Edmonton Park Pavilions (2011): 1 single jury for 5 simultaneous competitions
The Edmonton Park Pavilions, a series of 5 competitions organized in 2011, led to the production of 135 architecture projects from 62 studios. It was not an idea competition, since the organizers were expecting to build 5 pavilions. Did the city of Edmonton truly grasp the symbolic theme of the pavilion, or did they read these competitions as a vast request for proposal? A cross-analysis of the 5 stages of this competition reveals some of the outcomes, and initial intentions, in the optic of Edmonton Design Committee’s mandate to “raise the bar” for design in Edmonton.
The competition looked for proposals for the construction of central public park pavilions of Edmonton: Mill Woods Sports Park, John Fry Sports Park, Victoria Park, Borden Park and Castle Downs District Park. Understood as open public spaces, they had to include washrooms and rest areas for park users. In 4 of the 5 sites, the pavilion also had to accommodate several sports associations. Specific programmatic elements, such as changing rooms and storage rooms, were needed in addition to the basic functional amenities, to the risk of transforming the pavilions into sports buildings.
For the purposes of this editorial, 3 of the 5 parks are presented more thoroughly: John Fry Sports Park, Victoria Park and Borden Park. It should also be noted that all the winning entries have been built – more or less faithfully to the original proposals from the competitions – with the exception of the Mill Woods Sports Park pavilion.
The winning entry for the John Fry Sports Park stage, developed by the Marc Boutin Architecture Collaborative, relied entirely on the expressive qualities of the building to make it a meeting point before and after the sporting events. The project opens up on a large and clear area, available for both gatherings and warm-ups before matches. Landscape is defined by structures serving either as backstops during training, or as luminous signals in the park. Roofing lifts up towards the south, acting as a landmark and covering exterior transition spaces. This roof is supported by a series of lanterns, balancing a service block including changing rooms.
Concerning the Victoria Park stage of the competition, competitors were requested to design administrative, training and storage spaces for the Edmonton Speed Skating Association: features previously provided by archaic trailers left on site. The winning entry, from Rayleen Hill Architecture + Design, was described as “Elegant and straightforward”, their proposal being indisputably the most appreciated by the jury. Analysis of the documentation confirms their experience in similar projects. However, from the very first sentences of the jury report for the winning proposal, the reader becomes aware of one major evaluation criteria: “There were many appealing submissions but most were deemed to be over the budget and difficult to pare down.”
The winning proposal for Borden Park, developed by gh3, offered a simple volume generated from a circular plan evoking a carousel, an infrastructure that used to be accessible in this park. According to the designers, this round shape allowed for an effective integration with the numerous winding paths of the park and created a focal point in the area. The exterior envelope, made of large glass panels, offers views not only towards the interior and the exterior, but also through the building, contributing to the park’s legibility. This envelope is supported by a concentric wood structure, which amplifies the roundness of the shape and positions the program on the periphery, creating a multipurpose area in the middle. This structural system was an answer to the request for flexibility included in the brief, a feature suggested in the competition premise.
Following this survey, it remains difficult to guess what real initial research question was indeed for this series of competitions. How did the committee ask – or forgot to ask – the architectural question that served to formulate the problematic? If the competition brief confirms that no overtyly theoretical question was stated in order to guide or initiate a reflection on the theme of the pavilion, it is also clear from the proposals that many participants missed an opportunity to redefine the pavilion as an educational and dynamic exercise as it has been the case for the “Barcelon Pavillon” and other “Folies of La Villette Parc”. The brief did offer some avenues for reflection on the historical significance of parks and pavilions for the city of Edmonton, in particular for Borden and Victoria Parks. However, compared to the historical definition of the pavilion, generally open to a disciplinary redefinition, projects resulting from this series of competitions are ultimately almost solely focused on the programmatic aspect of the request, and to its simplest form considering the predominant budgetary criteria.
If the exercise had to be tried again, which aspects should provide leverage for a series of competitions of this kind? Would it have been preferable to focus the problematic more towards the symbolic dimension, and furthermore make use of the pavilion as an experimental building?
