents of hot orange. According to the GG jury, the architecture “takes the human activities inside and transforms them into an abstraction of strength and energy.”

Open this photo in gallery:

The Fort McMurray International Airport in Fort McMurray, Alta.Ema Peter

Fort McMurray International Airport

Fort McMurray, Alta.

Office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers (omb)

Airports are short on warmth, but this terminal building works to deliver that very quality. The main roof rests on long cross-laminated timber beams, and the passenger areas, the GG jury says, “are carefully organized to create a sense of calm and comfort.”

Open this photo in gallery:

The Fort York Visitor Centre in Toronto.Tom Arban Photography

Fort York Visitor Centre


Patkau Architects and Kearns Mancini Architects

Led by the Patkaus, this public building is rich in metaphors: It defines the historic shoreline of Lake Ontario as well as the ramparts on which York was defended in 1813. Robust weathering steel gives it strength to face off against the adjacent Gardiner Expressway – and the building has found an unexpected partner, the under-the-expressway public space called the Bentway.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Maison de la littérature in Quebec City.Chevalier Morales architectes

Maison de la littérature

Quebec City

Chevalier Morales Architectes

An 1848 Gothic church in Old Quebec City – which was once the city’s first public library and then a concert hall – gets a new life. Chevalier Morales’s addition and insertions into the church create “a complex spatial experience that engages with the past while imbuing the building with a new present-day relevance.”

Open this photo in gallery:

The Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace in Montreal.

Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace


Atelier TAG and Jodoin Lamarre Pratte Architectes

This addition to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts turns a staircase into art. A stack of new galleries and education space is wrapped by the grand space of the stair, which offers a place to chat, to rest or to appreciate a complex series of views into the museum and into the city. The architects – the small Atelier TAG and the big JLP – have won medals before for public projects in Quebec; their continued success speaks to the value of Quebec’s design-competition system.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Parallelogram House in East St. Paul, Man.5468796 Architecture

Parallelogram House

East St. Paul, Man.

5468796 Architecture

The Winnipeg architects 5468796 are known for a radical optimism and equally radical form-making. Here, they shake up the suburbs with a house whose diagonal façades, defined by steel fins, offer sidelong views and a new perspective.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Rabbit Snare Gorge in Inverness, N.S.Doublespace Photography

Rabbit Snare Gorge

Inverness, N.S.

Omar Gandhi Architect and Design Base 8 (NYC)

This bold house in Cape Breton takes a familiar house form and stretches it upward into a three-storey tower from which its owners can comfortably survey the landscape. A steel “entry hoop” wraps around the front door as shelter from tough winds – a move borrowed from cabins elsewhere in the region. Both familiar and novel in form, this house earns the first GG medal for the emerging architect Gandhi.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Two Hulls House in Port Mouton, N.S.James Brittain

Two Hulls House

Port Mouton, N.S.

MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

Brian MacKay-Lyons and his Nova Scotia firm are known for a modernism that responds to its Maritime context, and this tightly detailed house fits that bill exactly. “In abstracting the forms of the ships that once helped build up the region,” the jury writes, “the architect has infused the house with an intriguing ghost-like quality and a strong sense of place.”

Open this photo in gallery:

The Stade de Soccer de Montréal in Montreal.Olivier Blouin

Stade de Soccer de Montréal


Saucier+Perrotte Architectes and HCMA

The second medal-winner from this architect team, this is an uncommonly bold and coherent piece of civic architecture, as I wrote in 2016. Architect Gilles Saucier borrows geological forms from an old quarry next door; inside, a ceiling made of mass timber provides both strength and beauty to inspire young soccer players.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe