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Edmonton’s New Look


City Hall Plaza (Civic Precinct) – GEC Architecture / Latitude Photography.

Bit by bit, Edmonton is gradually but quickly becoming a leader in innovative, sustainable architecture, design and construction.

So many renewed vintage houses, meticulously planned and designed new residential communities and striking buildings are enhancing the city’s look and feel. Is it a trend? An evolution? An expression of Edmonton’s growth and lifestyles? Or all three?

We have beautiful renos in the Westmount and Garneau areas; master planned new homes in the communities of Glenridding Ravine, Rosewood and Edgemont; bold, stunning, cutting-edge architecture displayed by the Art Gallery of Alberta, CX Tower, Jasper Place Library, Rogers Place, City Hall Plaza, University Commons and even the classic Federal Building, one of the few classic Art Deco buildings in the city.

For Peter Osborne, the respected and much in-demand architect and partner at GEC Architecture, residential, commercial and institutional design and construction in Edmonton is an evolution.

“We are part of a new era of rethinking inclusion, sustainability and accessibility in our homes, our buildings and our urban public spaces. These are key aspects of contemporary cities and are critical to how architects need to be designing our built environment and thinking about the way we live. Our public spaces need to be welcoming to all people, providing equal access and opportunity.”

For Nicole Branton, architectural technologist and designer with Elevation Drafting and Design, residential design and construction are also an evolution of lifestyles.

“When I think of the key aspects of contemporary, ‘real world’ architecture and design, I think lived-in and homey. I think the key to any design is to think about how you want the space to feel. A space can have an instant feeling when you walk in, if it is thoughtfully designed.

“Design styles will be forever changing. It is amazing to see what people come up with and how different styles can inspire to create new styles of design. People have hung on to traditional styles in the past few years. It is now an exciting time, because more and more people are taking pride in their homes and want to personalize them more.”

When it comes to the personalised, lifestyle wants and needs of new and renovated homes, there is a new focus and demand in layouts and design, new ways of thinking about interior design and clever optimizing of spaces. The trends are toward dedicated spaces for personal lifestyles. Open spaces. Floor plans with sprawling kitchens and great rooms. Decadent ensuites. Home gyms. Flex-room options that allow for main floor bedroom suites and extra bedrooms for multi-generational families. And – especially since the remote work trend triggered by the pandemic commotion – home offices; not just a re-purposed spare bedroom but a purpose-built space.

“The key driving factors for getting the right design can depend on several things,” Branton adds. “The layout of a house, what the exterior looks like, how the person wants the space to look and feel, what rooms are most used and the sizes and functionality of the rooms. The most important aspect is how my client wants to feel once they are living in the space.”

Architects and designers echo the impact of online browsing, especially when it comes to residential home design and layout options. It’s routine where prospective new home buyers browse online long before actually making a purchase.

Aside from the types of designs and long lists of features, architects and designers suggest that the subtle transformation is based on an updated, new perspective about quality of life.

“Contemporary multi-family housing is seeing a marked increase in the quantity and the quality of amenities provided to residents in new developments and master-planned communities,” Osborne explains. “People are looking for a real sense of community and a place outside of their individual unit or home to socialize and be with other people. Amenities must have a unique character that speaks to the residents, the demographic and the target market. Design and the quality of public spaces within developments are now must-haves. It is no longer just about what is inside of your individual space but what kind of community you are a part of.”

While GEC Architecture is acclaimed for many high-profile Edmonton achievements, like University Commons, the CX Tower, Paul Kane Park, MacEwan University School of Business, 100 West Block and others, Osborne points out, “The key driver for our designs is the people that are going to live, use and visit our buildings. Ultimately, people determine the kind of spaces we design and the experiences we are trying to create. Understanding who we are designing for influences everything. Families, millennials, Gen Z or empty nesters – they are all looking for different things in the places they want to call home.”

Particularly, the world of residential interior design is limitless and exciting but notoriously fickle with shifting trends and changing styles and preferences.

HGTV influencers and interior experts currently predict a drastic shift away from the stark white or grey interiors of the past 10 years or so, and again opting for brown, taupe and other soft but darker tones. According to interior designers, homeowners are choosing darker countertops paired with darker natural wood cabinetry, even combined with an Art Deco vibe with gold or black hardware.

Technology is also a vital factor in the design and features of public spaces and suburbia.

“Technology has come so far in not a lot of time!” Branton says. “It’s crazy how detailed 3D renderings can be and how they can make someone feel like they are in their own home through the renders. Systems have gotten faster and more accurate. Technology has changed the game and has made it easier and faster for us to show our clients the designs that we see in our minds.”

As design trends continually evolve, technology is also bringing warp speed changes, particularly for residential designs.

Smart home technology now offers automating devices and appliances for seamless and scheduled functioning and it’s no longer just for high-end homes. Technological advancements are now routine and mainstream, with affordable apps and smart gadgets that are way beyond luxury creature comforts.

Smart home future trends include a mind-boggling array of devices, sometimes integrated with AI and constantly evolving technology to impact homeowner lifestyles. Today’s interior design choices routinely include smart security systems and thermostats, smart kitchens, smart lighting solutions, smart home entertainment and more.

Osborne concludes by noting how technology is a dynamic factor for new home features as well as a vital factor for architecture and construction.

“Technology has and will continue to impact how we live and design buildings. Our homes are more connected and controllable than ever, with smart features through internet connections.

I predict that the increased use of AI will not just provide more connected environments, but the systems will actually learn how we want to live. Technology will help streamline operations, predict behaviors and drive efficiency in our infrastructure.”