Edmonton is opening its doors to beautiful, challenging buildings

Edmonton is opening its doors to beautiful, challenging buildings
The Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre was designed by Toronto’s MJM Architects and Edmonton’s HIP Architect / © Tom Arban

As the business of architecture consolidates, it becomes harder to create beautiful, challenging buildings. But thanks to one unorthodox architect, Edmonton is opening its doors to a brighter future

There is a symphony of movement around me. A black steel running track curves through the air above my head. Through a glass wall to the left, teenage boys are shooting hoops on a purple basketball court; to the right, a sculptural hunk of drywall points upward to a gym, where three women are sweating on exercise bikes.

This building – a massive multipurpose community centre and library – is a giant crystal full of moments like this, juxtaposing views, forms and experiences. It’s an architect’s dream brought vigorously to life. It belongs in some design-savvy Northern European city.

But it’s not.

It is in northeast Edmonton, on a suburban road across from a Mr. Lube.

And it was built on a standard city budget, about $94-million for the 190,000-square-foot complex.

It is a huge accomplishment, and according to Edmonton’s city architect, Carol Bélanger, who’s showing me around this fall morning, the explanation is simple: “When you hire architects,” he says, “you get what you pay for.”

Edmonton is sending a message: Civic architecture matters – and it is ready to pay for the best.[…]