Cantos National Music Centre in Calgary, Canada

In the summer of 2009, SPF:a was selected with four other international architects to submit design proposals for the National Music Centre in Calgary. A unique combination of performing arts venue, music museum, music education facility, and blues bar, the National Music Centre is a catalytic project in a redevelopment area of Calgary, Canada.

The client, Cantos, required iconic architecture, a community destination, and a restoration of the historic King Edward bar (that had at one time served as a hotel).

In the SPF:a concept, anchoring the project both physically and symbolically, the King Eddy is raised slightly to match its elevation and site-lines with the lobby on an adjacent site – both are wrapped in glass to create transparency between the two. From the second story upwards, the building represents a giant bridge – also physically and symbolically. The bridge is simple and straightforward, slender, structurally pure and geometrically elementary. It faces north and south to receive optimal natural light into the building. Filling the bridge on every level, the many galleries, performance spaces, workshops, research and administration areas are staggered and fused together. Conceptually similar to a wood joint, where maximum surface-to-surface connection provides the greatest opportunity for cohesion, fusion and strength, the multi-layered connectivity of the building strengthens and enriches the community experience. Such is the core of the bridge, a symbol and strength of the Cantos organization.

Tying the entire building together and dictating the organization of the space is a central, canted atrium, called the Soundscape. The Soundscape connects all levels of the bridge building with the gallery, performance and research spaces, with operable vents that dissipate sound from the performing spaces into the atrium. It is warm and wonderfully clad in wood, like the inner-architecture of a musical instrument. Once underneath this light-filled atrium, visitors can actually hear the buzz of musical activity occurring up through the building. The Soundscape gives the building its iconic façade and celebrates the fusion of Calgary’s musical past and future.

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The exterior is black, precast concrete panels with a flat finish – to absorb maximum heat during Calgary’s many cold months. The façade uses the sun’s energy to heat the pipes and air behind the panels. Scattered rectangular openings are glass panels flush with the precast panels to emphasize the monolithic nature of the bridge. The perforations are tunable on the interior with a system of precast GFRG funnel like frames that allow the user to change and modify the aperture of the openings within interior spaces, depending on their uses.

At a distance, the concept appears a monolith – a striking black volume with syncopated skin and a central shaft of light, suspending volumes on alternating sides. On the backdrop of a night sky, these volumes of activity appear suspended in space, hovering over the landscape like a musical beacon, begging the viewer to draw near. The skin’s playful perforations lend additional sparkle and mystery to its nocturnal presence.

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