King Eddy's new suitors

They packed the Grand Theatre last night in Calgary for the public unveiling of the five proposals on the short list for the Cantos Music Foundation’s King Edward Hotel renaissance project. (Background is available in my earlier blog post here.) Finally the scale and the entirely salutary eccentricity of Cantos’s ambition is clear: they want to build a National Music Centre worthy of the name — in, over and around the skeleton of a tattered old blues dive in the heart of one of the country’s sketchiest neighbourhoods. But transformation is at the heart of this project. The East Village redevelopment will be one of the country’s most ambitious urban-design projects over the next few years. The Cantos National Music Centre is a keystone for the East Village project. And now Cantos has lured a handful of the world’s most audacious architects into a public battle for the right to kick off that transformation.

We have spectacular video of the five short-list proposals after the jump. The goal, in Cantos’s words, is to “honour the iconic King Eddy Hotel while creating over 80,000 square feet of spectacular space that will house an education research centre, museum, world-renowned collection of instruments and memorabilia, recording studios, a radio station, a seven-days-a-week live music venue and a suite of innovative and creative programs for people of all ages.” I really encourage you to watch these videos and see how much care and imagination is already going into this project.

Watching the short-list presentations today, I confirmed a hunch I had when I heard about this project and met Cantos executive director Andrew Mosker: no two proposals would resemble each other. Cantos wears too many hats —  as a museum, education and outreach facility, performance space, with interests ranging from pop and country to ancient music and contemporary composition — for it to be at all obvious how to house and showcase the thing. There’s a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory feeling to the Cantos collection as it now stands, and half the fun is seeing how all these outsiders see it and its potential. Here’s the list:

Allied Works Architecture: Portland, Oregon

This is Brad Cloepfil, the guy who wrapped 2 Columbus Circle in terra cotta and made himself one of the most controversial young American architects. This is the most oddball bid: Cloepfil’s plan for a cluster of “resonant vessels” and a building you can play like an instrument is a little vague, but if he could pull it off it would make the National Music Centre unique.

Diller Scofidio and Renfro: New York, NY

Already there’s grumbling that Diller Scofidio’s design looks like a knock-off of Daniel Libeskind’s crystal for the Royal Ontario Museum renovation. If that association sticks it could be fatal to the proposal, because it’s easy to find Torontonians who hate the new ROM — and not exactly difficult to find Calgarians who hate Toronto. “Boxy” and “crumpled” are the two main shapes of contemporary architecture, and DS’s video makes their rationale for crumpling their building clear. Their renovation of Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center shows they also think a lot about interiors and how they work. Their video suggests they’ve put a lot of thought into the relationship between the old King Eddy concert space and the larger new building across 4th Street.

Jean Nouvel  Workshop: Paris, France

The Pritzker winner is putting just about all of his eggs in one basket: an iconic building that would help define the Calgary skyline, and onto which video of live outdoor concerts could be projected. There’s a lot to be said for getting noticed, and Nouvel is certainly good at that.

Saucier + Perrotte: Montreal, Quebec

The Montreal-based “home team” in this competition to build a major Canadian building has come up with… a Saucier + Perotte building, stark and almost geological, like Perimeter in Waterloo and the new McGill music building. This one is a cluster of connected spaces, each about the size of the King Eddy, like echos or recapitulations of a musical theme. But then they do something quite bold to the King Eddy: lop off the bottom third and replace it with an airy, glass-walled space. This video, with its ’70s robo-synth soundtrack, strikes me as a clumsy presentation of a potentially very persuasive building.

Studio Pali Fekete Architects: Los Angeles, California

It’s hard to imagine less of a “starchitect” than Zoltan Pali, whose Los Angeles firm seems to work mostly in Southern California and has not led to a Wikipedia entry, a single New York Times article, or even more than a single passing reference in his hometown LA Times. But Pali and his associates — who apparently number in the dozens — are absolutely swinging for the fences with this detailed, sensitive design built around one bold feature — a “soundscape” tunnel that brings sound from the whole building down to a ground-floor atrium — and a lot of careful thought about the institution’s place in its specific neighbourhood and in the broader culture.

There you go. I think at least three of these crews have brought their A-game. I’m really curious to know what you think.

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