In Calgary, KPMB, Hindle, and Tawaw Architecture Collective unveil a new theater complex for Arts Commons


In Calgary, KPMB, Hindle, and Tawaw Architecture Collective unveil a new theater complex for Arts Commons

Arts Commons Transformation will create a new 162,000-square-foot, three-story building to elevate Calgary’s growing arts community. (Courtesy CMLC)

Calgary officials recently announced a $660 million project that will transform the city’s Arts Commons campus, a multidisciplinary cultural center completed in 1985. The project, formally titled Arts Commons Transformation, is touted as the largest arts-focused infrastructure project currently underway in Canada.

The design architects include KPMB Architects, Hindle Architects, and Tawaw Architecture Collective. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), the City of Calgary, and their partners at Arts Commons are also part of the development team.

daytime view of Arts Commons
The complex will be constructed on Olympic Plaza. (Courtesy CMLC)

Arts Commons Transformation is part of a broader project to transform Olympic Plaza, entitled Olympic Plaza Transformation. The new venue for Arts Commons will be sited on Olympic Plaza and create new landscaping and urban design components, including new steps that follow the site’s topography and guide visitors inwards.

Today, Arts Commons is one of Canada’s most prominent cultural forums. The multi-building complex is home to six resident companies spread across 560,000 square feet of built area; it takes up a full city block just across from Olympic Plaza and the Calgary Municipal Building.

Cumulatively, Arts Commons Transformation will create a new three-story building to elevate Calgary’s growing arts community. The 162,000-square-foot complex will increase seating capacity at Arts Commons by 45 percent with two new theaters.

Renderings show a structure that tapers upward into the sky, reminiscent of Alvar Aalto’s Finnish Pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A dramatic overhang cascades out over the plaza, supported by angled columns. Inside, a spacious lobby has wooden slats that flank the windows. At the space’s center, a curving staircase is faced with a muted green that serves as a sculptural element.

lobby interior showing staircase and performance space
Seating in the lobby can accommodate casual performances. (Courtesy CMLC)

A forthcoming 1,000-seat theater will be able to alter its floor layout to several unique configurations. This will accommodate the broadest variety of productions. Meanwhile, a 200-seat studio theater will also allow for multiple configurations with its retractable and demountable platform seating that opens out to the plaza. And for maximum accessibility, the main floor of the Arts Commons venue will be set flush to the adjacent pedestrian realm to allow for barrier free access.

lobby interior in Arts Commons
Timber beams and wood slats add a rustic element to the otherwise contemporary lobby interiors. (Courtesy CMLC)

“This city has never failed to impress me with its fearless hopes for the future,” said Alex Sarian, Arts Commons president and CEO. “Today, we don’t just reveal a stunning new design—we come together to celebrate the fact that the largest cultural infrastructure project currently underway in Canada is truly and uniquely Calgarian. Together with the transformation of Olympic Plaza, which is being reimagined as an integral part of the Arts Commons campus, the Arts Commons Transformation is a vital pillar for revitalization in the downtown core and a timely response to the city’s swelling demand for flexible, accessible arts and culture venues that support diverse and relevant programming.”

“At the heart of the Arts Commons Transformation project is an intention to create a new performing arts space that is ‘of and for Calgary’—a place where everyone is welcome,” said Kevin Bridgman, partner at KPMB. “This simple yet powerful idea inspired our design for a purpose-built facility that reflects the spirit of the community it serves, is thoughtfully connected to its history and culture, and is designed with respect for its surroundings.”

view of theater in Arts Commons with red and blue during a performance
The theater layout can be reconfigured for a variety of performance types and needs. (Courtesy CMLC)

Bridgman elaborated: “The expansion building’s curved form, exterior cladding, and interior finishes are inspired by Alberta’s dramatic landscapes and the regional lodge typologies,” continued Bridgman. “With a naturally lit, fully transparent ground floor, the design team placed importance on the southeast corner where a gathering circle with a skylight provides space that welcomes Calgarians and encourages visitors to come together and share stories.”

Construction should break ground in late 2024, and conclude by 2029.