National Music Centre of Canada
Kasian (Associate Architect)
Joe Geurts, Client Representative, National Music Centre
Our shared objective was to craft an entirely new institution, devoted to Canada’s diverse musical heritage, and to explore the many ways that music connects us. This required the development of an innovative program, a sensitive response to the challenging and constrained site, and equally, the creation of new form and experience, both inside and out, that would capture the NMC’s identity and amplify its message across Canada and beyond. The building is organized as a series of nine interlocking towers—a gathering of resonant vessels—that take their inspiration from musical instrument construction, the eroded sandstone formations in southern Alberta, and the grain elevators that rise from the high plains. These distinct but flowing spaces showcase the many diverse programs, collections and offerings of the Centre. Wrapped inside and out in glazed terra cotta that evokes the earth and light of the prairie, the formal and material expression allows for a range of viewpoints, changing soundscapes, aspects, and connections to the city and landscape beyond. While the towers hold acoustically distinct volumes or “stages”, the spaces between are the connective tissue of the Centre, allowing visitors to experience a full spectrum of sound and activity. At the heart of the building, a new 350-seat, multi-form performance hall may be closed off and finely tuned for special events and sensitive performances, or opened to the building to fill the Centre with sound and life.
In 2009, the Cantos Music Foundation held an open international competition to select the architect for a new National Music Centre of Canada in Calgary, Alberta. The Foundation received city, provincial, federal and private support to create a new platform and showcase for their innovative, hands-on educational programming and one-of-a-kind collection of instruments and related artifacts, ranging from some of the earliest keyboard instruments in existence, to Elton John’s piano, to RSM—a utility van converted to the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Recording Studio. At the same time, the city and Foundation received commitments to locate the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame within the same facility. Completed in 2016, the new National Music Centre is an institution dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Canada’ extraordinary musical heritage. The NMC is equally a museum, performance hall, interactive music education center, recording studio and broadcast center. Sited opposite the Stampede Grounds in Calgary’s historic East Village, the new project was intended as a catalyst for the renaissance of the redeveloping district and an attractor to bring a broader national and international audience to the city. In addition to 141,000sf of new space for exhibition, teaching and performance, the NMC completely restored the 21,000sf King Edward Hotel. Erected in 1905, the hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Calgary, and the former home of the King Eddy Club, site of one of Canada’s legendary blues clubs.
Since opening in 2016, the National Music Centre has welcomed over 100,000 visitors in its first year, hosted 680 events, 15 artist residencies and seven exhibitions. It has also played host to the Juno Awards and Canadian Country Music Awards, as well as a regular schedule of performances on its two main venues, the restored Eddy Club and Performance One in the heart of the new building. Its varied offerings, both day and night, have created new vitality and presence in a formerly derelict area of the city. The NMC isn’t simply for collection and performance, it’s also about new creation: its exhibition spaces, each a stage in itself, are designed to allow instruments to be played, whether by docents, visiting artists or the public. Held within the towers, the galleries may be tuned to suit specific sound profiles. Interactive installations throughout offer visitors opportunities to explore their own creative potential. Additional spaces—a recording studio, artist-in-residence facilities, broadcast booth and instrument workshops, engage a full spectrum of music production from composition to the crafting of singular, hand crafted and digitally created works. As the East Village and surrounding areas continue to develop, the NMC has become truly symbolic of Calgary’s arrival on the world stage. In 2017 it received a Mayors Award from the City of Calgary, and has often been referred to as the city’s own “Sydney Opera House”— a building that will be deeply connected to Calgary’s identity and legacy for generations to come.