University of Regina plans to tear down historic modernist building
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Sandwiched between two large neo-Gothic structures on the University of Regina’s College Avenue campus sits the unassuming Gallery Building.
The squat white example of modernist architecture was designed in 1953 by Francis Portnall, and later expanded on in 1957 by the firm Izumi, Arnott and Sugiyama.
Under the plans of the multi-million dollar College Avenue Campus Renewal Project, the Gallery Building is slated for demolition.
“I don’t think that we have a lot of recognition towards modern heritage,” said Jennifer Bisson, a heritage designations adviser with the Saskatchewan government.
Tearing the building down would be a loss for the city, she added, as “it was probably one of the earliest modern buildings in Regina.”
When the Gallery Building was constructed more than half a century ago, Bisson said, it was a premier destination for local and touring art shows, providing a boon to Regina’s cultural reputation.
“At the time it was considered the finest gallery in Western Canada apart from the Vancouver Art Gallery,” she said. “It was the only one in Saskatchewan equipped to host major traveling exhibitions.”
It is also significant, she said, for its connection to the famous group of abstract painters known as the Regina Five.
“One of the Regina Five, Ronald Bloore, was the director of the art gallery,” said Bisson. “Then two of the other members of the Regina Five were directors of the art school, and the art school and the gallery were connected.”
However, today the place is connected to art only through its past. It currently houses a school of public policy and centre for continuing education.
College Avenue Campus Renewal Project
Dave Button, U of R's vice-president of administration, said an event is planned for Oct. 18 at the College Avenue campus to celebrate the fundraising progress of the renewal project, which is about one-third of the way to its $10-million goal.
“We’ll announce the new fundraising total and give an opportunity for people to learn more about the revitalization project itself,” said Button.
One of the important aspects of the initiative, he said, is to increase accessibility on campus while preserving heritage. Structures such as Darke Hall and the College Building, which are located on either side of the Gallery Building, will undergo extensive overhauls.
“Darke Hall is a good example,” said Button. “Of course, we’d want to protect and preserve it so it doesn’t look any different than it looks right now.”
He added that the Gallery Building has fallen into disrepair.
“It is literally breaking at the seams,” he said. “It’s having problems that the engineers say are unsalvageable.”
But for Bisson, the story of the Gallery Building points to a larger issue with the way Canadian society sees architectural history.
“People tend to associate heritage with more classical types of buildings,” she said.
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