by Jincy IypeJan 22, 2022
Silvery, bold and sculptural, Edmonton’s new Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage (KATG) designed by gh3* is a municipal bus maintenance and storage facility in Canada designed "to set new standards for an often-overlooked building type". Globally, it is rare to see such architectural typologies experimenting with form, aesthetic or materiality, owing mostly to its highly demanding technical requirements. The question of how fair that is to a city’s infrastructural landscape and visual presence remains to be explored at length, of municipal and transit building types such as these not getting the same (if not more) amount of creative attention to detail as say, an airport or a museum would.
gh3* reconciles the transit garage’s technical prerequisites with its simple yet rigorous architecture, elevating “a conventionally utilitarian building and honour(ing) its important role within a growing, equitable, sustainable, and resilient contemporary city. Functional efficiency and high sustainability are matched by formal refinement, historic preservation, and public art, enriching both the lives of the people who work there and the wider community it serves,” relay the Canadian architects who display a knack for elevating (often boring) infrastructural forms like this to vibrant, visually charming ones within their multifaceted oeuvre.
At 50,000 sqm, the Canadian architecture is a “big building on a big site”, named after Edmonton’s first female bus driver. It impressively houses 300 buses, 35 maintenance bays with three undercarriage wash bays, four refuel bays and exterior wash bays. Its boxy form is welcomingly contrasted with its continuous surface, dressed in highly insulated stainless-steel panels with vertical corrugations and variegated widths. Its steely, monochrome façade is given further dimension and scale by five rooftop light wells that enclose staircases and mechanical systems inside.
These are garbed in silvery, crumpled stainless steel sculptures done by Berlin-based artist Thorsten Goldberg, inspired by the mountainous regions of the world as well as Edmonton’s latitude, which is ironically one of the world’s flattest landscapes. “(These) synthesise with the building’s surface, adding contrast to the uniformity of the architecture, stimulating curiosity and delight whether encountered by car or by foot,” the architects inform.
gh3* spoke with STIR about the Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage that replaces an ageing meat processing plant built in the 1960s, what gives it prominence, and its place in the broader conversation about such technically led architectural forms often ignored in its capability of becoming explorative, expressionist and dynamic entities.
Jincy: What forms the conceptual core of KATG? How many people and vehicles can the building accommodate?
gh3*: At its core, the project is about acknowledging the importance of civic infrastructure through contemporary architecture and landscape design that is disciplined, rigorous and at times, bold. The building and its site have an immediate visual impact that dignifies a transit-oriented workplace and celebrates this essential service as a significant part of urban culture.
The planned space can accommodate approximately 320 workers including bus drivers, bus maintenance staff, administration and supervisory staff, day-care, cafeteria and custodial staff. It houses 300 buses (regular and articulated) and includes 35 maintenance bays with three undercarriage wash bays and four re-fuel bays with exterior wash bays. It also provides one level of employee parking below grade. The Edmonton Transit System (ETS) administrative offices occupy 5,000 sqm of the project, which was designed to achieve LEED Silver designation.
Jincy: What can you tell us about the site and how it influences the precise architecture of the transit garage and storage facility?
gh3*: The building sits on a 10-acre site at the intersection of the Yellowhead Trail (the Trans-Canada Highway) and Fort Road which aligns with the CP Rail tracks. In 1936, the site was occupied by the Canada Packers’ abattoirs, stockyards and meat processing plant. Designed by famed architect and educator, Eric Arthur, the Canada Packer’s factory was a prime example of functional Canadian modernism until it was demolished in the 1980s, apart from its 50-metre-tall smokestack. KATG restores this legacy by conserving the smokestack and remediating the brownfield site through ecological greening, micro-climatic thresholds, bioswales and dense tree planting.
Transit depots rarely attract attention from either designers or the public, despite their functions being critical to the life of most communities, and the shared urban experience. KATG attempts to celebrate these services with a new civic landmark, and further Edmonton’s reputation as a progressive city. – gh3*
Jincy: What informs the sculptural steely forms capping the confidently placed building?
gh3*: Buildings of this type are oftentimes unremarkable in terms of form and their physical presence. Comparable to the 'big-box' architecture that is increasingly ubiquitous in suburban and light industrial landscapes, the program for Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage called for a simple, low-slung building spread over a vast floor area. Rather than willfully shaping this to create visual interest, we identified distinct opportunities along the most public facade to consolidate mechanical spaces, air handling units, and clerestory glazing within a series of rooftop enclosures. This strategy resulted in a series of roof "lanterns" that distinguish the building, the gable of each becoming the site for one of five public-art works by German artist, Thorsten Goldberg.
