Esker Foundation Contemporary Art Gallery: Catalyzing Calgary’s contemporary art scene
On the top floor of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, in the trendy neighbourhood of Inglewood, lives a contemporary art gallery that’s unlike any other in Calgary. Inspired by the winding, retreating Arctic glaciers of the same name, the Esker Foundation Contemporary Art Gallery is the perfect mixture of innovative design, cultural expression, icy accents, and warm undertones.
Through its creation, the Esker Foundation sought to address the need for more contemporary art spaces in Calgary. Their goal was to create office space that was attractive to creative sectors, and then use the rent revenue to support a contemporary art gallery that was free to the public.
As a tenant in the building, Kasian had a heightened interest in the project. Our team had several issues to address, including designing effective-art transportation infrastructure, incorporating strict temperature controls, dealing with effective and safe lighting design, and creating an environment where architecture complemented the art, without overtaking it.
Our team began the process with a series of discovery sessions to inform our design plans. Through careful consultation and collaboration with a steering committee of artists, we delved into the world of art ― what it’s about, and how it inspires. Eskers were key to the design because of a previous family trip that our client had made to the Arctic, where they witnessed and connected to the natural phenomenon firsthand.
Our work set the bar for design in Calgary’s art galleries. In many design details, you can see Arctic eskers and the life that surrounds them. The reception desk is akin to a block of ice. The feature wall at the gallery’s entrance is like cold glacial stone. The fibreglass portal entry is snow white, while windows are tinted a subtle, light blue. The lighting above the entrance flows like the eskers flow: brightly and elegantly. In other areas, we broke with the hardness of the Arctic feel by introducing soft round elements and a warm birch floor.
We built flexibility into the displays with movable walls that could adapt to all kinds of exhibits, from paintings to sculptures and beyond. An oversized elevator at the back of the building was installed to ensure that large works of art can be safely transported. We wove a quality of quiet elegance into the design of the gallery, so art was always the primary focus. Our design creates experiences that are firmly anchored in cultural expression.
To imprint lasting memories into the hearts and minds of gallery guests, we designed the boardroom as a 3-D 'nest', using monolithic colours and playful, adaptable lighting elements. The boardroom can be seen from the street below, acting as an inviting marker for the gallery four floors above. Finally, we created a dynamic, powerful entrance to the gallery. Designed as a geometric funnel, gallery guests will have no doubt that there is something special behind the portal.
The UV exposure from the vast amounts of daylight was mitigated by situating offices against the exterior windows to act as a filter for the gallery’s works ― protecting the art, but illuminating the office spaces. Esker is one of the only galleries in Calgary that achieves museum-quality environmental standards ― setting a creative benchmark in the city for generations to come. The gallery achieved LEED Silver standard of sustainable design.
Though the gallery showcases works of art from across the continent, the impact that the project has on Calgary artists is monumental. Esker is one of the few public places in the city where contemporary art is truly celebrated ― for free, without any commercial caveat. And, Calgary post-secondary art students can also showcase their work. Thanks to the Esker Foundation, many local artists now have a place to express themselves to the public.
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