New Brunswick Museum development one step closer
Diamond Schmitt architectural firm envisions a 'crossroads for the community'
Toronto-based architectural firm Diamond Schmitt is preparing for its first team meeting next week with members of the New Brunswick Museum board and staff in Saint John.
Museum officials announced this week the firm had won the planning and design contract for a new museum building.
"We're thrilled," said Donald Schmitt, a founding partner in the 48-year-old company, which has won multiple Governor General awards and has recently been involved in a major renovation of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
"The opportunity to develop a new museum for New Brunswick is super exciting," said Schmitt, who envisions the new building as a "place of storytelling," and a "crossroads for the community," that captures the history and diversity of the province.
"It needs to be a landmark — legible, visible, accessible," in order to draw people from the city, the province and beyond, he said.
The museum exhibit centre in Market Square closed to the public permanently last fall, and all of its collections are in storage at a brick building on Lancaster Ave.
The staff and board have set out a number of elements to be incorporated in the new museum.
It's to have about 160,000 square feet of space — for exhibitions, workshops, collections, public programming and events.
Not much design work can happen until a location is chosen, Schmitt acknowledged, and the timeline to open by early 2026 is "pretty tight."
His firm will be analyzing the pros and cons of two possible sites. One is where the old museum building stands on Douglas Avenue. It has a number of "complexities," said Schmitt.
It's at the top of a bank, has a provincial park on one side and has "other constraints," on the other side.
Another possible location has not been disclosed.
One of the requirements, said the architect, is adequate space for museum-standard loading docks and busloads of students.
Other features he's looking for are more aesthetic.
"I think it would be really great given the incredible geology and topography of Saint John to have a site that can capture and have sight lines to some of the great bodies of water and the great topography that is sort of woven through the city."
He'd like the building to "connect to the landscape" and be able to reflect the many levels of history and heritage of the region.
There was no overt requirement for Indigenous consultation listed in the request for proposals, but Schmitt said that was one of the interview questions before his firm got the contract.
"We are very interested in that," he said.
Diamond Schmitt plans to collaborate with museum board and staff members to reach out to Indigenous communities and "weave aboriginal ways of knowledge and insight into the process."
Schmitt wants to meet with members of the public a number of times, in Saint John and potentially elsewhere in the province, to gather ideas that can inform the architectural design. He hopes to have the first community consultation session before summer.
Diamond Schmitt will be in charge of hiring a number of other engineers and specialized consultants. The firm already has many connections in the province, he said, including with the firm EXP.
They're working together on the Atlantic Science Enterprise Centre in Moncton and the new performing arts centre in Fredericton.
Meeting the project timeline will "take a lot of collaboration, a lot of teamwork, a lot of focus," said Schmitt, "but I think it's very doable."
The National Arts Centre project was of a similar scale and had a similarly "aggressive" schedule.
Other "important cultural projects," Diamond Schmitt has done include a major transformation of the Lincoln Centre concert hall for the New York Philharmonic, L'Orchestre Symphonique in Montreal and the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre in Toronto.