After two years of meticulous planning and design work, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) and its partners at Arts Commons and The City of Calgary are thrilled to reveal the architectural design for the Arts Commons Transformation expansion – a new building featuring a new 1,000-seat theatre and 200-seat studio theatre, marking a significant step forward in the delivery of the largest arts- focused infrastructure project currently underway in Canada.

“The transformation of the Arts Commons campus is a more than half-billion-dollar investment in Calgary’s arts and cultural future,” said Kate Thompson, president and CEO of CMLC, development manager for the expansion and modernization of Calgary’s premier performing arts centre. “Together with our partners at The City of Calgary and Arts Commons, CMLC has been working with the prime design team since early 2022 to advance the concept and schematic designs for this extraordinary city-building project. Today we’re ecstatic to reach a monumental milestone: the public unveiling of the new building’s design.”

Thompson continued, “Through their collective experience, local knowledge and proven expertise in major arts and theatre projects, the team has delivered a truly inspiring design—a spectacular three-level building with 162,000 sq ft of modern features and amenities that will elevate Calgary’s growing arts community.”

Behind the expansion’s design is a team of internationally recognized architects and designers from Toronto’s KPMB Architects, Calgary’s Hindle Architects, and Arizona’s Tawaw Architecture Collective.

The Arts Commons Transformation project is No. 96 on ReNew Canada’s 2024 Top100 Projects report.

“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,” explained Kevin Bridgman, partner at KPMB, representing the prime design team. “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.

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The expansion will boost Arts Commons’ seating capacity by 45 per cent—space the city urgently needs to meet burgeoning demand for arts and culture and to facilitate the aspirations of its arts community.

“This city has never failed to impress me with its fearless hopes for the future. 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,” said Arts Commons president and  CEO Alex Sarian.

“Building on the momentum of the investment and work already underway through The City of Calgary’s Downtown Strategy, the Arts Commons Transformation is at the heart of how we bring Calgary’s downtown to life with the creative economy,” said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek. “A thriving creative sector is essential to making the city more resilient and diverse, for both economic and community-building reasons. The expansion of Arts Commons will further elevate Calgary’s stature on the world stage and draw even more people to the downtown core.”

The prime design team also included an accessibility consultant to ensure the spaces are inclusive and accessible for all. The main floor entry and both stages are set flush to the adjacent pedestrian realm to allow for barrier free access to the performance spaces, and boast theatre seating at all levels and multiple central elevators.

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The $660-million project includes the Arts Commons expansion and modernization, the transformation of Olympic Plaza, and a $50-million Arts Commons endowment. The $270-million expansion of Arts Commons is fully funded by The City of Calgary and CMLC’s Community Revitalization Levy. The modernization, which is still in design stages, has an anticipated project cost of $270-million and will require additional funding prior to construction commencing. The adjacent Olympic Plaza Transformation is still in conceptual design and has an anticipated project cost of $70 million, of which $40 million is already committed through The City’s 2023-2026 budget for downtown revitalization. With the recent announcement from the Government of Alberta of an additional allocation of $103 million toward the overall campus vision, the project is that much closer to achieving its funding objectives.

Supported by project manager Colliers and construction manager EllisDon, construction on the expansion is anticipated to begin in late 2024, and the building is expected to open in Arts Commons’ 2028/2029 season.

Featured image: An exterior nighttime rendering shows the Arts Commons Tranformation expansion’s curved form, exterior cladding, and interior finishes inspired by Alberta’s dramatic landscapes and the regional lodge typologies. (CMLC)

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