Gardiner Museum Renewal / KPMB Architects

Architects: KPMB Architects
Location: Toronto, Canada
Client: Gardiner Museum
Project Team: Bruce Kuwabara (design principal), Shirley Blumberg (partner-in-charge), Paulo Rocha (design/project architect); Shane O’Neill, Javier Uribe, Kevin Bridgman, Tyler Sharpe, Ramon Janer, Steven Casey, Bill Colaco (project team)
Structural Enginnering: Halsall Associates Ltd.
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering: Crossey Engineering Ltd.
Contractor: Urbacon
Budget: US $7,23M
Photographs: Eduard Hueber & Tom Arban

The Gardiner Museum is one of the world’s pre-eminent institutions devoted to ceramic art, and the only museum of its kind in Canada. It is also one of the major projects in Toronto’s cultural renaissance. The Gardiner renewal, together with the Royal Ontario Museum across the street and the Royal Conservatory of Music around the corner on Bloor Street West, will form a new cultural precinct for the city.

Framed between the neoclassical Lillian Massey building to the north and the Queen Anne-style Margaret Addison Hall to the south, the renewal creates a bolder, more welcoming urban presence for the Gardiner. Inside, the interior is completely transformed to prioritize the display of the museum’s collections and to create a memorable, inviting visitor experience.

The addition of approximately 14,000 s.f., creates a new contemporary gallery to host international exhibits of large-scale contemporary works, provides much-needed storage for the expanding permanent collection, and incorporates new studio and curatorial facilities to support the Gardiner’s popular community-outreach programs and its research activities. The design also greatly enhances the museum’s revenue-generating potential with a larger, more accessible retail shop, a rentable multi-purpose event space, and a destination restaurant run by Jamie Kennedy.


In 2000, Bruce Kuwabara was invited by the Gardiner to design the Miró: Playing with Fire. This exhibit also provided Kuwabara with an intimate understanding of the inner workings of the institution. When KPMB was selected as the architects for the renewal in 2001, Kuwabara’s first design move was to remove the main stair in the entrance hall. This opened up the ground floor to offer a more generous reception, an expanded museum shop and a new contemporary ceramics gallery. Vertical circulation between floors was shifted to the west with a new addition containing a public stair and passenger elevator. After this key shift, the team of Kuwabara, Blumberg and Rocha then developed an overall design strategy to respond to the Gardiner’s needs and vision for growth.


The renewal builds on top of the original structure, designed by Keith Wagland in 1984, to anticipate vertical expansion. The third floor expansion and extension of the original footprint to the street negotiates a bolder image for the Gardiner, while carefully maintaining the intimate scale for which the original building was admired.

The original pink granite exterior is replaced with polished buff limestone to give the Gardiner a more contemporary image. The limestone seamlessly weaves existing and expanded spaces together. Screens of limestone louvers control solar exposure into the upper floors of the west and south facades. The front of the museum is completely re-landscaped with a series of terraced platforms that provide a gradual ascent into the forecourt of the building.


A cubic volume marks the entrance to the building. During the day, the cube’s broad expanse of floor-to-ceiling glazing creates a reflective surface which mirrors the ROM across the street, and at night acts as a window into the museum’s activities. The generously scaled entrance hall encourages visitors to linger.

The retail store, which was previously only accessible after paying admission, is now visible and inviting from the street.

The existing plan of the museum is completely re-configured, and encourages the journey through the galleries to unfold in an ascending order, from the ground to the new third floor. Visitors ideally complete their gallery tour in the new third floor exhibition space. This column-free area with a clerestorey ceiling creates a monumental space for large-scale contemporary and traveling exhibits. The third floor is also where the Jamie Kennedy restaurant, the new multi-purpose event hall, and outdoor are located.

Additional space was also created by sinking the floor of the former underground parking garage by one metre to provide studios and curatorial spaces for the Gardiner’s popular outreach programs and research initiatives.


The design emphasizes a subtle interplay between transparency and lightness, opacity and weight, to resonate the paradoxical qualities of ceramics. The existing galleries were completely transformed to create a series of highly refined volumes, each scaled relative to the content. A consistent language of materials, custom-designed casework, and precise detailing provide a quiet backdrop against which to showcase the collections and special exhibitions.


The renewal enhances the Gardiner’s place in the city. Windows are positioned to provide visual breaks in the public spaces of the museum, and to draw attention to the surrounding context at different scales, from closeup views of the historic facades and pediments of the adjacent Lillian Massey and Margaret Addison buildings to framed sequences of the ROM’s heritage building and new Crystal expansion across the street. On the third floor, the multi-purpose space and terrace create elegant new ‘look out points’ that open on expansive vistas of Queen’s Park, the University of Toronto, and the downtown skyline.

The complete transformation of the Gardiner provides the museum with a series of new platforms upon which the museum’s collections and activities will flourish and which will ensure the long-term relevance of the Gardiner to the cultural life of the city.

Cite: Saieh, Nico. "Gardiner Museum Renewal / KPMB Architects" 12 Dec 2008. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • chris

    there is something awful about this building.

  • fino

    The front looks like it should be a back to something. The massing is “off” I assume, and it sets back way too far from the street, so there is a dead nomansland on a very busy and popular street. Ah…and Libeskind’s ROM addition is right around the corner from this, so it makes it even more apparent that this building is doing absolutely nothing for the context of the public realm.

    That is all.

  • fb

    a little generic, but this is another museum to go to!

  • contemporaryart

    The ceilings are very strange.

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  • AAA

    this building forgot the city, is a intruder

  • Tom in London

    I can’t imagine anything less responsive to its context.

  • sgurin


  • Greg

    Re: Tom in London

    Less responsive? Have you seen Libeskinds addition to the ROM? talk about an intruder…

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  • Stephen

    The stepped back portion works well, but the canopy section over the entrance seems odd. Site wise it seems too separate from the street. A few bad details inside, but overall nice spaces and finishes. Nice contrast to heritage buildings around it. Makes both stand out. A bit too conservative for me though.

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  • tom

    good old kpmb with there classic tv box projections. when will they ever learn…

  • A.R.

    Actually, the set back is completely appropriate given the ceremonial/monumental nature of Queen’s Park Crescent. Meeting the street would have been appropriate on Bloor or Yonge, but not here. Most building on this street are set back, and it’s actually quite beautiful. The minimal approach to the space in front reminded me of Mies’ TD Centre plaza in front, and continues the functional modernist spirit of many Toronto buildings. Is it bold and curvy? No, but it does have a subtle beauty and (gasp) it doesn’t leak.

    Toronto is very influenced by its modernist heritage.

  • Auriga

    Most of the photography on this archdaily site is UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Check out the images on the KPMB web site…

  • cranbury

    It is nice
    It is appropriate to its context.
    It is appropriate to the tastes of the city.
    It boasts tidy details.
    It espouses proper urbanity.
    It loves it’s neighbors.
    It works 9-5,
    …eats organic
    …drives a hybrid
    …shops at Harry Rosen
    …orders stella artois.

    there is nothing wrong with this building.

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