Better Buildings, Better City

City architect Carol Belanger is helping improve city design

Edmonton is not known for its outstanding architecture. City of Edmonton architect Carol Belanger is setting out to change that, one Whyte Avenue washroom at a time.

Belanger is the man in charge of the design of all City of Edmonton-owned buildings, from the permanent washrooms coming this summer to Whyte Avenue, to public park pavilions to rec centres and libraries. And his plate is full — after years where there was little public construction going on in Edmonton, the city is building in a big way. There are five Edmonton public libraries that are in the design or build phase, three major rec centres, a police station in the southwest, and a fire station in Ellerslie.

It’s Belanger’s job to make sure it’s done right.

“We’re raising the bar in design, and getting good value for our money,” says Belanger, who has been the city architect for two years. “These buildings are going to be around for a very long time. You want to put up the best buildings you can afford for the citizens.”

And it’s not just his opinion that counts. All city projects, from the smallest to the largest, have to go through the 13-member Edmonton Design Committee for approval.

Raising the bar means reaching out to architectural firms across the country, even for projects as small as park pavilions.

Belanger is very pleased with the city’s recent design competition for five “amenity buildings” at city parks (Victoria, Borden Park, Mill Woods, Castledowns, and John Fry), which generated 135 entries across the country. (Check them out at It was the first time the city has held a design competition for simple buildings. The contest cost the city about $50,000, which Belanger says was money “very well spent”.

The idea of having a design competition for buildings as modest as park pavilions was well received outside the city.

“Every city I’ve talked to, every firm I’ve talked to ... are all saying ‘Why doesn’t our city do this?’

“It’s something small, but it attracts national attention to Edmonton.”

Indeed, the parks pavilion competition got a major, laudatory article in the Globe and Mail.

But why go to that effort for something that is, in some cases, little more than washrooms and change rooms?

While some taxpayers may gripe about civic buildings that are anything more than functional, Belanger says creating architecturally appealing buildings is important for Edmonton’s civic pride.

Quality city buildings can also spur neighbourhood improvement, says Belanger. He says the $85-million rec centre at Commonwealth Stadium is generating talk of changing the entire area.

“There is already talk of creating transit-oriented development, with higher density housing around that area.”

Quality city buildings are something we as a community can be proud of, he says.

“It’s about pride. These are buildings that people will use on a daily basis. In the end, we’re not spending any more on the buildings.

“You want to make the city a better place. If you look at libraries and fire halls, they’re located in our neighbourhoods. You want our buildings to be an asset, so people are proud of them and it adds to the pride of being an Edmontonian.

“If you build better buildings, it makes a better city.”


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