Jincy: How does the employed monochromatic materiality and colour palette provide relevance to KATG?
gh3*: The building envelope is primarily wrapped in custom stainless-steel cladding, punctuated by highly reflective curtain wall glazing and Okalux light-diffusing glass on the rooftop lanterns. Moreover, thoughtful landscaping including gabion baskets filled with Albertan river stones and granulated rubber tire mulch as ground cover are appropriate materials to seamlessly integrate architecture and landscape, while also highlighting the foundations and the smokestack in memory of what existed there before. The series of gabion walls on the exterior also help screen unsightly equipment and clutter.
The interior design is edited back to a limited palette of materials – the bus storage and maintenance areas are rendered in bright white to foster wellness, clarity and health among workers. The administrative and education areas are pure and monochromatic – sandblasted glass, stainless steel, polished concrete, Corian and untreated raw timber are deployed across the insides to achieve a ‘civic’ and refined quality to the space, while also being intrinsically durable and easy to maintain and upkeep, important considerations for a hard-working municipal building.
At its core, the project is about acknowledging the importance of civic infrastructure through contemporary architecture and landscape design that is disciplined, rigorous and at times, bold. – gh3*
Jincy: What are some included sustainable features?
gh3*: The Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage’s innovative and environmentally sustainable features make it one of North America’s leading transit facilities. The LEED Silver-certified garage occupies 10 acres of brownfield rehabilitated land. Key energy-saving features of the design include: Heat recovery ventilation for make-up air units; in the bus storage area bus exhaust is captured low and evacuated high; interior and exterior LED lighting on occupancy sensors; improved envelope performance comprised of insulated precast concrete panels and over-clad with a second skin of corrugated stainless steel; glazing is strategically deployed to ensure ample daylighting in occupied areas of the garage; glazing is limited to 35 per cent of the wall area; a light-filled atrium allows for a more efficient deeper floor plate while still ensuring the building is infused with daylight throughout the day; high efficiency modulating boiler system as well as low flow plumbing fixtures.
The KATG will be the first garage in Edmonton to accommodate 30 of the City’s new electric buses. Modifications were made to accommodate the needs of electric buses, which included reinforced concrete floors to bear their greater weight and additional emergency generators and charging stations. The roof is reinforced to support future installation of solar panels. Supplemental power from the solar photovoltaic panel installation will then be used to power the charging stations for the electric buses.
The roof is also designed to collect rainwater, which is held in a 1.5 million litre cistern, used to feed the facility’s bus wash system. The recycled rubber crumb surface and grass-planted dry pond at the northeast of the site act as a large bioswale that cleans all site water before it is discharged into the City stormwater system. 400 newly planted trees oxygenate and improve air quality, conserve water, preserve soil, and support biodiversity and provide a large area for wildlife to thrive.
Jincy: Please walk us through the building, highlighting some compelling elements that one may not see in such typologies.
gh3*: There is no single way to experience this building – some people arrive by foot and enter directly into the admin spaces from access-controlled doors around the ground floor perimeter. Others will arrive by car and park in the underground parking lot beneath the bus storage area. Visitors will most likely enter through the main atrium space and move from here to different parts of the building. The project consolidates many different programs into one large campus-like setting. The experience for each different user is unified through a limited palette of materials and finishes, calibrated as needed in response to different requirements for durability, level of traffic/use etc.
The facility is designed to optimise the manoeuvring, storage, and maintenance of the bus fleet and to promote overlap and exchange between blue-and white-collar personnel, in an almost political gesture of collegiality represented through architecture. – gh3*
Jincy: What about the icy, expansive interiors?
gh3*: Inside, the two-storey building is powerfully pure and monochromatic. Employees enter through a generous lower-level congregating area, and up to a day-lit central atrium via a sculptural stair. The facility is designed to optimise the manoeuvring, storage, and maintenance of the bus fleet and to promote overlap and exchange between blue- and white-collar personnel, in an almost political gesture of collegiality represented through architecture. In contrast to the conventional garage, the bus station interiors are bright white, helping to facilitate both wellness and cleanliness.
Such bold and precise architecture, executed at all scales, offers dignity and respect to Edmonton’s transit employees and pride in its fleet. As a new civic landmark, the building also provides pride of place for citizens and argues for more ambitious and exacting design standards for a building type that is so important to our shared urban experience. Transit depots rarely attract attention from either designers or the public, despite their functions is critical to the life of most communities. KATG attempts to celebrate these services with a new civic landmark, and further Edmonton’s reputation as a progressive city.
One level of employee parking is provided below grade — essential in a locale whose temperatures can vary considerably from 35°C at the peak of summer too -40°C in winter. The busy hub supports 800 workers including bus drivers, maintenance, administration, and transit security staff with the intimate conditions of the workplace, whether human or mechanical, as well as the scale of urban infrastructure.
Name: Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Building Area: 50,000 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: City of Edmonton
Architecture, Interiors and Landscape: gh3*
Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, LEED Engineer: Morrison Hershfield
Heritage Consultant: David Murray
Contractor: Graham Construction