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‘A beautiful beacon:’ Mi’kmaq-inspired art gallery wins design competition

International jury says the design team presented a 'living, breathing building'

4 min read
caption The front elevation of the art gallery inspired by 'Peaked Hats' of Mi'kmaw women.
KPMB Architects

The winning design for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) was inspired by Mi’kmaw “ways of knowing.”

The winning team, announced at the Halifax Convention Centre on Wednesday, consists of KPMB Architects, Omar Gandhi Architect, Jordan Bennett Studio, Mi’kmaw Elder Lorraine Whitman, Public Work and Transsolar.

The landscape design expands and contracts, inspired by the body of an eel emerging in and out of the Great Harbour of K’jipuktuk (Halifax), according to the team’s design summary.

The eel has a traditional and spiritual meaning for the Mi’kmaq dating back centuries — “a universal measure of the health of the environment.”

The entrance of the building symbolizes the ‘Peaked Hats’ of Mi’kmaw matriarchs “to create a welcoming, nurturing experience where everyone feels at home.”

“No other art space exists that began from Mi’kmaw ways of knowing; a space that breaks away from a square box,” Bennett is quoted in the summary.

caption The design of the new art gallery is inspired by an eel.
KPMB Architects

“Our work is the product of a beautiful collaboration and a genuine resolve,” Halifax-based architect Gandhi said during the live-streamed ceremony on Wednesday.

He said the team never wanted the architecture to compete with the art but hopes to offer a contrasting and symbiotic experience through the building.

“I think the building will draw people in … from near and far,” Gandhi said.

An international jury of seven people unanimously recommended the KPMB-led submission, writing in its report that the team presented a “living, breathing building.”

The jurors selected the design for “its sensitivity to people, public space, and its incredible ambition.”

“The design used beautiful forms and materiality to create a seamless integration from building to landscape. ‘There seems to be an elegance,'” the jury wrote.

“The team made ‘a beautiful beacon on the shores of Halifax.'”

The winning team was one of the three finalists for the competition. The other two teams were Architecture49 and DIALOG, Acre Architects.

“We are tremendously proud and inspired to collaborate with both the winning team and the public to re-imagine how our gallery can serve communities, and to demonstrate the significance of culture and art, both at home and abroad,” Nancy Noble, AGNS director and CEO, said in a press release.

The provincial Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage said the new art gallery “will be a transformative destination for all to experience.

“It will inspire and celebrate creativity and imagination, but also challenge the status quo and reshape institutional values. It will be a place created with people, art and culture at its core.”

The art gallery will be relocated from Hollis Street to the Salter block on the Halifax Waterfront, on Lower Water Street at the foot of Salter Street.

The estimated cost of the project is $130-million according to a presentation from AGNS to Halifax Regional Municipality last year. The province will pay $70 million, the federal government will pay $30 million, and AGNS hopes to raise the remainder through a fundraising campaign.

AGNS is off to a good start after receiving a donation of $10 million from the Donald R. Sobey Foundation and the Sobey Foundation, announced on Wednesday.

“The role that artists can play in shining a global spotlight on our province will be strengthened by this bold new vision for internationally recognized cultural infrastructure,” Sobey said in a news release.

As mentioned in the design summary, the design is set to meet the AGNS expectations for net zero carbon emissions before 2050. The project is expected to be complete within five years, with public consultation starting in 2021.

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Zarnigar Khan

Zarnigar Khan can be reached for story ideas on her Twitter account @ZarnigarKhan5

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  1. M

    Michael Lauriston

    How wise is it, considering probable rising sea levels, to build such a structure on the waterfront?
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