Exterior Composition for Agnes Reimagined, showing the new curvilinear addition (left) in conversation with the heritage Etherington House (right). Rendering by Studio Sang courtesy of KPMB Architects.
After an international call for design architects, in early 2022, we announced the award-winning, Toronto-based firm KPMB Architects, led by architect Bruce Kuwabara and Indigenous Affairs consultant Georgina Riel as our collaborators on Agnes Reimagined, a bold new vision for the 21st century university museum.
Together with KPMB’s diverse and integrated design team, throughout 2022, we undertook a community-engaged design process to further an approach to design that mirrors the ethos of our project. This inclusive design strategy is slow and intentional, ensuring that Agnes’s future architecture is a proposition for new ideas, not a container for old systems.
Two architectural renderings have emerged from our first year of talking and sharing circles (continuing throughout 2023) and close architect-client collaboration to give speculative form to our vision. An exterior view from University Avenue depicts a new curvilinear addition in dialogue with the historic Etherington House, the latter to be transformed into a live-in artist residency and community-facing cultural hub. Our building will be a dynamic and relational ecosystem that connects Agnes’s past, present and future.
This new three-floor configuration supports: a 200% increase in exhibition and alternative programming spaces for curatorial experimentation and public engagement across our impressive collections and contemporary art commissions; the first-ever Indigenous self-determination spaces for the appropriate care, ceremony and access by Indigenous communities of their ancestors and cultural belongings currently residing at Agnes; and new art study spaces—all of which reimagine the entangled civic, social and pedagogical role of a 21st-century university museum. With curated adjacencies and thoughtfully conceived security perimeters, the new Agnes is poised to transform museum practice as well as its future protagonists. A live-in residence inside the museum not only ensures that artists’ practices are at the centre of our work, it also provides opportunities for extended stay by Indigenous community members visiting at Agnes. These adjacencies change the temporality of the museum’s activities as we deepen relationships and establish trust as a core institutional practice. Agnes Reimagined dreams new kinds of museum futurities, driven by principles of multiplicity and decolonization and practices of collaboration and community wellbeing.
The combined renovation and construction project returns the art center to its origins as a home and simultaneously prepares and propels the museum into the future, igniting a paradigm shift in global museology, where Indigenous and western world views live side-by-side as equals.
Agnes Reimagined is a place where people can gather:
The ground floor concept shows how Agnes is transformed into a social space that is permeable, flexible and welcoming. We move away from a monolithic front entrance to a series of accessible entry/exit points that accommodate the various needs and interests of our diverse stakeholders. Glass façades turn the museum inside out and a rewilded landscape enlivens the campus and connect us to Queen’s new Outdoor Indigenous Gathering Space, our neighbour. Nestled in the hustle and bustle of ground floor activities, in between our new café and Arts & Events Hub, a Welcome Centre features two large porches that surround Etherington House for spontaneous social activities and, importantly, for hanging out!
A fully accessible renovation of the historic Etherington House into a community-facing, participatory project space, trans-disciplinary cultural hub, and live-in artist’s residency honours Agnes Etherington’s original bequest of her house to Queen’s to create an art centre to “further the cause of art and community.” By returning the Etherington House back into a home we make hospitality the guiding institutional ethos of Agnes Reimagined. Agnes’s new home also furthers the legacy of Queen’s esteemed family members, Drs Alfred and Isabel Bader, by modelling our institutional values on the notion of the good Samaritan—a theme depicted in so many of The Bader Collection paintings and a value Alfred himself upheld—and by amplifying this collection’s distinct focus on human experience and connection. The home is the heart of the new Agnes and our commitment to building a living museum.
Agnes Reimagined wouldn’t be possible without transformational lead gifts with a total $75 million (USD) from Bader Philanthropies Inc. Their visionary leadership affords us the unprecedented opportunity to rebuild museum practice from the ground up and grants us the freedom to imagine new kinds of museum architectures to mobilize our vision without compromise.
We look forward to sharing architectural plans as they develop. Join us throughout 2023 in ongoing sharing circles and reciprocal engagement opportunities. Construction is set to begin in spring 2024 and the new building to open in 2026.