3 designs pitched for new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

·3 min read

Three teams pitched their designs on Thursday night for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) as part of a planned arts district on the Halifax waterfront.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia hosted a live stream on YouTube with each team's presentations.

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic and "so much loss and struggle," Jennifer Angel, president and CEO of Develop Nova Scotia, said she knows some people are asking whether now is the right time for a new gallery.

But she said social infrastructure matters as a way to bring people from different backgrounds together and build understanding and community.

"It may never have mattered more," Angel said.

She added they hope to do for art galleries what the Halifax Central Library has done for libraries, building a "thriving destination" for people of all backgrounds.

Who are the design finalists?

The design teams noted their suggestions and renderings may look final but aren't, since whoever wins the bid will then go into more extensive public consultations about the gallery and new arts district.

The finalists in the six-month international design competition are:

  • Architecture49 with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Hargreaves Jones.

  • DIALOG, Acre Architects, Brackish Design Studio and Shannon Webb-Campbell.

  • KPMB Architects with Omar Gandhi Architect, Jordan Bennett Studio, Elder Lorraine Whitman (NWAC), Public Work and Transsolar.

The first team up was Architecture49, whose design had the gallery lifted above the streetscape on tree-like columns, enabling pedestrians to see the harbour all the way from the street in an "urban living room." People can also stop into the café, lobby, shop and various places to sit and relax.

They are suggesting a "village" of smaller, flexible spaces on top of this platform, while some of the design, like the lecture theatre, extends down to the ground. There would also be a new grove of local trees dubbed the Salter Grove, a floating barge for art, and large lawn space.


The team said they wanted to keep the ground floor as accessible as possible and allow people to approach the gallery from all angles, while putting the galleries above sea level protects them from coastal erosion and flooding.

There would be a boardwalk on the harbour side with public art, a permanent outdoor stage and a garden courtyard. The roof of the gallery would be public as well and would overlook the water and Georges Island.

The DIALOG team presented second, and focused on the theme of a "people's gallery" with a shape inspired by a whale and fog settling on the land.


By touching down in two spots, the building would create a covered arch for outdoor shows and events, and nearby they would open up the pavement to showcase an underground freshwater stream flowing down from Salter Street.

There would be a driftwood park and colourful, hanging buoys for kids to play on, as well as an elevator where people could digitally paint images, and a salon focused on Black Nova Scotian beauty skills.

While all three designs included Indigenous voices, elders and team members, the third from KPMB Architects built Mi'kmaw imagery and culture into the facade itself.

It is shaped like an eel, culturally important to the Mi'kmaq, while the Lower Water Street main entrance is peaked to represent the hats of Mi'kmaw matriarchs.

KPMB Architects
KPMB Architects

The waterfront would be divided between an inner lagoon and outer harbour waterfront that could have lots of floating elements for research, art and food, including a harbour pool.

All three teams incorporated some kind of living shoreline to work with the changing climate, such as including salt marshes or sea walls that will weather storms or allow beach access on calm days.

While the public still has a chance to weigh in online or at the current AGNS where there are physical models of the designs, the province said an expert panel of architects, a landscape architect, artists and museum professionals will make the final decision late next month.

When the project was announced last year, the price tag was pegged at $130 million.


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