Edmonton is opening its doors to beautiful, challenging buildings

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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.[…]