The problem with Capital Boulevard’s “grand view” of the Alberta Legislature building

I’m excited about Capital Boulevard, the transformation of 108 Street downtown into a premiere address worthy of a capital city like Edmonton. The City of Edmonton is investing $17.6 million in the project, slated to be finished by the 100th anniversary of the Alberta Legislature building in September 2012.

When completed, Capital Boulevard will feature broad tree-lined sidewalks, enhanced street and sidewalk lighting, mid block pedestrian crossings, bike racks, and street furnishings such as benches.

The project will be completed in two phases. The first is south of Jasper Avenue to 99 Avenue, and the second is north of Jasper Avenue to 104 Avenue.

Capitol Boulevard

The redevelopment plans have drawn inspiration from signature streets and views around the world. Here are a few examples, starting with the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Another is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

San Francisco’s City Hall is another example (opposite view here).

One of the great things about those examples is a clear line of sight down the street to the focal point. The view of the building is unobstructed. That’s something we have currently on 108 Street.

Capitol Boulevard

And losing that view is what concerns me.

The new ceremonial street will highlight the connection of the provincial legislature to the capital city and celebrate the shared history between Alberta and Edmonton. It will provide a grand view from MacEwan University to the Alberta Legislature.

A grand view perhaps, but no longer of the Legislature building! The plan is to have five sites of public art in the middle of the street between each avenue.

Here’s a rendering of what it would look like:

This rendering is off to the side, and the public art is the white mesh piece in the centre. My guess is the final art installations (which to my knowledge remain unfunded) are not going to be small, which means they’ll definitely obstruct the view of the Legislature building. Part of the problem is that the Legislature building is at an elevation of ~2160 feet and Jasper Avenue is at ~2180 feet. That’s why in my photo above, you can only see the top of the building. Put almost anything in the middle of the street and it becomes taller than the street-level view of the Legislature building.

The street is going to be called “Capital Boulevard” because of the Alberta Legislature building. So why would be obstruct the view of it?

14 thoughts on “The problem with Capital Boulevard’s “grand view” of the Alberta Legislature building

  1. Very good point Mack. I agree that the sight line to the Leg dome is the key to the whole thing. I’m sure at this early stage it’s not to late to revise the project as you’ve outlined. Hopefully the folks at the City take note. I’m sure everyone involved wants this to turn out right, so it’s great that you’ve made this observation early. 

  2. So the giant construction project on 108 St and 99 Ave, what’s that going to be? Some sort of plaza? When I worked at the IBM building, I was totally worried the new project would be some building that totally obstructed the Leg.

    1. It’s a combination of streetscape improvements related to this project, as well as the renovation of the Federal Building. Not sure what, if anything, will be erected there but it won’t be a building.

  3. Totally tangential, but this reminds me a bit of what the UofA did with Corbett Hall, except they ruined the sightline from behind. You used to be able to drive down Whyte, and the closer you got to 112th street, the better view you’d have of the big green field, Corbett Hall, and then big blue sky behind it. Now you approach, see the field and Corbett, and then the ugly Edmonton Clinic South tower behind it. Brutal. Here’s hoping they don’t do the same on 108th.

  4. The more important point to me is, what’s this project going to look like in the snow? I’m tired of seeing this city’s architectural concepts rendered up in the summer. I don’t care how it looks in the summer, I’m too busy enjoying the beautiful weather! Everything looks great in the summer by simple virtue of seasonal relativity. Let’s see some designs that look magnificent in the snow and windrows.

    For that matter, I’m also tired of parking lot and road designs that simply ignore the realities of winter snow removal. The Castledowns Rec Centre is a perfect example of a parking lot that probably looked great on paper and in the summer-time renders, but is a nightmare of pedestrian-unfriendly access in the winter.

  5. I would imagine that most people on capital boulevard won’t be walking down the center of the street.

  6. The building will “rise” as one appraches it.  Besides, the art pieces may work the Lege into their design.

  7. Good point – and I agree.  And another thing – the “art” are aways lame. Now that is my opinion – but it is especially relevant when the alternative is between no “art” and a clear view. So Bob, I will take saving the money and a clear view for the next 100 years.

    1. “the “art” are aways lame”?

      Spelling mistake aside, what on earth does that even mean? What does “awesome art” look like, pray tell.

  8. Thanks Mack for making a good point about not obstructing
    the sightlines and building views of the Alberta Legislature, in response to the
    Capital Boulevard design and construction details that were recently announced.

    It is worth noting that the concept rendering provided
    includes a sample public art concept that serves to demonstrate the proposed
    urban design plan and possible artwork site locations—the artworks have not yet
    been selected.

    When we establish calls or commissions for public art, we
    work with the City to define conditions and specifications that take into
    account public space context and related issues—maintaining visibility of sight
    line to the Legislature building would be a likely example. An additional
    example might be that the artworks serve as enhancing focal points, intended to
    draw attention toward the two iconic structures at each end of the five-block
    ‘signature street’.

    Proposed public art elements to be attached to the custom
    streetlights for Capital Boulevard will be funded through the City’s “Percent
    for Art” policy, administered by the Edmonton Arts Council. The funding for the
    proposed artwork elements intended for the centre islands/mid-block pedestrian
    crossings are not determined at this time.
    — Edmonton Arts Council

  9. If the primary architectural element that we want to emphasize is the emerging landmark building at the end of the avenue, then isn’t the appropriate framing element large ornamental gates, rather than “focal point” artwork?

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