While Halifax, Nova Scotia wouldn’t be thought of as a spot known for any modern architectural marvels, the coastal city drew international attention for just that half a decade ago. After the Halifax Central Library was opened, it won several architecture awards and was counted on many lists for top architecture and library design. And if the success of this architectural feat is any indicator of what Halifax’s architects have to offer, then it is no surprise that the recently unveiled proposals for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia are nothing short of beautiful.
The initial announcement for a new gallery was in April of last year, stating that it would be a $130-million project. Just last week the three teams selected to compete for securing the contract made their proposals via a live stream. The teams consisted of Architecture49 with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Hargreaves Jones; DIALOG, Acre Architects, Brackish Design Studio and Shannon Webb-Campbell; and KPMB Architects with Omar Gandhi Architect, Jordan Bennett Studio, Elder Lorraine Whitman (NWAC), Public Work and Transsolar.
Architecture49’s team put forth an open and bright concept with a large stilted platform as the key design point. This would lift the gallery above street level, opening the space even more and doing a bit to prevent visual obstruction of the waterfront. Multiple, separate rooms would line the top platform, and a large amount of green-space would be integrated into the design. Architecture49’s design seems to push for opening up the traditional gallery space to allow for a less imposing part of the cityscape and to integrate daily pedestrian life with the role the space serves.
DIALOG’s team presented a space with a whale inspired design, an arch in the construction creating a covered event space as well as an underground freshwater stream running along the street. With buoys and driftwood utilized in recreational areas, the seaside inspiration is clear, and a planned salon for Black Nova Scotian beauty skills highlights the team’s focus on Halifax communities. However, one aspect of this space that echoes an issue of many art galleries is the opaque walls that separate the public from the art, a contributor to less art-inclined citizens feeling cut off from such spaces. The clear views into Halifax Central Library are in fact one of the lauded features to combine modern aesthetics with openness to the populace.
The final design is by KPMB Architects, and their plan fully incorporates the symbols and heritage of the Mi’kmaq people. The shapes of the building resemble that of an eel, an important animal to the Mi’kmaq, as well as the shape of hats worn by Mi’kmaw matriarchs. KPMB’s plans use a division of the water, separating the outer harbour from an inner lagoon, with intentions of allowing for swimming and research areas, as well as a multitude of other community and commercial attractions. While a somewhat imposing building in the model, it is certainly a beautiful design and seems to integrally incorporate the current and historical significance of its surroundings.
Final decisions on the design for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia will be made at the end of October, giving a chance for the public to weigh in with their opinions on the three proposals. With the clear goal to do for the art gallery what Halifax Central has done for libraries in the city, all teams seem keen to design something that is not only architecturally fantastic but is an asset for the coastal community.