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Acclaimed American artist Maya Lin designing Glenbow rooftop terrace

Calgary will see a new public facility designed by an internationally recognized artist and designer as part of the multimillion-dollar upgrades to the Glenbow Museum.

Maya Lin, best known as the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is designing a 13,000-square-foot rooftop terrace.

Artist and designer Maya Lin is pictured on the rooftop of the Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary, prior to completion of her new terrace design.
Maya Lin, pictured on the roof of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary on Wednesday, has previously designed the well-known Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Jeremy Fokkens/Submitted by Glenbow Museum)

It’s part of the downtown museum’s transformation on both the inside and outside of the facility that was built in the 1970s.

Designing the Calgary terrace will be Lin’s first project in Canada.

Artists rendition of the Glenbow Museum rooftop, expected to be completed in 2026.
Maya Lin told CBC News that ‘adaptive reuse’ of existing spaces is a priority for her as an environmentalist and artist. (Submitted by Glenbow Museum)

The environmentalist and artist said part of the appeal for her in selecting a project in the heart of Canada’s energy sector was being able to highlight reusing and retooling existing spaces.

The Washington monument is pictured in the distance and is seen from the veterans memorial.
People look for names at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at dawn in Washington in this file photo. Maya Lin, the designer of the memorial, will design the Glenbow Museum’s new rooftop terrace. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

“Urban infill and adaptive reuse can send a huge positive message about how we should rethink how we build, where we build and why we build in a lot of ways,” said Lin in an interview with CBC News.

“In doing adaptive reuse, you reduce your carbon footprint amazingly, and hopefully it’s a shining example of a sustainable way of living and lower climate cost,” she said, pointing out that she is taking design inspiration from prairie landscapes and views.

An oculus allows natural light to spill into an empty space in this artists rendering.
Maya Lin’s design envisions an oculus space at the Glenbow, meant to allow natural light into the museum. (Submitted by Glenbow Museum)

Lin is also designing an oculus, or a round-shaped opening, as part of the project to allow natural light to filter from the rooftop into the museum itself. 

According to the museum and the designer, the new terrace will also include a pavilion available year-round in both cold and warmer seasons, along with event spaces, sculptures and gardens.

An artists rendering of an pavilion shows people looking outside from an indoor space.
Maya Lin’s artist rendition of what an indoor pavilion on the rooftop of the Glenbow Museum will look like. (Submitted by Glenbow Museum)

On a tour of the under-construction space, covered in late-October snow, Lin pointed out that her goal is to create a space that is still usable in the winter months. 

Visitors will be able to stand inside a pavilion to stay warm while enjoying the view of both the rooftop terrace and the skyline of downtown Calgary.

Several people in construction vests stand on a snow-covered rooftop.
Maya Lin, centre, shows the rooftop of the museum, where she is designing a new terrace space to open by 2026. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

“I hope that what I’m doing on the rooftop is welcoming you to the sky and the prairie as well … to pull the prairie onto the roof is something I’m really looking forward to,” she said.

Glenbow Museum CEO and president Nicholas Bell said part of what he believes attracted Lin to work on the Calgary project is the environmental aspect of refurbishing existing facilities, instead of discarding and building new.

“We’re taking old commercial and civic architecture and saying let’s make this new again, but without knocking it down. Let’s find the value in that old building and refresh it so that it’s a place that we want to spend time today,” said Bell, who described the terrace as a future “communal backyard” for Calgarians.

Lin has said sustainability and including local plant life are important priorities for her as a designer to make sure the public space she designs are both energy efficient and sustainable. 

“We’ll be focused on making the garden be locally sourced and will track the energy and choice of materials, maximizing daylight,” she said.

A woman of Asian descent stands behind an architectural model.
Maya Lin shows a mockup of the future rooftop terrace planned for the Glenbow Museum, along with how an oculus will spill natural light from the roof through several floors. (James Young/CBC)

The museum is scheduled to reopen in mid-2026.

Admission to the museum will be free in perpetuity, including access to the rooftop terrace, thanks to a donation worth tens of millions of dollars from the Shaw family, announced in 2022. According to Bell, this is a key highlight of the project.

A man in a bow tie is interviewed on camera.
Nicholas Bell, CEO of the Glenbow Museum, calls the planned terrace a ‘communal backyard’ for the city. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

“Whether or not you have $10 in your pocket or not, you’re welcome to walk through … and step out into this immersive environment where you have plantings and places to sit,” said Bell. 

“We want you just to feel as if this is a place that belongs to you because you’re a member of our community.”

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