The National Music Centre in Calgary reveals its extraordinary design

Two years after holding an international architectural competition that saw world renowned designers face off in a public presentation, Calgary’s National Music Centre has just revealed the final design by competition winner Allied Works Architecture.

“We have worked tirelessly over the last two years to create a space unlike any other in the world,” says NMC President and CEO Andrew Mosker. “We’re ecstatic with the results and with the experience we had working with Allied Works, GEC and the rest of the team. We truly believe this building will join the ranks of iconic architecture in Canada.”

The National Music Centre’s design pays homage to the western Canadian landscape with a series of “resonant vessels” informed by the crags and canyons of the Rocky Mountains, the hoodoos of southern Alberta and the vast openness of the prairies creating spaces that will resonate with the sounds of NMC’s dynamic program offering.

Built around the historical (and condemned) King Edward Hotel, many have speculated on how the design would treat this piece of Calgary’s musical history that closed in 2004 after serving as a hotbed of blues music in Canada for decades.

“It was important to us to respect the King Eddy,” says architect Brad Cloepfil. “While reclamation and restoration is certainly necessary, we didn’t want to scrub it too clean. We don’t want to scare the ghosts away.”

One of the more unique features of the building is a two-story bridge that spans 4th Street SE. The span not only creates interesting event and performance spaces for NMC, but also serves as a very strong, visual gateway into a revitalized East Village.

“We worked closely with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation to ensure our design meshed with the overall vision for East Village,” says Mosker. “We’ve created a strong visual anchor in addition to a vibrant, street-level atmosphere that speaks to the work, play live philosophy the CMLC is striving for.”

Projected to open in 2014, the 135,000-sq.-ft. National Music Centre will give Canadians a place that amplifies the love, the sharing and the understanding of music through collections, programs and collaborations across the country.

“The completion of the design marks an important milestone in the creation of the National Music Centre,” says Mosker. “Combined with funding commitments from three levels of government, partnerships with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the Canadian Country Music Association and an aggressive fundraising campaign, the project has a great deal of momentum here in Calgary and across Canada. We’re very excited.”

The Design

Allied Works was selected to design the National Music Centre of Canada following an international competition. The NMC is an entirely new cultural institution dedicated to the music of Canada in all of its forms. It is at once museum, performance hall, interactive music education center, recording studio and broadcast center. Sited opposite the Stampede Grounds in the East Village area of Calgary, the new NMCC along with the restored King Eddy Hotel is intended to catalyze the future development of the district.

The National Music Center is a gathering of resonant vessels that stand as sentinels to the East Village of Calgary. The building is a silent and powerful instrument that exists to emanate music and light. Nine towers form the body of the building; the concrete walls, clad in copper, rise in subtle curves that merge, part and intertwine, modeled by light, gravity and acoustics. Entering from the street, the building is filled with the reverberation of voices and music, drawing visitors up into five floors of performance, education and collections spaces. The apertures at each gallery create a threshold of sound, introducing the content and programs of the particular exhibition. The spaces between are filled with silence, with views that frame the city and landscape beyond. Bridging across the street and back again, the building creates a gateway for the new quarter, uniting the artists residences, club and recording studios with the new presentation spaces.

The building binds audience and performer, student and teacher, the body and the collection. It is an immersion in sound and structure, a continuously enfolding space that creates a perpetual between.

The Process

In the spring of 2009, Cantos Music Foundation sent an international request for Expressions of Interest to design the National Music Centre. The response was overwhelming with 66 proposals coming in from all over the globe. Our board of directors’ construction committee narrowed the field down to five teams:

Jean Nouvel Workshop, France

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York

Saucier + Perrotte, Montreal

SFP Architects, Los Angeles

Allied Works, Portland, OR

Designs on Calgary

We invited these five firms to present their designs publicly at the Grand Theatre in the summer of 2009. This sold out event was very well received and had the city and architectural circles around the world talking about the merits of each proposal.

To help vet the designs, Cantos recruited and engaged an Advisory Committee made up of numerous subject experts including:

Chris Cran, Visual Artist

Joe Guerts, Museum Construction Expert

Senator Pamela Wallin

Jason Wilson, Musician

Diane Deacon, Creativity Consultant

Steve McConnell, Architect

Tony Luppino, Architectural Competition Expert and Moderator

The Architects

Based on a number of factors including relevant experience, design concept, team chemistry and recommendations from the advisory committee, the board of directors unanimously selected Allied Works of Portland, OR, under the leadership of Brad Cloepfil, to design the National Music Centre.

With offices in Portland, Oregon and New York, New York, Allied Works Architecture is engaged in a wide variety of cultural, commercial and residential projects across North America.

Among the first projects completed by Allied Works are the Maryhill Overlook in the Columbia River Gorge, the first of a series of five interpretive designs in diverse landscapes across the Pacific Northwest, and the adaptive reuse and transformation of an historic warehouse in Portland’s Pearl District for the world headquarters of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy.

In recent years, Allied Works has focused on important cultural and educational buildings within urban centers, arts districts and academic campuses. Completed projects include the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, a major addition to the Seattle Art Museum, the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, and the redesign of 2 Columbus Circle for the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. Most recently, the firm completed a renovation and expansion of the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Current commissions include the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado, a new animation studio for Pixar in Emeryville, California, two major residential projects – the Dutchess County Residence and the Hudson Street Loft in New York, and master planning for the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon and the Caldera Arts Foundation in Central Oregon.

Allied Works has been widely published in magazines and journals throughout the US, Europe and Asia, and critical recognition of the work has grown with each completed project. The firm anticipates the release of its first book in 2010. The book, a series of conversations with a broad selection of artists, scientists, thinkers and makers, will explore past, present and future projects and focuses on the ideas and principles that form the basis of the work.

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