In this regard, when analyzing all of the proposals, we find that most of them remained demure, if not very reserved considering the architectural competition context. After consultation of the jury report, one will notice the recurring mention of “simple but appealing” to qualify many selected proposals, including the winning entry for Victoria Park. We can however observe that one particular team distinguished itself brilliantly. gh3 won the Borden Park stage for the poetic aspect of the presentation, along with their noteworthy historic reflection. The studio also received the first prize for Castle Downs Park, as well as an honourable mention for the boldness of their proposal for the Victoria Park stage. Proposals from the Ontarian office shared many similarities. The reference to the iconic Hudson Bay Company pattern, former owner of the Castle Downs lot, the analogy to the First Nations construction methods for Victoria Park as well as the direct reference to the old carousel of Borden Park revealed a great sensibility to the history and the specificity of each site. The use of repeated angles and large reflective surfaces in the work of gh3 returns the sight back to the landscape, for Victoria Park with multiple orientations directing the eye towards different points of interest, and for Castle Downs Park with the use of large faceted stainless steel panels reflecting the park and its users.
Could a synthesis of gh3’s projects help formulate a more precise portrait of the expected entries for the Edmonton Park Pavilion competitions? By anchoring their proposals in the specific historic and landscape character of each site, the studio successfully formulated an approach favoured by the jury. Could we consider that this team’s proposals redefined the notion of pavilion in the context of the Edmonton competitions, thus surpassing the intentions of the organizers and proving that designers reconstruct competitions? The competition was born from an intention of the organization to energise Edmonton’s design scene, but many parameters mitigated the potential to receive entries of quality.
Though the competition was open to international submissions and received 135 projects, virtually all of them came from Canadian firms, primarily from Ontario and Alberta. One could therefore question the dissemination methods of the competition, considering that a greater diversity among contestants could have enriched the types of proposals. It should also be noted that the design for the 5 pavilions was divided into 5 distinct but simultaneous competitions, that were nonetheless evaluated by the same jury: potentially causing some ambiguity regarding the consistency – intentional or not – between the pavilions, a situation which could also be a source of inequalities in the allotted time to conception, considering that some firms only worked on one proposal, while others worked on all five.
In sum, it should be pointed out that this competition was the first event of its kind organized by the city of Edmonton, setting a historical precedent. It may have been relevant to launch the 5 calls for submissions one after the other, therefore allowing for a greater advertising of the event and raising the general quality, allowing for a greater exploration around the symbolic potential of pavilion in a 21st century park pavilion.
Web site: Edmonton Park Pavilion
Borden Park is an excellent example of park development in Edmonton over the past 100 years. It has been home to Edmonton's exhibition grounds, its Zoological Garden, Edmonton's only roller coaster, a tunnel of love, a duck pond, as well as the site of one of Edmonton's first outdoor swimming pools.
Borden Park has remained virtually untouched since the 1950's. The City of Edmonton continues to maintain it and residents continue to visit, but with the diminishment of its once vibrant appeal comes pressure on the land. Borden Park needed a reason for being and a face lift.
A central amenity building is required at Borden Park. It shall provide public washrooms and a multi?purpose seating/warm?up area for community use. The fundamental concept for the design of this building is an environmentally sustainable and flexible. Space for the public and City of Edmonton programming are the primary elements. The structure shall be designed for LEED Silver rating as per the City of Edmonton's Ecovision and shall include a high standard for day lighting and natural ventilation.
(From competition's brief)
Edmonton Park Pavilion Architectural Design Competition, Canadian Architect, 2011
Competitions (February 01, 2011), Canadian Architect, 2011
Winners of Edmonton Park Pavilion Design Competition announced, Canadian Architect, 2011
Edmonton unveils winning park pavilion designs, CBC News, 2011
Competitions (May 01, 2011), Canadian Architect, 2011
Kent, Gordon, Park pavilion plans to 'raise the bar' for local design, Edmonton Journal, 2011
Rochon, Lisa, Edmonton gives the green light to new park pavilions and library updates, The Globe and Mail, 2011