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.
Audain Art Museum
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Maison de la littérature
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.”
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.
East St. Paul, Man.
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.
Rabbit Snare Gorge
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.
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.”
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.