Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage

gh3*

Architects: gh3*
Location: Emonton, Canada
Area: 50,000 m2
Year: 2021

Edmonton’s Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage (KATG) is a municipal bus maintenance and storage facility designed to set new standards for an often-overlooked building type. Reconciling demanding technical requirements with simple and rigorous architecture, KATG elevates a conventionally utilitarian building and honors its important role within a growing, equitable, sustainable, and resilient contemporary city. Functional efficiency and high sustainability are matched by formal refinement, historic preservation, and public art, enriching both the lives of the people who work there and the wider community it serves.

Named after Edmonton’s first female bus driver, KATG houses 300 buses, 35 maintenance bays with three undercarriage wash bays, four refuel bays and exterior wash bays. One level of employee parking is provided below grade – important in a locale whose temperatures can vary considerably from 35°C at the peak of summer to -40°C in winter.

The busy hub supports 800 workers including bus drivers, maintenance, administration, and transit security staff with the intimate conditions of the workplace, whether human or mechanical, as well as the scale of urban infrastructure.

The building sits on a 10-acre site at the intersection of the Yellowhead Trail (the Trans-Canada Highway) and Fort Road which aligns with the CP Rail tracks. In 1936 the site was occupied by the Canada Packers’ abattoirs, stockyards and meat processing plant. Designed by famed architect and educator Eric Arthur, the Canada Packer’s factory was a prime example of functional Canadian modernism until it was demolished in the 1980s apart from its 50-meter-tall smokestack. KATG restores this legacy by conserving the smokestack and remediating the brownfield site through ecological greening, micro-climatic thresholds, bioswales and dense tree planting. Moreover, thoughtful landscaping including gabion baskets filled with Albertan river stones and granulated rubber tire ground cover are appropriate materials to seamlessly integrate architecture and landscape, while also highlighting the foundations and the smokestack in memory of what existed there before.

At 50,000 m2 KATG is a big building on a big site. Its box-like form is broken down by its continuous surface, wrapped in highly insulated stainless-steel panels with vertical corrugations and variegated widths. Furthermore, along Fort Road, five rooftop light wells enclosing stairs and mechanical systems give the building scale. These are capped by sculptures by Berlin artist Thorsten Goldberg referencing the topography of mountainous regions around the world that are at the same latitude as Edmonton: ironically, one of the world’s flattest landscapes. The stainless-steel sculptures synthesize with the building’s surface, adding contrast to the uniformity of the architecture, stimulating curiosity and delight whether encountered by car or by foot.

Inside, the building is powerfully pure and monochromatic. Employees enter through a generous lower-level congregating area, and up to a day-lit central atrium via a sculptural stair. The facility is designed to optimize the maneuvering, storage, and maintenance of the bus fleet and to promote overlap and exchange between blue- and white-collar personnel in an almost political gesture of collegiality represented through architecture.

In contrast to the conventional garage, the bus station interiors are bright white, helping to facilitate both wellness and cleanliness. Such bold and precise architecture, executed at all scales, offers dignity and respect to Edmonton’s transit employees and pride in its fleet. As a new civic landmark, the building also provides pride of place for citizens and argues for more ambitious and exacting design standards for a building type that is so important to our shared urban experience.

Transit depots rarely attract attention from either designers or the public, despite their functions being critical to the life of most communities. KATG attempts to celebrate these services with a new civic landmark and further Edmonton’s reputation as a progressive city.