Behind the Project: City of Edmonton Quarters
Recently, we sat down with Monique Miller, Senior Engineer, to talk about an interesting project she’s worked on, the Quarters project in Edmonton. Entuitive provided structural engineering services on this project.
Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Monique. Can you tell us about this project?
Monique: It’s my pleasure and of course. The Quarters project was actually two projects we delivered for the City of Edmonton as they sought to rehabilitate, retrofit, and rejuvenate several of their building assets for future tenants. Both buildings are in the city’s Quarters district. It was an exciting project to work on as it was part of the rejuvenation of Edmonton’s downtown core that’s been taking place over the last few years.
The first building was updated to serve as the Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective Gallery, which is western Canada’s second Indigenous art gallery and Edmonton’s first Indigenous-run gallery. It was originally a two-storey office building that hadn’t been used in many years.
The second building was also an unused building that was redesigned to serve as a coworking lab and art space.
Wow, it’s great to be part of a project that really impacts the urban landscape. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you experienced on this project and how the team solved them?
Monique: Of course. Starting with the building that became the Ociciwan Art Gallery, when we started the project there were no as-built drawings for that structure. This is always a challenging situation because it’s impossible to know just from looking at a building what condition its structure is in. On these types of projects, our first step is to investigate the structure and create those drawings for ourselves.
Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective Gallery Exterior.
We then collaborated with the City of Edmonton, RPK Architects, and the Ociciwan Art Collective to ensure we understood exactly what they needed the space to do. From a standard two-storey office, the building needed to become a flexible gallery space with ample barrier-free access.
Converting the space into an art gallery required structurally assessing the main floor, second floor, and roof for new loading or occupancy. The age of the building meant that under the current code, areas of the roof would need reinforcing for new mechanical unit loads, snow drift accumulation, and increased base snow load.
The second floor was assumed to have originally been typical office space, but the client wanted it upgraded to an assembly space, which required increasing the live load from 2.4kPa to 4.8kPa.
The main floor was likely originally designed for assembly loading, however, because no original design drawings were available this had to be confirmed through an assessment. The client group also wanted to suspend a grid system for hanging artwork from the underside of the main floor and second floor, so this also had to be considered during the assessment.
Ultimately all three levels required either reinforcing of the existing open web steel joists or the addition of new timber hybrid joists in between the existing joists.
To accommodate the barrier-free access, a new masonry elevator shaft was also added that required underpinning of the existing foundation walls, and penetrating through both floor systems and tying into the roof system.
Wow it sounds like a lot of work went into this project, but the end result was beyond worth it. It’s truly a beautiful space. Can you tell us about the second building as well?
Monique: Absolutely. The second building became the Co*Lab Community Arts Laboratory. It’s just a few blocks from the art gallery. Similarly, there were no as-built drawings, so our work started with an investigation of the structure. We found the structure to be quite unusual in that it had different elevations and ramps from one space to the next. It appeared to have been built in phases over the years. One area looked like it had been a garage, and there was a second storey, but only in one part of the building. We also found several different structural systems in place as there had clearly been multiple modifications over time.
Co*Lab Community Arts Laboratory Exterior.
As I mentioned, the goal was to turn this building into a usable, flexible coworking space with workshop studios, a gallery, a café, and even a performance hall/event space. From the structural perspective, our work focused on facilitating all of these modifications.
For example, we reviewed and reinforced the entire roof of the event space for both the addition of several mechanical units (which triggered current snow loads) and an expansive suspended grid system for stage lighting, curtains, etc. It was critical to the use group that the event space be as flexible as possible. Here too, barrier-free access was key since the space features many elevation changes, so several economical timbre ramps were installed to allow flow throughout the space.
Better occupant flow from the café to the event space, and from the interior to the building exterior was critical as well. So, we removed a large section of wall that supported the upper floor and installed new footings, columns, and a beam in the corridor from the café to the event space. We also added three large-scale openings through the exterior masonry walls for overhead doors.
Co*Lab Community Arts Laboratory Interior.
Structurally, most of our scope was extensive investigation to as-built and understanding the base building structure. And from there it transitioned to finding the best way to facilitate all of the desired modifications.
What was your favourite aspect of working on this project?
Monique: I enjoy existing buildings a lot. I love the challenge of understanding the structural systems. It’s like a puzzle and takes a lot of creativity to figure out how best to modify these buildings based on what the stakeholders are looking for. It feels great to be able to say yes to their requests.
On this project, I loved that we were able to take rundown office buildings and turn them into something that rejuvenates the community. The work that the entire project team did on these two buildings really gave them new life and extended their place in the downtown core for years to come.
I love Edmonton. There are so many festivals and artists who live here and providing the space for them to be able to work is a great feeling.
Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Monique, to share this great project.
If you’d like to learn more about the Quarters project, reach out to Monique Miller.