EDMONTON — Walk in to the lobby area of the new Royal Alberta Museum, and the scope of what will be impresses.
“Just about two years ago we had a blessing to start construction,” Chris Robinson, executive director of the museum, explained during a recent tour for Global News. “It was a hole in the ground.”
“We have some spaces where people can see what we do behind the scenes,” Robinson said.
The lobby is 14 metres in height. On the south side, a glass façade allows daylight to stream in. Looking north, all eyes zero in on a unique architectural feature – a concrete staircase seemingly suspended in mid air.
“It’s one of the sentinel pieces within the building,” explained Tom Thurston with the Royal Alberta Museum.
“This form that we see here was really inspired by Maligne Canyon or Johnston Canyon in our national parks.”
The lobby connects to all the major gallery spaces in the building which, at 419,000-square feet, is double the size of the old museum.
“That’s about half the size of Southgate Centre,” said Robinson.
With more space, it will give the ever growing collection, now at 2.1 million pieces, a chance to breathe.
“We’re increasing our square footage to tell our human history stories by 200 per cent and our capacity to tell, in square footage, natural history stories by about 50 per cent,” Robinson said.
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More than a decade ago, there were plans to expand at the original museum site in Glenora. That was scrapped.
Then in April 2011, a surprise announcement of a new building at the old downtown Edmonton post office site was made.
The price tag for the project comes in at just over $375 million. Elements have been incorporated to ensure the new facility has a lasting presence.
“We got very durable finishes and materials throughout,” said Thurston. “Indiana limestone on the outside. Lots of glazing. Stone inside.”
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One thing the museum won’t have is on site parking. But with multiple downtown parking options, and a nearby LRT station, the hope is visitors won’t be deterred.
“We’ll also be making a commitment to renew the exhibits on a regular basis,” explained Robinson. “So, there will always be coming fresh to draw people in.
“Probably six months from now, seven months from now, we’re going to take possession of a finished building.”
The executive director has been with the museum for a decade, and is eager to see a dream become a reality.
“To me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s fascinating.”
The new Royal Alberta Museum will open to the public in late 2017 or early 2018.