Iconic Legislature Annex building in Alberta set to be demolished

So Long and Farewell

Iconic Legislature Annex building in Alberta set to be demolished

Completed in 1953 as the Alberta Government Telephones building, Edmonton’s modernist Legislature Annex building is in a state of disrepair. It's now set for demolition. (WinterE229/Wikimedia Commons/ CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

A deteriorating and distinctly turquoise-hued mid-century office tower on the grounds of the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Canada, is set to be demolished beginning next year after government officials deemed it be redundant with the costs of rehabbing the aging 12-story structure—around $26 million American dollars—amounting to roughly half of its actual value. As reported by Canadian media outlet Global News, the demolition, expected to cost roughly $5.3 million, has already been cleared by the provincial government.

“It’s an aging property for the government,” Alberta’s infrastructure minister Prasad Panda said of the Legislature Annex building in a recent interview with the CBC. “Back then, it was required, but in today’s need and requirement to deliver government programs, it’s a surplus.”

Completed in 1953 as the six-story Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) building, the Legislature Annex, which gained six more stories in the mid-1960s, was not only the first building in Edmonton to employ an innovative-for-the-time curtain wall system but also one of the first in Western Canada to do so according to a 2016 Edmonton Journal tribute. The “sleek, futuristic, avant-garde structure” was representative of a fast-growing Canadian city that “felt bold, creative, ready to take a risk on modernity.” As noted by CTV News, influential Albertan firm Rule Wynn & Rule Architects designed the structure.

“It was a building of its time and a building before its time. It looked more like a building you would find in downtown Manhattan than in Edmonton’s river valley,” wrote Paul Simons for the Edmonton Journal. “And it sharply divided public opinion from the moment it opened in 1953 — especially because of its proximity to the more classical architecture of the Alberta legislature precinct.”

fall foliage with a modern building in the background
The Legislature Annex on the historic Alberta Legislature grounds. (Kurt Bauschardt/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

As further detailed by the CBC in a recent article, the modernist new addition to Alberta’s governmental complex was indeed a magnet for controversy when it first opened with Elmer Roper, leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Foundation (CCF) deeming it as a “monstrous eyesore” that blocked views of the neighboring Alberta Legislature Building, a soaring Beaux-Arts landmark completed in 1913.

“It is difficult to understand how anyone in a responsible position could have had so little imagination as to want to perpetuate that atrocity on this capital city,” the CBC recounted Roper telling the Edmonton Journal of the new building at the time.

Today, Edmonton residents hold a mostly fond view of the building and the surrounding grounds, and it’s a favorite of admirers of architectural heritage and amateur photographers.

Despite contemporary adoration for the Legislature Annex, it stands in increasingly dire condition. As reported by the CBC, the “leaky inside and out” structure has suffered extensive water damage over the years and is plagued by aging plumbing, cracked windows, outdated elevators, antiquated and inefficient heating and cooling systems, accessibility issues, peeling lead paint, and a host of unchecked cosmetic woes.

Today, the Legislature Annex, which costs roughly a half-million dollars annually to operate and maintain, is only half-occupied with roughly 300 civil servants working in the building according to Panda. These employees, many of whom are currently working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will soon be relocated to other facilities before site remediation work begins followed by a full demolition.

As reported by the CBC, the grounds of the Alberta Legislature, including its trio of popular fountains and a sweeping concrete plaza, are also in urgent need of repair.

“Albertans treat these Legislature grounds as very historic and prestigious grounds,” Panda told Global News. “They come here to these grounds to have the best experience … we want to enhance the experience.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, will repopulate the space left behind by the Legislature Annex.