Hillhurst United Church hosts architectural contest


A Red Deer architectural student recently won a competition to spark ideas for the future design of the west annex space of Hillhurst United Church. Although the winning design may never be built, it is igniting conversation about design in Calgary.

Located in the heart of Kensington, Hillhurst United Church was established in 1907 and is considered one of Calgary’s historical buildings. However the gym in the west annex needs a bit of a makeover, according to the church’s minister John Pentland.

“They added [the gym] 55 years ago when communities needed an extra space for people to play, and churches were great at slapping gyms on the side of a building. It’s old, dirty and tired — it needs lots of attention.”

After discussing some ideas with a committee about what to do with the space, chair of the church’s board, Terry Rock, approached Calgary based intern architects Holly Simon and Kevin Lo to create an international design competition that would generate some ideas for the project.

 By promoting the competition online, Simon says teams from 18 different countries submitted 39 different design ideas. Each of which responded to the churche’s core values of spirituality, radical hospitality and social justice.

“It was starting to tell a story through images,” says Simon. “And the church has already collected a lot of words, like comments from their congregation and the community about what they want to do in the future, but this put those words into 39 different images.”

The jury, made up of both architects and community members from around the world, had a difficult time narrowing down the competition, but in the end Tanner Allred of Red Deer, Alta. came out with top honours.DesignCompetition2The winning design by Tanner Allred of Red Deer, Alta. for the Hillhurst United Church Design Idea’s Competition.

Design by Tanner Allred

Allred, who recently completed his first year studying for his Master of Architecture at Dalhousie University, focused his design around reclaiming and restoring an old stained glass window that had since been covered up by the gym.

“The building I designed was a calm reflection of the church, not taking away from it, but it was there not to distract from it, but enhance it, and to make that window really stand out,” says Allred.

His design included a community oven where people could share food, as well as a community garden. It also featured a private space that would allow for temporary shelter for the homeless so that the church could continue to host Inn From the Cold on the third weekend of every month.

“It was a really clean design,” says Simon. “It’s very simple, it’s contemporary, but still contextual.”
Although the design may never be built, Simon says that there are two important factors that come out of these types of competitions.

“The most important [point] is the potential of really evoking the imagination and dialogue about something without any constraints, like really big focus on ideas, and imagining what’s possible. And the other thing is creating a discussion within a community and within a city about design.”
An example of that discussion occurred on Dec. 3 for D.talks: Let’s Talk about the Remix. With Simon and Lo in the audience, Hillhurst’s minister, John Pentland, talked about the outcomes of the competition and how it affected the church community.

“We had an incredible sense of passion and curiosity when people began to think ‘wow, someone on the other side of the world is interested in our little piece of property and what we might do with it.’”


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