Edmonton

The last weekend in March I went to my cousin’s wedding in Edmonton.  The trip was a good change of scenery, giving me time to wander and take in the city.

After the break are some thoughts and images of what I saw during my weekend.

This picture is a bit of a cheat since it is in Llyodminster rather than Edmonton.  This intersection is one of the first lights coming into the city via the Yellowhead highway.

I find it funny that there are no side-walks to cross from.  The infrastructure is very good, there are counters to tell you how long until the light changes and two cross-walk buttons for each direction.  The post is set in a ditch and it does not look so severe in this picture but the cross walk would be difficult for anyone with mobility issues to use.

I hope there is something more than the bare infrastructure next time I am through Llyodminster.

The Canada Place building forms a  transition along 97th street between the modern commercial skyscrapers of Downtown and remnants of commercial buildings from the early 20th century.  There are some large residential towers in the distance as well.  A quick glance of the area East of 97th street on google maps shows that most of the area is surface parking.

Canada Place has an interesting brick clad podium that means to provide continuity with smaller buildings nearby.  I also sense, like the Shaw Conference Centre in the lower right, the sloping shape along the sides is a reference to the building’s proximity to the valley side.  I like some of these elements but in the end this is a huge building and no attempt at visual trickery rectified this.

I do like the clock tower just off the main Jasper Ave. entrance to Canada Place. Functioning clock towers not only provide the time to everyone, but by transmitting this information they become important landmarks.

The Gibson Block, a beloved heritage building along Jasper Avenue, is currently used as a women’s shelter (see link for story).

I spoke with some people about the building and its use as a women’s shelter.  The general opinion was an interesting heritage building such as the Gibson Block should have a more prestigious use than as a social service space.  That sort of sentiment got me thinking about two things: First, how important it is to preserve buildings and not worry about the use.  Second, was the revelation that this area must be of lower value right now, but that does not mean it always will be so.  There is great potential in places with as much decay as in this area.

In fact, I went to Hudson’s Tap House located  in South Common, a large box development (my friend Joe calls it “the greatest car mall ever”) in South Edmonton, and sure enough looking at Hudson’s on google street view it was an East Side Mario’s when the Google car rolled by.  That’s the first case I can recall  seeing adaptive reuse of a fairly new box.  If a box can be reimagined, even so slightly, then the potential of a Gibson Block is great indeed.

This is the Edmonton Symphony performance space across 102 ave from Canada Place.  This building’s exterior is shocking: the whole ground level is nothing but blank walls, and the 97th Street area is setback with a parking lot.  Such an important cultural centre should not be so stark and off-putting.

In the fore-ground of the picture, we have Canada Places’ large, empty side-walk area.  With Canada Place covered in reflective glass and providing little visual interest (shop windows perhaps?) at street level the grand pedestrian infrastructure is wasted.

In contrast, the Edmonton Library is a fairly drab modern building that forms the South end of Churchill Square.  It has a one to one and-a-half story podium with large windows and a coffee shop at the base.  By providing an inviting pedestrian space in tandem with the open infrastructure, across 102 ave, at the South end of the Square,  the Library does not feel as austere as it looks.  This is what the Symphony space and Canada Centre are so badly missing only a block East.

The North End of Churchill Square is City Hall.  The building could actually be a little more grand for it to fill out the North terminus of the square.  The style reminds me of Egypt: the obelisk clock tower(more clock towers, yay!)/carillon, the base which recalls the temple at Luxor and of course the glass pyramid.  There is a cenotaph between the Square and City Hall.  The West side has a stair-case/sitting area that has some people lounging about it.

I like the square and from my time there it seems like a well used public space.  One issue is that the square is set at an angle which means the City Hall cannot act as a proper end point.  The result is slightly jarring.

104 street is in an older warehouse area West of the main office building concentration downtown.

The street has some traffic dampening measures like a small boulevard, bump-outs at the corners and light-pilons delineating the side-walk border with the street.  There is also street furniture such as benches and bike parking included on the expanded sidewalk area.

The corner building (above) is an original while the two beside (left) heading South down the street are new.  The new condo towers have 3-4 story brick facade podiums tying the new with surrounding old.

Capital Pointe is a building with a concept like these, however this street maybe more akin to future developments at the CP Rail site along Dewdney Ave.

This tall white tower to heaven is really phallic yet the development comes with such a modest name; “The Icon.”  Anthropologists could probably show us some ‘icons’ in their studies with much the same appearance if not purpose.

Only three or four blocks West of the City Centre and the another area of older,  warehouse style buildings sits in a quiet suburban state.  Here is a six lane avenue devoid of any treatments like 104 street, even if it does not suffer Saturday afternoon traffic.

On the left is Healy Ford, a central, active, car dealership.  Whyte Avenue also has some car dealerships left.  In Regina these uses have gone from the centre of the city to North Broad or the outskirts.

The Sutton Place Grande acts as the unsuspecting termination point for this street.  Why build a large, new hotel with no thought to making it a visually interesting terminus?

