“You can spend $10 on boring or $10 on exciting. To me it’s all about getting the very best space for the citizens,” says Carol Belanger, chief architect with the City of Edmonton. “Our goal is to attract citizens and then retain them.”
“Well-designed buildings are good for the economy, but not all buildings need to be gems.” – John Brown, associate dean, faculty of environmentaldesign, University of Calgary
Since taking his position in 2009, Belanger has helped revamp the request for proposal process for building in Edmonton. This means proposals for projects like libraries and civic centres are now posted internationally as well as locally. Firms are selected based on criteria like sustainability, design and experience, and not just the star power of their architect or the bottom line. It also means emerging Canadian firms have a shot at bidding on projects that previously would have been off limits.
The results speak for themselves, Belanger says, pointing to new civic structures built in Edmonton using this new ethos, including the Jasper Place Library and, especially, the Commonwealth Recreation Centre. “We were looking at doing a pre-engineered, field-house type building for a soccer field, which would have looked like a Costco,” he says. “Instead of doing that, we built the building as one complete recreation centre. We put it all together. With the savings of not having duplicate walls, we ended up doing a purpose-built building. It becomes a more expressive structure.”
The added diversity of the process is also adding to the diversity of the design pool, Belanger says. This is one of the reasons why Edmonton, he says, is seeing bolder and “edgier” design. “Architects from all over are moving here. They’re excited. They want to be part of what is going on in the city.”