River, Light, Snow & Art
Most interesting to me about working here in Edmonton on a structure like the Art Gallery of Alberta is the sense of Edmontonians’ lives being synchronized with the natural seasonal rhythms. Edmonton has some of the same kinds of sensibilities you might notice in northern Europe. For me, it’s culturally interesting in the same way that going from central Europe to the Scandinavian countries is interesting; there’s a rhythm of life that’s climate-driven.
Certainly the climate is a big part of Edmonton, but when I think of the climate, I think of more than just temperature extremes. I think of the seasonal extremes – the differences of light quality and the duration of light from winter to summer. You have such short days in winter and such long days in summer and the quality of light changes with those seasons. That’s a nice variable to use in design.And then, of course, the presence of snow throughout so many months of the year. We took the position that it’s something we ought not to hide, but rather celebrate. Even at the time of the competition, we started doing renderings of our design proposal in a snowstorm, trying to think about the aesthetic of the building in that winter condition.
All these considerations have helped us add layers of meaning to the Art Gallery of Alberta. There’s the dramatic juxtaposition between the urban city grid and the natural free-flowing North Saskatchewan River, which carries over into the juxtaposition between the conventional gallery spaces and the entirely different, more sculpted social spaces. There’s also the analogy to the northern lights. It seems quite poetic and appropriate to the collective memory of Edmontonians and Albertans who have all had experiences with the northern lights.
I think it’s actually going to be quite fun to show up on opening day and see if maybe some people have associations with the building forms that are just something we haven’t thought of yet. My biggest hope is that people, once they’re inside the building, will have an uplifting experience.
Photo Credit: Art Gallery of Alberta photos by Robert Lemermeyer.
Randall Stout is the president and principal-in-charge of the Los Angeles-based Randall Stout Architects. The company won the intense international architectural competition to design the new Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), which means that Randall has visited Edmonton regularly in the past 6 years as the AGA was being built. He hopes Edmontonians are truly excited and inspired by their experiences inside the gallery.