Artist Tannis Nielsen in her installation of Creation in Lii Zoot Tayr (Other Worlds), Agnes Etherington Art Centre 2021. Photo: Emelie Chhangur
KPMB Architects was awarded the commission to realize Agnes Reimagined in an international call for design architects. Established in 1987, KPMB is an internationally recognized architectural practice based in Canada. Their wide-ranging work has earned over 400 respected awards, including 16 Governor General’s Medals, Canada’s highest honour.
The curated team diving into the real work of changemaking-through-design is led by KPMB’s Bruce Kuwabara with Georgina Riel, Indigenous Affairs Consultant of RIEL Cultural Consulting, and Jennifer Nagai of PFS Studio who will oversee landscape integration. Riel will ensure critical thinking to actualize Agnes’s commitment to Indigenization as well as bring a deep knowledge of Kingston and Queen’s University.
Judith Taylor, Andrea Macaroun and Matthew Wilson, of KPMB, offer diverse perspectives and relevant experience in cultural projects, heritage design and Indigenous collaboration. The integrated design team includes leading engineers and specialists who have reinvented practices to provide forward-thinking solutions in their disciplines. KPMB LAB Director Geoffrey Turnbull will drive innovative, climate-responsive design solutions.
“Like art, great architecture is a transformation of tradition and can change the way we see, experience, and relate to each other and the world. True transformation invites new ways of thinking, creative processes, new forms and expression,” says Bruce Kuwabara, Founding Partner, KPMB Architects. “Agnes Reimagined offers a rare opportunity for a paradigm shift in museums in Canada, and the world, through clear-sighted collaboration, a commitment to innovation, all through the journey of decolonization and the recovery of Indigenized worldviews.”
Home is a powerful metaphor for architectural interpretation and is at the heart of Agnes’s new vision. Georgina Riel’s nuanced insights contribute to an atmosphere of home through an Indigenous worldview that informs her design-thinking.
“Traditional Anishinaabe Wigwams and Haudenosaunee Longhouses are where families and communities come together to raise many generations and care for one another, offering important teachings and ceremonies which are essential to Indigenous ways of living.”
KPMB has realized significant museums and galleries, including the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Remai Modern in Saskatoon and the Ottawa Art Gallery. Their current participation in paradigm-shifting projects such as the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) is exemplary. “So yes we, our KPMB team, can do art galleries really well but we are ready to support and push Agnes to go as far as you want to go,” says Andrea Macaroun, Associate KPMB Architects.
Agnes’s mission and vision make it clear that this is not a typical cultural project. “The museum of the 21st century can no longer simply be a container of history, as if history has no bearing on our changing contemporary world,” says Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator. “Agnes Reimagined will be a dynamic culture-making hub and an active civic and social force—mobilizing the transformative power of art to create more equitable, inclusive and sustainable worlds. Agnes will thrive equally on her deep community roots and global reach, and importantly, innovate within their intersection.”
Agnes Reimagined embodies transformation through an inclusive-design process that grounds itself in the concept of home and hospitality, honouring the art centre’s own origins as the home of Agnes Etherington and her bequest to Queen’s to make it an art centre that “furthers the cause of art and community.” We utilize this ethos—and architecture—toward building new museum practices aimed at the future. Returning Etherington House to a home, Agnes Reimagined establishes a live-in artist residency (upstairs) and community-facing hub (downstairs). We increase exhibition, public programming and event spaces by 200%, building platforms for engaged curatorial experimentation that operate across multiple temporalities and diverse world views. Agnes Reimagined establishes Indigenous self-determination spaces for the proper care, visitation and access by Indigenous communities of their ancestors and cultural belongings currently residing at Agnes. Agnes Reimagined welcomes students into Agnes’s home through the unprecedented co-location of the departments of Art History and Art Conservation; with state-of-the-art laboratories and study spaces, students are embedded in the milieu of this new university-museum. Agnes’s home will bring up the next generation of cultural changemakers.
Agnes Reimagined’s new home honours Queens’s great family members, Dr Alfred and Mrs Isabel Bader through the legacy of Bader Philanthropies, Inc. Without their transformational and visionary lead gift of 40M USD, we would not have this kind of opportunity.
The collaborative design process begins right away. Agnes’s full slate of programming in the current building lasts through 2022. Visitors come along for the ride with an integrated program that reflects our process of transformation and change with Rehoming Agnes and Collection Count + Care by making public the behind-the-scenes work and curatorial thinking that underpins our future. Agnes programming moves offsite during construction scheduled to begin in summer 2023.
Read more about Agnes Reimagined.