The 2020 Governor General’s Medals in Architecture honour outstanding buildings across Canada

Written by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) and the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) have announced the recipients of the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture.  

The biennial awards recognize and celebrate excellence in recently built—and designed—projects by Canadian architects.  The 2020 competition continues a tradition initiated by the Massey Medals in 1950, providing an important source of understanding of the nature of Canadian architecture and the regional, cultural, and historic forces expressed in the built environment. 

The 12 projects represent a variety of building types and sizes—from a natural swimming pool to a performance hall.  They include a Baha’i temple, a waterfront art gallery, libraries, and a centre for remembrance. 

Winning projects come from across the country—with an international recipient as well—and they include Vancouver, BC, Edmonton, AB, Saskatoon, SK, Brampton, ON, Lake Kawagama, ON, Drummondville, QC, St. Jérôme, QC, and Santiago, Chile. 

View images, descriptions of each project, and jury comments. 

The 2020 winners: 

Remai Modern, Saskatoon, SKKPMB Architects and Architecture49

Occupancy: October 21, 2017 | Construction Budget: $80.2 million CAD

The mandate of the Remai Modern is “to enable transformative experiences by connecting art with local and global communities.”  The architecture, conceived as an open, flexible and accessible platform, has enabled the Remai to fulfill its goal to be a leading centre for art in Canada, and to provide a supportive platform for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse.  From its prominent location on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, the Remai modern connects art, the city, environment, and interiors to shape a civil community where people come together, to enjoy and share their viewpoints through the lens of art.

South Haven Centre for Remembrance, Edmonton, ABSHAPE Architecture with PECHET Studio and Group 2 Architects 

Occupancy: January 1, 2019 | Construction Budget: $4,500,000 CAD

The South Haven Centre for Remembrance creates a new non-denominational facility for the City of Edmonton.  The design features a symbolic thirteen metre tower which emerges from the prairie landscape which makes reference to the existing grave sites, monuments, columbaria, and the latent memory that they embody.  Our memory of visiting a cemetery is marked by time; the position of the sun, the quality of light and the weather on that particular day.  For some it may be a solitary visit for a ceremony, for others it may be experienced through ritual visits which span the rest of their lives.

The Dock Building, Vancouver, BCMGA | Michael Green Architecture 

Occupancy: September 1, 2017 | Construction Budget: $3.5 Million CAD

The Dock Building, located on Jericho Beach in Vancouver, serves a large marina of sailboats.  The facility provides washrooms and showers, offices for the Harbour Master, instruction space for children, and a variety of workshops to maintain boats, sails, and gear.  The project’s practical working needs, very modest budget, and prominent siting required a simple solution that honoured the cannery and industrial heritage of waterfront buildings that were once found on the site a half-century before.  The design demonstrates that all projects from working industrial buildings to boutique museums can and should be realized with grace and architectural dignity.

Polygon Gallery, Vancouver, BCPatkau Architects 

Occupancy: November 11, 2017 | Construction Budget: $12,000,000 CAD

The Polygon Gallery is an instrument of transformation.  It is an industrial waterfront re-imagined as a cultural hub.  It is a mutable scaffold for artistic provocation. It is an assertive figure yielding to flows of people and the diurnal play of skylight.  The building is articulated as two bodies; at grade, a warm outward body of light; above grade, a cool inward bearing.  Hidden musculature liberates both from static impediments.  At grade, uninterrupted glass opens and invites.  Above grade, expanded aluminum grills on mirrored stainless steel beget a crisp, animate architectural skin.  Within, studio-like art space offers raw potential.

Borden Park Natural Swimming Pool, Edmonton, ABgh3 architecture

Occupancy: July 1, 2018 | Construction Budget: $14.4 Million CAD

The BPNSP is the first chemical-free public outdoor pool built in Canada.  The pool involves a balanced ecosystem where plant materials, microorganisms, and nutrients come together within a granular filtering process to create “living water.”  The pool technology cleanses the water through stone, gravel, sand, and botanic filtering processes.  This was the inspiration behind a materials-oriented concept for the facility to achieve a technically rigorous and aesthetically integrated design whose gabion basket stone wall visually evokes the idea of filtration.  The elemental form and reductive materials ease the user experience and enriches the narrative of bathing in the landscape.

Bahá’í Temple of South America, Santiago, ChileHariri Pontarini Architects

Occupancy: October 1, 2016 | Construction Budget: $36 Million CAD 

At the heart of the Temple there is a belief that even now, in the fractured 21st Century, we can respond to a human yearning to come together and connect to one another, and to something that moves the spirit.  The Temple sits on the edge of Santiago and nestles against the Andes.  It is a human place, universally appealing in form and at one with its landscape.  Inside, the building soars along with the spirit of those who enter.  The interior is alive with soft light filtering through the cast-glass exterior and translucent marble interior, bathing visitors in warmth.

Drummondville Library, Drummondville, QCChevalier Morales in consortium with DMA architects 

Occupancy: September 7, 2017 | Construction Budget: $21 million CAD

Drummondville Library was developed so that it transposes the historical, cultural and poetic essence of the region into an architectural composition.  Since its founding by a garrison of soldiers turned farmers, the city had developed an industrial economy through hydroelectric dams.  After a difficult economic transition, Drummondville welcomes its library as a symbol and a synthesis of these redevelopment efforts.  Attached to the municipal skating rink with which it maintains a close dialogue and an exchange of energy, the new library allows the surrounding public area to become a lively gathering place where culture and sports meet.

