Toronto, Ontario
Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

Citation for Excellence

Canada’s only museum devoted entirely to ceramics, the Gardiner Museum reopened in June 2006 after a 30-month renovation and expansion. Located in Toronto, just south of the city’s high-end retail district, the museum’s original 1984 building proved deficient in various respects. Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB), whose Young Centre for the Performing Arts is a winner in this year’s awards, designed a 14,000-square-foot addition and worked with the museum to make a facility capable of supporting the institution’s anticipated growth.

Set back from the street to protect sight lines of neighboring historic buildings, the former Gardiner Museum suffered from limited visibility. Floor-to-ceiling windows on the new facade, however, make the building more inviting. The large glass walls frame and reflect nearby Neoclassical buildings, juxtaposing them with the Gardiner’s polished buff limestone surfaces, creating a dynamic visual experience. KPMB also designed a series of terraced platforms that use landscaping to bring the museum to the street.

In addition to expanding curatorial and exhibition space, the Gardiner aimed to be more of a cultural destination by enlarging its retail shop and opening a restaurant managed by local celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy. In the new shop, white floors, walls, and ceilings draw attention to brightly colored merchandise arranged on spacious white shelves, appearing to float between panes of glass.

All the elements of the building come together in the restaurant, where the gray stone found on the building’s exterior, and the wood floors and white ceilings from the galleries are assembled and contrast with one another. Large red ottomans, which enliven the galleries and shop, also punctuate the dining room’s muted earth tones and textures. Having met with critical acclaim from Food & Wine and Bon Appetit magazines, the restaurant has succeeded in attracting a broader audience to the museum.

Prior to this project, the Gardiner found itself lacking the infrastructure to augment an active schedule of exhibitions and programs and to accommodate its growing collections. Three new galleries and larger education and research facilities, including some tucked into a former underground parking garage, give the museum space to showcase additions to its permanent collection. New Chinese, Japanese, and contemporary porcelain collections have been well received. A new special exhibition gallery enables the Gardiner to enter negotiations to house the Victoria and Albert Museum’s ceramic collection while the London museum is renovated in 2009.

Featured in Vogue as the place to shop in Toronto, the Gardiner is reaping the benefits of good planning and design. Since reopening, the museum has seen a 20 percent increase in members and a 34 percent increase in membership revenue from the year before it closed for renovations. Attracting more visitors overall, the museum also saw a 95 percent increase in revenues from its shop and enjoyed the additional contribution of the restaurant. With its increased profile, the Gardiner has become a more important cultural resource for Canada, and its expanded facilities will enable it to continue growing.