New Alberta gallery design will remain 'controversial': architect

The architect who designed the new Art Gallery of Alberta says he doesn't mind that some people won't like the new building, which opens Sunday.
Randall Stout, the architect who designed the Art Gallery of Alberta, says the finished product fits in well with the buildings that surround it. ((CBC))
The architect who designed the new Art Gallery of Alberta says he doesn't mind that some people won't like the new building, which opens Sunday.

"I think it will probably always remain somewhat controversial," said Randall Stout, who won the competition to design the building in 2005 and was in Edmonton for the grand opening.

"If you're going to do something new and you're going to push the envelope, there will always be folks … [taking sides] on whether they appreciate that or not."

Stout said his firm in Los Angeles built a model of 12 blocks of downtown Edmonton to determine whether the design would fit with neighbouring buildings.

After studying the model, changes were made so the structure wouldn't overwhelm its surroundings, he said.

The new Art Gallery of Alberta opens to the public Sunday, but tickets for the two-day opening celebration are sold out. ((CBC))
Stout believes the finished product fits appropriately and has the right sightlines from neighbouring buildings.

"It has its own obvious presence; yet, it's a part of the context of the greater whole," Stout said on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

The signature features of the building are the waves of metal that define the southwest aspect of the gallery, which Stout's firm nicknamed "the borealis."

"The idea of nicknaming it the borealis is not meant to be a literal one-liner 'That's the only way it can be interpreted'," Stout said. "I've had other people say they see different things."

The view from inside the new Art Gallery of Alberta. ((CBC) )
There are no exterior lights on the building, Stout said, so "in the evening, it becomes a beacon of light."

"What we do is we light the underside of that borealis form so that the building glows from within."

The gallery opens with three main exhibits, featuring prints by Franciso Goya; sculpture by Edgar Degas; and photographs by Yousouf Karsh.

There are no more tickets available for the two-day opening celebration or for Family Day, Feb. 15.