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre, Vancouver, BCMJMA and Acton Ostry Architects

Occupancy: August 1, 2016 | Construction Budget: $33.5 Million CAD

How can the new aquatic centre effectively train Olympians, serve its community, and enhance the student experience?  How can it operate “learn-to-swim” programs while at the same time run a 1,000-person swim meet?  The requirement to co-program elite level training and competitions with daily community use led to a two-sided pool hall divided by a “Y” shaped columns and a continuous skylight bisecting the building. In section, a translucent screen creates a luminous barrier between the two spaces, reflecting abundant sunlight into the “leisure” side, while providing the required controlled and balanced light into the “competitive” side.

The Springdale Library and Komagata Maru Park, Brampton, ONRDH Architects (RDHA) 

Occupancy: July 30, 2019 | Construction Budget: $16,670,000 CAD

The Springdale Library and Komagata Maru Park aspires to create an inclusive gathering place, a progressive architectural expression in the suburbs, and a point of pride for the city.  The concept for this project is to establish a new type of suburban landscape through the organically shaped perimeter of the building; the creation of an undulating topography of fluid ceilings and mountainous green roof; and the sectional variation of the ground plane.  The new Springdale branch provides Brampton with an emboldened organic presence and a sustainable public resource for the community.

Gilles-Vigneault Performance Hall, St. Jérôme, QCAtelier TAG  in consortium with Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architectes 

Occupancy: September 29, 2017 | Construction Budget: $21 million CAD

The architecture of the new Saint-Jérôme Performance Hall re-evaluates the experience of theatre-going within the context of a city in the midst of reinventing itself as an important eco-recreational and cultural center north of Montreal.  To this end, the proposed spatial concept turns the traditional experience of the theatre inside out.  A large wood canopy extends over the site, blurring the limits, and creating a sensory landscape encompassing many activities and scales.  Acting as a socio-cultural catalyst and economic driver for the region, its architecture broadcasts the growing cultural landscape of Saint-Jérôme and its local forestry industry.

Lake Kawagama Retreat, Kawagama Lake, ONShim-Sutcliffe Architects Inc.

Occupancy: September 1, 2014 | Construction Budget: Withheld

In this project, natural light is used to create a strong sense of place in a building situated in the Canadian landscape.  Located at 45 degrees latitude, the building’s design embraces the sectional aspect of the site’s naturally sloping topography by reconciling the north facing view of the lake with the introduction of warm southern light which enters deep into this residence.  Located on the south shore of a majestic lake just west of Algonquin Park, the site is defined by the undulating shoreline, the Canadian Shield and its mature deciduous forest.

RTC 03, Edmonton, ABgh3 architecture

Occupancy: November 1, 2015 | Construction Budget: $1.2 million CAD

The City of Edmonton’s Real Time Control Building #3 plays a central role in reducing untreated run-off and sewage flowing into the North Saskatchewan River.  The facility represents state-of-the-art engineering and recognizes the dynamic loading of urban storm and wastewater.  Correspondingly, the architecture makes apparent the engineering occurring below ground, as the form of the main shaft is notionally extruded to create the circular enclosure for plant equipment; and secondary shafts are telegraphed through to the surface, imbuing the site with an interpretive strategy and signalling that RTC#3 is part of a larger, complex infrastructure system.

“The 2020 Governor General’s Medal in Architecture represents the best in contemporary Canadian architecture—and the projects explore unique aspects of culture, context, and materiality across the vast expanse of our country,” said RAIC President John Brown, FRAIC.” They are a testament to the skill of the award-winning architectural firms and the tenacity of their clients who helped bring the poetic vision into reality.  The RAIC is proud to advocate for the quality of Canada’s built environment by celebrating the work of these talented architects.” 

“On behalf of everyone at the Canada Council, I salute this year’s recipients of the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture,” said Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts. “Even more so than ever before, the excellence of these winning projects is a necessary inspiration and important reminder of the unifying nature of architecture to our daily lives in 2020 and beyond.

The 2020 Governor General’s Medals in Architecture honour outstanding buildings across Canada

 About the Awards 

The Governor General’s Medals in Architecture, created by the RAIC, contribute to the development of the discipline and practice of architecture and increase public awareness of architecture as a vital cultural force in Canadian society. 

Medals are awarded for excellence in the art of architecture. The jury considers elements such as conceptual clarity, compatibility with the site, detailing, innovation and uniqueness, and sustainable design. 

The awards are administered jointly with the Canada Council for the Arts, which is responsible for the adjudication process and contributes to the publication highlighting the medal winners. 

The composition of the 2020 Jury is: 

Alison Brooks, Principal and Creative Director, Alison Brooks Architects, London, United Kingdom 

Johanna Hurme, FRAIC, Architect and Co-founder, 5468796 Architecture, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Renée Mailhot, MIRAC, Architect and Co-founder, La SHED architecture, Montreal, Quebec

David Theodore, MRAIC, Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Health, and Computation at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec 

Isay Weinfeld, Head Architect, Isay Weinfeld Arquitetura, Sao Paulo, Brazil 

The 2020 Governor General’s Medals in Architecture honour outstanding buildings across Canada

 About the RAIC

The Royal Architecture Institute of Canada (RAIC) is a not-for-profit, national organization that has represented architects and architecture for over 100 years, in existence since 1907.  The RAIC is the leading voice for excellence in the built environment in Canada, demonstrating how design enhances the quality of life, while addressing important issues of society through responsible architecture.  The RAIC’s mission is to promote excellence in the built environment and to advocate for responsible architecture.  The organization national office is based in Ottawa with a growing federated chapter model.  Current chapters and networks are based in British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia.

The 2020 Governor General’s Medals in Architecture honour outstanding buildings across Canada

 About the Canada Council for the Arts

The Canada Council for the Arts is Canada’s public arts funder.

The Council’s grants, services, initiatives, prizes, and payments contribute to the vibrancy of a creative and diverse arts and literary scene that reaches across Canada and abroad.  The Council’s investments foster greater engagement in the arts among Canadians and international audiences.