This in the West view of the last picture looking out to 109 street and the high density residential beyond.  Some of the regenerated store fronts in this area are sitting empty such as the former decor shop on the right.

Again on the same street but now looking South-East.  Surface parking, like in Regina, discourages density and splits up walkable areas.  This is a very suburban view, complete with the large car-oriented advertising hording.

Across the parking lot is a brick fire station built in 1992 in the style of the surrounding warehouses with neo-classical touches.  Down the street from the fire hall is a four-story condo building, The Monaco, that belongs on Miami Beach or the Cote d’Azur.

This area has interesting buildings in bits and pieces scattered about like an archipelago.

Here’s a pocket park, which those familiar with the downtown plan will recall Regina seems to lack, on the corner of Jasper and 102 looking South-East.  There are a few issues with this park: It lacks seating or amenities bar a trash bin in the middle.  The South side is a blank wall and alley while the East side has a quick stop restaurant facing Jasper.  The rest of the ‘East wall’ is at a good scale with glass but seems to act like a blank wall anyway.

The giant modern towers are Telus HQ Edmonton, almost (off centre again) the terminus of 100A street.  Often giant towers would need to reduce their floor area ratio with zoning restrictions and cities looked favourably at  providing public space at the base in order to build up.  I imagine Telus plaza is such a case.  The plaza has some public art, street furniture and trees.

To the right in the picture is the Union Bank Inn, a lovely old bank turned hotel.  There is a nice restaurant on the bottom floor, facing the street.  The plaza is boring but it does help keep the different size buildings, while nearby, separated.

The advertisement here is stuck on the lawn of the MacDonald Hotel and includes IBI Group and ProCura but neither site mentions the project.  Importantly the Journal website has no stories concerning redevelopment.  I can only (hope) assume this is some kind of hoax.  Placing a giant tower on the current grounds of the Fairmont MacDonald Hotel is just too crazy.  There’s already a giant tower with parking garage to the left of this image.

I maybe able to sleuth a bit and get some answers with Edmonton development watchers.

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Edmonton

6 thoughts on “Edmonton

    1. wourliem says:

      Thanks Crystal for your link.

      ProCura has many projects in the west side of Jasper I didn’t explore to closely. Most of these are residential or office towers.

      The article below speaks glowingly about Randy Ferguson’s commitment to Edmonton heritage:

      Now, let’s shift our mental map to 100th Street and the Hotel Macdonald. The small piece of turf
      between The Mac and Jasper Avenue is Frank Oliver Park. Except it’s not really a park. It’s just never
      attracted a developer, until ProCura bought the land.

      However, credit ProCura and its Edmonton mover/shaker, Randy Ferguson, for treating the site with the reverence it deserves. As Ferguson says, the vista of The Mac is iconic and must never be blocked
      by an office or condo tower.

      So ProCura is in discussion with the city about a land swap. Yes, there are developers who care about
      local culture and history.

      It would seem from the article that ProCura does own the land in question. The signage on Frank Oliver Park also suggests that this commitment to heritage was more of a 2009 idea.

      Finally, a developer who cares about local culture,
      history.Scott McKeen, Edmonton Journal May 25, 2009.

      1. Wow, Martin. I think you just attracted the attention of Procura’s communications people. Neat-o.

        Enjoyed your tour of Edmo. I did highschool and undergrad there. I’m back often and one thing that strikes me about the downtown is, yeah there’s lots that needs improving, but holy crap has it ever improved since the 80s.

        As for that Procura development, while I know what’s on the sign probably bears little resemblance to whatever will finally end up there, I can’t help but think, is that the best the architect could do at integrating a building with its neighbour? I mean, there seems to be some kind of stonish square in the bottom right that i guess is supposed to be aping the texture of the Mac. But is it too much to ask for a dash of neo-neo-chateaux stylin’? When they were doing up those concept drawings couldn’t somebody have said, “This is going up next to a historic railway hotel. Time to break out the plans for the copper roofs.”

        It’d be nice for once to see something that looks a little more Canadian and a little less Legion of Super-Heroes.

    1. wourliem says:

      Paul,

      I got a response from the Ed forum on forum.skyscraperpage.com about my picture. ProCura owns the land and is looking for a land swap with the city. The article I link to above mentions this desire for a land swap as well.

      My thought is they’re proposing something so drastic that it forces the city into some action.

      It’s interesting that you say downtown has improved. I’ve spent most of my Ed time downtown on my various brief visits, and I always came away certain I’d suffered another weekend in ‘Deadmonton.’ Nothing ever seemed to be happening. Luckily, I was able to venture out to Whyte Ave and Strathcona for a spell. My impression of the city is much better for my jaunt south of the river.

      Barb,
      Thanks for the link. I think its great to learn from other cities, best practices and all that. Certainly Ms. Bula’s website is just such a place for that sort of insight. I read her thoughts on Montreal where she makes the interesting point that someone needs to focus on making good urban spaces with different uses (light industrial) rather than just residential-commercial.

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