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2014 MCHAP

Gardiner Museum

KPMB Architects

Toronto, Canada



Bruce Kuwabara Shirley Blumberg


Kevin Bridgman / KPMB Architects (Project team)


Kelvin Browne, Executive Director and CEO


Shai Gill Tom Arban Eduard Hueber


The expansion and reimagination of this small museum dedicated to ceramic arts was catalyzed by the need to address functional deficiencies that were impairing its profile in the city. The project needed to not only provide a visual update to the building, but also address issues of poor circulation and limited exhibition space to showcase a growing permanent collection. The challenge was to negotiate these requirements while preserving the intimate scale of the original building, as well as keeping within a limited budget and a very tight urban site. Additionally, the design needed to set the museum in conversation with its surrounding urban context. The original two-storey museum was designed to zig-zag back from the street to protect views of the adjacent neoclassical limestone façade, resulting in an anonymous street presence. A new west elevation and landscaping provides the opportunity to remedy this issue by creating a welcoming entry that engages the public. Successful maneuvering of these concerns into a novel design was intended to increase the institution’s low attendance and ensure a prosperous future for this unique cultural artifact of the city.


The Gardiner Museum is one of the world's preeminent institutions devoted to ceramic art, and the only museum of its kind in Canada. It is also designated as one of Toronto’s cultural renaissance projects, conceived during a period in the early 2000’s that was marked by significant investment in cultural architecture for the city.?Located across University Avenue from the Royal Ontario Museum, immediately north of the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, and around the corner from the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Gardiner is a significant presence in one of Toronto’s evolving cultural precincts. The building is set within a niche formed by the limestone wall of the neoclassical Lillian Massey Building (1908–1912) to the north and the red brick façade of the Queen Anne-style Annesley Hall student residence (1901–1903) to the south. The renewal builds on top of the original structure, a pink granite building designed by Keith Wagland in 1983.


The program involved 4,300 square metres of additions and renovations. Within the existing building, this includes a new entrance vestibule, an expanded museum shop and a contemporary ceramics gallery. The third floor addition accommodates a flexible exhibition space, a café/restaurant and multi-purpose event space. The former underground parking garage was converted into ceramic studios and curatorial space. To create a bolder urban presence, the second floor was expanded and projected 2 metres with an outdoor terrace on its roof. The west exterior was relandscaped with terraced platforms stepping down to University Avenue. The original pink granite exterior was replaced with black granite and limestone cladding and louvers on the upper floors of the west and south façades. The interiors were refinished in limestone, oak and white drywall to foreground the diverse collection that ranges from pre-Columbian artifacts to modernist-era ceramic objects such as a Picasso vase. The intimate scale of the museum is preserved and the reconfiguration of the plan and circulation draws visitors to previously unimagined views of the façades and pediments of the adjacent heritage architecture, and the city beyond. The outcome is a transformation that has allowed the museum to host international exhibits of contemporary works and attract significant collections, including the Macdonald collection of porcelain deemed among the best collections in the world. Following the building’s reopening, museum attendance grew 35%, earned revenue increased 37%, shop revenue increased 146%, while restaurant/facility rental grew 744%. Additionally, private sector donations increased 26% and government support increased 55%.

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