Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Elegant urban buildings emerge in the North – and win praise

Fort McMurray’s new airport terminal building in northern Alberta and Gillam's town centre in northern Manitoba singled out for design excellence

1 of 9

Two northern infrastructure projects – one in Fort McMurray, Alta., another in Gillam, Man. – have been recognized for design excellence and unique fit with the local landscape. Fort McMurray’s $258-million international airport terminal, its entrance seen in this rendering, is set to open in June.

mcfarlane biggar architects + designers

2 of 9

In giving Fort McMurray’s airport terminal building an award of excellence, Canadian Architect magazine praised its simple, formal framework. Steel, bitumen-coloured metal cladding, and unfinished concrete – tough, industrial exterior materials – create a presence in the northern landscape.

mcfarlane biggar architects + designers

3 of 9

The Fort McMurray Airport Authority is also updating the aircraft apron, taxiways, approach road and parking areas. Four new air bridges mean that visitors and northern Alberta residents won’t have to go outside – in temperatures that can range from -40 C in winter to 30 C in summer – to enter or exit a plane.

mcfarlane biggar architects + designers

4 of 9

Long-span spaces inside feature exposed mass timber ceilings, projecting the warmth of this renewable resource – even in the baggage claim area here. The 8,040-square-metre terminal will replace an outdated building that was built to accommodate just 250,000 passengers a year, but which served 958,000 in 2012.

mcfarlane biggar architects + designers

Story continues below advertisement

5 of 9

Travellers will have access to 16 retail and food and beverage outlets, including two full-service restaurants. Here’s the check-in space. As the gateway to the northern oil sands projects, the Fort McMurray airport had 80,000 takeoffs and landings in 2012.

mcfarlane biggar architects + designers

6 of 9

A large south-facing courtyard is complemented by a range of environmentally-friendly features including triple-glazed windows, in-floor radiant heating and – perhaps most importantly – structural flexibility that allows for the building’s easy expansion.

mcfarlane biggar architects + designers

7 of 9

In northern Manitoba, another project was recognized with a Canadian Architect magazine award of merit. Instead of simply replacing a derelict shopping mall, the community of Gillam is going ahead with plans for a thoughtful, green town centre, to be completed in 2018.

Calnitsky Associates Architects Inc. | Peter Sampson Architecture Studio Inc.

8 of 9

The 80,000-square-foot mixed-use development will provide room for more than retail. Residential units, medical offices, and space for fitness and town gatherings will be included, too. Basically, it will beome a new social hub for a community that is expected to grow to 5,000 people from 1,500 in the next 15 to 20 years, primarily as a result of hydro dam construction. Tourism is expected to grow, too, as road improvements shorten the three-hour drive from Thompson by 1.5 hours.

Calnitsky Associates Architects Inc. | Peter Sampson Architecture Studio Inc.

9 of 9

Models of the modest, low-slung buildings that will provide walkable indoor routes where the story of Gillam, its people, its resources, its aboriginal history will be told. Wrote one judge: “They are creating a town centre and framework that has the potential to serve their residents well into the future.” Read more about these two projects at the link below: New public buildings reflect spirit of the North.

Calnitsky Associates Architects Inc. | Peter Sampson Architecture Studio Inc.

Report an error
Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.