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Where the Plains Meet the Rockies: Great Examples of Albertan Architecture

Written by:
Liliana Alvarez
Igor Kyryliuk

When you think of Alberta, you might first imagine its stunning natural beauty: the rolling plains meeting the towering Rockies. But the man-made structures in this province are equally impressive. From majestic structures in the heart of Calgary to hidden gems scattered across the sprawling landscapes, Alberta's architectural landscape offers a captivating tapestry of styles and influences. They come from unexpected places and with surprising purposes, too: the Bambini Holistic Childcare Centre in St. Albert is a revolutionary and award-winning example of this.

Exploring these remarkable buildings unveils the intersection of history, culture, and innovation, providing a glimpse into the evolution of architectural design in the region. This article celebrates the diverse and enduring architectural legacy that has shaped Alberta's structural environment, from grand landmarks to contemporary masterpieces.

Influences on Albertan Architecture

You'll be amazed by the variety of influences on Albertan architecture, from Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style to Tudor Revival, creating a unique blend reflected in over 300 heritage buildings throughout the province. The American influence is strong due to proximity and shared culture, with many buildings featuring clean lines and flat roofs characteristic of the Prairie style. This can be seen in iconic structures like the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Alberta Legislature Building.

However, European styles have also made their mark on Albertan architecture, particularly Tudor Revival, which was popular during the early 20th century. This style features timber framing and steeply pitched roofs, making it easily recognizable. Examples of this style can be found in Calgary's Mount Royal neighbourhood or Edmonton's Glenora area. Architectural admirers will also find homes in these neighbourhoods and throughout the province with many of the common traits of bungalow-style architecture.  

Other influences include Art Deco, seen in gems like Edmonton's Paramount Theatre or Calgary's Fairmont Palliser Hotel, and Brutalism, characterized by raw concrete used extensively during the 1960s and 1970s for public buildings such as universities or government offices. With such a diverse range of styles influencing its architecture scene, Alberta is a melting pot of design ideas that continue inspiring architects today.

Lougheed House, Calgary

When stepping into the Lougheed House in Calgary, you'll be transported back to 1891 as you marvel at the High Victorian aesthetics and Queen Anne Revival style incorporated into this sandstone prairie mansion. The rough-faced sandstone exterior, asymmetrical massing, and corner towers testify to James C. Bowes' architectural prowess. Romanesque Revival influences can be seen through the steep roof, while the cone-shaped towers emanate French Chateau architecture.

Apart from its stunning exterior, the interior of Lougheed House is equally impressive. Spanish mahogany, Italian marble, and stained glass windows and doors adorn this 48-room house, featuring hand-painted images of Alberta's flora and fauna. When built over a century ago, it boasted modern luxuries such as running hot water and electricity.

Senator Sir James Alexander Lougheed built the Lougheed House for his family, who lived there until 1936. The house has become integral to Calgary's history and development over the last 129 years. Today it remains one of Canada's finest residences in the West—a must-see for anyone interested in architecture or history.

Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff

If you're lucky enough to step inside the Fairmont Banff Springs—originally called the Banff Springs Hotel—your senses will be overwhelmed by this National Historic Site's sheer grandeur and opulence. Built between 1911 and 1928, this iconic hotel is one of Canada's grand railway hotels, designed by Walter S. Painter and John W. Orrock for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Banff Springs Hotel features a blend of architectural styles, making it unique among other grand railway hotels in Canada. Its Château-style design features steep-pitched roofs, ornate dormers, gables, massive wall surfaces, and corner turrets inspired by Scottish baronial architecture. The building also drew inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement with its rounded gables and rough stone masonry.

Inside the hotel, you'll find plasterwork on the ceilings and terrazzo floors that add to its abundant charm. The centre tower is particularly noteworthy as it was mainly influenced by Scottish baronial architecture and lacks the French medieval architectural elements seen in the other wings of the hotel.

Peace Bridge, Edmonton

The Peace Bridge in Edmonton, designed by Santiago Calatrava, stands out from his previous designs with its unusual red and white colour scheme and barrier-free access for people of all mobility types. The design follows strict requirements to minimize the ecological footprint and restrict height due to the nearby heliport.

The architect’s typical asymmetric shapes anchored by high masts are absent in this design, which is a departure from his previous works. The bridge has been built to withstand Calgary's one-in-100-year flood cycle and has a minimum 75-year lifespan. It provides comfort and security through lighting while meeting accessibility needs.

Muttart Conservatory, Edmonton

You can't miss the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton with its unique structure of four glass pyramids surrounding a central service core, housing displays of plants from tropical, temperate, and arid regions. Designed by architect Peter Hemingway, the conservatory's two larger pyramids cover an area of 660 square metres each, while the smaller ones measure 410 square metres. The conservatory also features a small skylight pyramid that illuminates the central foyer.

The Muttart Conservatory is one of Edmonton's most famous landmarks and attracts visitors from all over Canada. It offers an immersive experience for nature lovers with its diverse collection of plant species found across three biomes. From exotic flowers to cacti and succulents, the conservatory has something everyone can enjoy.

Thanks to a donation from the Gladys and Merrill Muttart Foundation and funding provided by the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton, this botanical garden continues to thrive today. The Edmonton Parks and Recreation Department staff work hard to maintain its beauty year-round so visitors can enjoy it every day of the week.

Calgary City Hall

Walking up to Calgary City Hall, visitors are greeted by a beautiful Richardsonian Romanesque building with heavy stone walls, recessed windows, and a clock tower standing tall against the city skyline. Designed by architect William M. Dodd in the early 1900s, this iconic civic building was created to reflect Calgary's role as the urban center of southern Alberta.

Aside from its external beauty, Calgary City Hall boasts notable interior elements, including a highly ornamental cast-iron staircase and sky-lit rotundas. The building's design also showcases the City's coat-of-arms carved above many windows and entries. It’s no wonder that during the 1939 Royal Tour of Canada, Queen Elizabeth was escorted down the stairs of Calgary City Hall.

Given its historical significance and architectural value as a monumental civic building in southern Alberta, it is no surprise that Calgary City Hall has been designated a Provincial Historical Resource since 1978 and a National Historic Site since 1984. Under the Historical Resources Act, it was designated the municipality's first Municipal Historic Resource in 1990. 

Alberta's Amazing Architecture

Alberta's architectural landscape provides a window to the province's vibrant past and progressive spirit. These examples reflect the diverse styles and influences shaping the region. From the stately elegance of heritage buildings to the sleek look of contemporary structures, each structural gem offers a unique glimpse into Alberta's history and cultural heritage. As the province continues to evolve and grow, these buildings stand as enduring symbols of creativity and craftsmanship. 

By Liliana Alvarez

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