The new home of the National Music Centre of Canada redefines a historic Calgary neighborhood with a program housed within nine subtly curved towers that shimmer behind a glazed terra-cotta façade.
Af Jason Dibbs
The seeds for Allied Works Architecture’s design for Studio Bell were sown when the Portland-based practice won a 2009 international competition sponsored by the National Music Centre of Canada on the historic King Edward Hotel site in Calgary’s East Village — a competition that included other top-tier international practices such as Ateliers Jean Nouvel and Diller Scofidio & Renfro.
Studio Bell is named in recognition of the partnership between Canada’s largest communications company, Bell, and the National Music Centre, and has been designed to create a new international hub for music and technology. Studio Bell’s complex program consists of a 300-seat performance hall, exhibition galleries, radio station, recording studios, media center, artists-in-residence spaces, classrooms, retail spaces, and a café. The central lobby, in Studio Bell’s East Block, acts as an atrium, leading visitors up one of two helical staircases. In the building’s West Block, the Rolling Stones’ legendary mobile recording studio is exhibited in the Canada Music Square gallery stage. Connecting the various parts of Studio Bell back to the King Edward Hotel, the East Village Skybridge spans across the 4th Avenue, framing views of Stampede Park and the Bow River.
The 1905 King Edward Hotel, a once-legendary blues spot known by locals as “King Eddy”, has been retained and refreshed in Allied Works Architecture’s design. Two complementary structural systems underpin the complex interplay of spaces, consisting of interlocking arches at ground level, and the suspension ‘bridge’ spanning over 4th Avenue. Central to the overall success of the building is the exciting circulation system, interconnecting the building’s many disparate zones with walkways and stairs.
An extraordinarily innovative aspect of Allied Works Architecture’s design is the central music hall’s flexibility in accommodating myriad diverse performances and events, and in creating starkly different acoustic environments. This includes adaptable seating configurations and a large-scale movable acoustic wall, which closes the music hall in for intimate performances or allows it to spill out into the lobby area, letting the hall’s music permeate the entire building.
The complex demands of the multi-genre program envisioned by the National Music Centre of Canada called for the redefinition of this type of cultural institution. The drive towards innovation on both conceptual and architectonic levels shaped Allied Works Architects’ approach to Studio Bell. The project’s lead designer, Brad Cloepfil, has explained how the vision of Andrew Mosker — president of the National Music Centre — helped propel the design process forward: “He had a dream of an institution that was more than a museum, kind of more than everything. A kind of music institution that doesn’t exist—education, performance, everything.” The stunning result of this detailed and collaborative design process between Allied Works Architecture and the National Music Centre is a building that far exceeds the sum of its many parts.