Allied Works’ new National Music Centre
Two years after staging an international competition, the Cantos Music Foundation unveiled this week the final design for the new National Music Centre (NMC) in Calgary. Designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, the NMC will be the first major cultural building in the city and an important building in the national cultural landscape of Canada. And, if the institution’s President and CEO, Andrew Mosker has it right, ‘the building will join the ranks of iconic architecture in Canada’.
Like other architects in his shoes, Cloepfil has been asked to deliver the moon; the best music centre going, a building that will put the Calgary on the cultural map and one that that will make Canada proud. While some of these things are not within Cloepfil’s control, such as whether the city will rebound and experience a total renaissance, he is most assuredly responsible for whether this building will resonate with the public as a great work of architecture? With the materials yet to be selected, signalling that much work remains to be done, the answer to that question lies far out in the future. So for now, one can only assess the building’s design in terms of how it speaks to the institution’s program and its general massing ideas.
The new centre, which incorporates the now defunct King Eddy Hotel, a legendary house of blues, will be part museum, part education and outreach facility, and part performance space. The building is designed as a series of ‘resonant vessels’ that are linked by a two- storey bridge. Like the instruments in the collection it houses, the building will be designed to emit sounds that will bleed out into the street, thus stirring interest in itself. This need to be self referential, says Cloefil, is due to the fact that 90% of the surrounding buildings have been demolished, leaving the NMC to lead the way as to what the future structures in the neighbourhood should be like.
In his handling of the King Eddy, Cloepfil has treated the historic structure not as a strict restoration project but rather as an artefact in the museum’s collection. The new structure ‘holds the Eddy’ thus allowing the different scales of the proposed and existing structure to convincingly coexist. The bridge is both a poetic gesture and a functional response to the program, which is too robust to be accommodated on the existing site. Facing the historic stampede grounds, the bridge, which will house performance and event spaces, is intended as a gateway into the revitalised East Village neighbourhood.
To tie the building to its landscape of the western Canadian Rockies, Clopefil has addressed the differing scales of the natural and manmade environments, by over-scaling the building forms. For the exterior, a reflective skin is proposed to allow the building to glow in the Northern light. “The scale of the Rockies in this region are enormous”, said Cloepfil, “and the light is amazing. The building requires a monumentality to hold that landscape”. While the exterior material has yet to be selected, “it will have a mineral quality”, said Cloepfil, “probably a metal or glazed tile”.
In designing the new music centre, Brad Cloepfil endeavoured to create building that will be indelibly linked to the circumstances of its making. Time will tell if he has done this and done it well. With generous support from the Canadian government and an aggressive fundraising campaign underway, the building will open in 2014.