Remember when Edmonton was all abuzz about downtown redevelopment? Two years since the grand opening of Rogers Place and ICE District and a subsequent lull in the previously breakneck metamorphosis of the city’s downtown core, it all feels like ancient history now. However, the story of Edmonton’s downtown transformation remains far from over, with many new projects on the horizon, near and far. In May 2018 the still-under-construction Stantec Tower reached 54 storeys (197 meters), making it Edmonton’s tallest building, and upon completion at the end of 2018 it will be Canada’s third tallest building—and the tallest outside Toronto.
Much of this new wave of downtown construction in Edmonton, however, will be dominated by arts and culture. While more than a year still away from completion, the new Stanley Milner Library is currently one of the city’s most hotly anticipated projects. The $84.5 million renewal project, scheduled to open in early 2020, takes the form of a massive, visually spellbinding structure in the downtown core, complete with high-tech educational facilities and creative technologies, an additional 4,000 square feet of private study spaces and quiet reading areas (including over 1,000 square feet overlooking Churchill Square), and over 2,500 square feet of added community meeting space.
However, Edmontonians looking forward to a fresh dose of culture and design will not have to wait until 2020 thanks to the fall 2018 opening of the new Royal Alberta Museum (RAM).
“We’re excited to welcome our visitors into our new space and see them explore the new galleries, exhibits and building,” says Chris Robinson, executive director, Royal Alberta Museum. “Our staff have been working tirelessly for the last few years to create an engaging, exciting new space, and it will be so rewarding to have visitors coming through the doors once again.”
While not yet open, the RAM has already garnered considerable media attention. Travel & Leisure Magazine included the museum in its “50 places to travel to in 2018” list, while the South African media network Safrica 24 included it as a “spot for trendy travellers to visit.” Closer to home, the Globe and Mail lauded the RAM as one of six projects reshaping downtown, while Architectural Digest recently included it in its listing of “the 15 most noteworthy museums opening this year.”
Robinson asserts that the RAM will be a significant boon to tourism in the city and the region.
“We’re looking forward to working with the tourism industry to find ways that the museum can help stimulate tourism activity, highlighting Edmonton and Alberta as an attractive cultural destination for visitors from our province and beyond. Now being located downtown opens up new opportunities for partnerships with surrounding attractions, as well as making us easier to reach by public transit,” he says.
Together with Stantec Tower, the new RAM will give Edmonton a pair of number-ones-in-western-Canada. The new museum will, upon opening, become western Canada’s largest museum, with a total of 419,000 square footage (twice the size of the old Glenora location) and more than 82,000 square feet of exhibition space. The new museum will feature long-term natural and human history exhibition galleries, a children’s gallery, and bug gallery, as well as a large feature gallery at over 10,000 square feet, over 46,000 square feet of curatorial, research, and collection spaces.
The building itself, designed by Edmonton-based architect Donna Clare with DIALOG Design, is something of a design marvel. In its pursuit of LEED Gold certification by LEED Canada, the building’s designers are projecting over 28 per cent energy cost savings and over 30 per cent potable water savings (facilitated by landscape species selection and a rain-garden designed to minimize irrigation needs), as well as a construction waste material diversion rate of over 75 per cent. The new building also boasts an innovative HVAC design that maximizes energy recovery while providing tight environmental controls for temperature and humidity in exhibit spaces.
One of the most striking features of the building’s design (and a point of pride for architect Donna Clare) is the 7,000-square-foot Children’s Gallery, which juts out at the termination of 99 Street, which Clare describes as the “cultural street of our downtown.” While most of the museum had to be shielded from outside light due to the sensitive nature of the displays, the Children’s Gallery is notable for its large outside-facing windows allowing for ample natural light. The remainder of the museum is carefully illuminated by way of smaller windows intended to evoke flashes of sunlight through boreal foliage—a design also intended to evoke a sense of Albertan-ness. The building is also ringed with aspen trees, a quintessentially Albertan specimen.
“The design has an engaging sense of place and responds to the unique aspect of this city and the province,” says Gillian Thomson of DIALOG. “It is a continuous narrative, a dialogue between inside and out, between the city, the building, and nature. There is a dynamic weaving of interior and exterior spaces. Nature is brought into the building through the gardens and roof terraces, and the building extends out into the landscape. It looks upward to the sky and out to the city beyond. It has an authentic Alberta sense of place that speaks to the aspirations of the museum.”
The 30,000 square foot Human History Hall boasts 160 individual exhibits, with over 3,000 artifacts on display, tracing the province’s human history from the earliest Indigenous settlements to the diverse communities of today, with one gallery specifically dedicated to the province’s First Nations and Métis histories. At 31,000 feet and situated on the museum’s upper level, the Natural History Hall features life-size skeletal replicas of Ice Age animals as well as the RAM’s longstanding wildlife dioramas, and a new collection featuring more than 1,400 gems and minerals native to Alberta.
The new Bug Gallery (an expanded version of the RAM’s long-popular Bug Room) will house a large collection of insects, spiders, and other creepy-crawlies from Alberta and beyond. The museum will also feature a gift shop, a café, an outdoor patio, a group arrivals area, and expansive outdoor gardens.
An official opening day has yet to be announced, but a spokesperson for the RAM assures that a grand opening will take place in late 2018, and that the event will be oriented towards the general public rather than a private function.
“We’re working hard to get exhibits installed, boxes moved, and bugs settled in their new homes for our opening later this year,” says Robinson. “We haven’t announced an opening date yet, but stay tuned for updates. We can’t wait to share it with you!”