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Architecture in Canada is going public. The winners of the profession’s top honour, the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture, were announced on Friday, and almost all of the winners are public facilities, ranging from two public libraries to a university athletic centre and a singular building for a faith community.

The latter building, and the standout in the list, is the Bahá'í Temple of South America in Santiago, Chile, designed by Toronto’s Siamak Hariri and Hariri Pontarini Architects. "Obviously, this is no ordinary assignment," Hariri told me in 2016. "It had to be as perfect as is humanly possible.” His response was a nine-sided dome made of translucent, hand-cast glass. It’s a structure whose sense of calm belies its great technical complexity.

Two public libraries also made the list, including the recently completed Springdale branch of the Brampton Public Library by Toronto’s RDHA and a new library in Drummondville, Que., led by Chevalier Morales of Montreal. These represent a wave of library buildings with high design ambition that serve as versatile public gathering places.

The City of Edmonton won two awards with projects by Toronto’s GH3 architects, for the Borden Park natural swimming pool and a water-treatment building – the latter a rare recognition for a piece of infrastructure.

Two art galleries also made the list. Saskatoon’s Remai Modern, which has been troubled as an institution, won a medal for its widely praised building, whose design was led by Toronto’s KPMB. North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery by Patkau Architects, with its shimmering stainless-steel façade, is the other.

The Montreal firm Atelier TAG, which has thrived in Quebec’s system of design competitions for public buildings, won for the Gilles-Vigneault Performance Hall in St. Jérôme, Que.

Vancouver’s Michael Green Architecture won a medal for the Dock Building, a small, crisply designed service building at Jericho Beach in Vancouver.

And a subtle cemetery building near Edmonton, the South Haven Centre for Remembrance, earned Vancouver’s SHAPE Architecture their first medal.

The award program is presented by the Canada Council for the Arts along with the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. “The projects explore unique aspects of culture, context, and materiality across the vast expanse of our country,” RAIC president John Brown, FRAIC said in a news release.

Only one residential building is included, a cottage by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects of Toronto. The Toronto firm has won a series of medals for projects of this kind. Urban houses and apartment buildings, the structures that make up most of any city, are absent from the list of winners.

Bahá'í Temple of South America.Sebastián Wilson León/Handout

Guy Wenborne (left), doublespace photography (right)/Handout

Bahá'í Temple of South America, Santiago, Chile, Hariri Pontarini Architects

Also the winner of the 2019 RAIC International Prize. The Governor-General’s Medal jury “admired the translucency and magical complexity of its form.”

Remai Modern.Adrien Williams/Handout

Tom Arban/Handout

Remai Modern, Saskatoon, KPMB Architects and Architecture49

Toronto’s KPMB led the design for this major contemporary-art museum. The jury called it “a monumental statement about the continuing importance of art in Saskatoon.”

Polygon Gallery.James Dow/Handout

Ema Peter/Handout

Polygon Gallery, Vancouver, Patkau Architects

This waterfront gallery in North Vancouver is a rare public turn from Vancouver’s Patkau Architects, in the region where they make their home.

South Haven Centre for Remembrance.Ema Peters/Handout

South Haven Centre for Remembrance, Edmonton, SHAPE Architecture with PECHET Studio and Group2 Architects

A cemetery building near Edmonton, described by the jury as “a simple program housed in intriguing enigmatic forms.” Vancouver’s SHAPE are first-time winners.

The Dock Building.Ema Peters/Handout

Ema Peters/Handout

The Dock Building, Vancouver, MGA | Michael Green Architecture

The small service building on Vancouver’s Jericho Beach, according to the jury, “exhibits careful thinking about composition and materials on almost every level.”

RTC 03.gh3*


RTC 03, Edmonton, gh3 architecture

The City of Edmonton has commissioned fine public buildings by emphasizing design quality rather than cheaping out on design fees. That continues with this water-treatment building, which the GG jury calls “an intriguing and luminous sculpture in the city.”

Borden Park Natural Swimming Pool.gh3*


Borden Park Natural Swimming Pool, Edmonton, gh3 architecture

This complex blend of architecture, landscape architecture and biology combines a natural filtering system with buildings whose design is as clear and refreshing as the water.

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre.Shai Gil/Handout

Ema Peters/Handout

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre, Vancouver, MJMA and Acton Ostry Architects

Toronto’s MJMA are specialists in public recreation facilities. This one serves both the the University of British Columbia’s competitive swimmers and a booming neighbourhood, in a serene, tent-like structure.

Drummondville Library.Adrien Williams/Handout


Drummondville Library, Drummondville, Que., Chevalier Morales in consortium with DMA architects

The jury praised this library as a “detailed, delicate and well-solved building.” It shares a site, and mechanical systems, with the adjacent hockey rink. Montreal’s Chevalier Morales won a GG in the last round of awards for another library in Quebec City.

The Springdale Library & Komagata Maru Park.Nic Lehoux/Handout

Nic Lehoux/Handout

The Springdale Library & Komagata Maru Park, Brampton, Ont., RDH Architects (RDHA)

A branch library and park in a new suburban neighbourhood. The building’s finely detailed steel-and-glass envelope frames a set of welcoming public spaces.

Gilles-Vigneault Performance Hall.Courtesy of Atelier TAG and Jodoin Lamarre Pratte Architect

Courtesy of Atelier TAG and Jodoin Lamarre Pratte Architect

Gilles-Vigneault Performance Hall, St. Jérôme, Que., Atelier TAG in consortium with Jodoin Lamarre Pratte Architects

This theatre, with a structure partly of mass timber and a generous public plaza, brings both technical ambition and civic good manners.

Lake Kawagama Retreat.Scott Norsworthy/Handout

Scott Norsworthy/Handout

Lake Kawagama Retreat, Kawagama Lake, Ont., Shim-Sutcliffe Architects

According to the jury: “This project carries on the grand tradition of wooden cabins nestled in the Canadian wilderness.”

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