Galleria Condominium — Edmonton, Alberta

Crafting a space, building a home.
A renovation.

2010 – 2015

It’s weird, showing you my former home as a piece of design work. It’s messy, it’s personal, it’s revealing. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on and I made a ton of mistakes. It was a part of my life and it was a design project.

I learned what design can and can’t do. The moments that took place there with the people in my life made it a home. In the two years since I moved out, I don’t miss the space and I was happy to hand it over to new owners.

The mess I got myself into humbled me. I was only able to get through it thanks to the patience of family and friends, who supported me when I had nowhere to sleep, or the many times when I needed a hand.

I sometimes miss the hobby. It was nice to get my hands dirty making something human-scale, physical, functional. And yet, it’s also nice to live dust-free, for now.

I’ll do it again.

  1. Atrium
  2. Kitchen
  3. Dining
  4. Office
  5. Transition
  6. Living
  7. Bedroom
  8. Bath
  9. Terrace
2 1 3 4 8 5 6 7 8 9

Icons based on a set by Yu Luck @ Noun Project

The Galleria Condominium is a rare example of world-class modern residential architecture in Edmonton, Alberta. Reflective of the brutalist style of the late 70s, brick veneer clads a robust concrete structure.

The design is one of the first projects completed by Patkau Architects, now world-renown, at a time when their practice was based in Edmonton.

Although there are signs of design compromise, a strong vision shines through.

It’s challenging to assess the building’s design today. Its modernist heart is dulled by aged contemporary touch-ups and finishes. It’s been thoroughly lived in for forty years by regular people making practical decisions.

Inside the suites, the character changes. While design can endure, decoration fades. The floorplans suit obsolete notions of home living, with closed-in spaces. The interior finishes — original or newer — reflect the varied tastes of their owners, and mostly ignore the architecture they inhabit.

As I started thinking about returning to Edmonton after living in Vancouver for a few years, I became obsessed with the idea of “restoring” a suite in the building. I dreamed of peeling away the dated ideas and mediocre finishes to expose what I imagined to be their intended modern character.

A restoration of what might have been but never was. An expression of values whispering out of its concrete bones that it was too meek to wear on its skin.

An ideal unit was on the market, on the top floor with east and west exposures. It had mostly untouched original features, with 90s flooring. I pursued it with reckless optimism.

I set out to refashion the interior the way I imagined the architects might have, while creating a space that reflected my own ideas for an imagined future life.

The serendipitously snug fit of a small, inexpensive Best Buy microwave between two Ikea cabinets: built-in on a budget.

Butcher-block done on the cheap, using Ikea oak blocks, cut and joined into custom shapes, with lots of help from my friend Michael.

Once assembled in place, the oak was sanded and finished with the same 5%-white Danish oil/wax as the upper level floor. They ended up matching nicely, linking the two levels.

The most challenging aspect of the lower level layout is the lack of exterior windows in the kitchen and dining areas. It lends a basement-like feeling to the dining room.

The simplest way to compensate for that was to open up the space to allow the oversized skylight above to fill the room with natural light. Additionally, the kitchen window, previously in a breakfast nook, flows in light from the atrium.

I moved to Edmonton with the intention of working on smaller projects for local clients. The opposite happened: bigger projects in farther-flung places. I hadn’t foreseen that by being in Edmonton, where the agency didn’t have an office, I was now free to be resourced by any office.

The smaller teams in Blast Radius’ satellite offices were used to working remotely, so they couldn’t tell if I was in SF, Toronto, NY, or Edmonton. We were on the phone pretty much all day. I visited them often.

I designed steps and risers made of the same hardwood planks used on the upper floor, that laid over the previously-carpetted plywood stairs, and BC Hardwood, in Vancouver, manufactured them to spec. Without a nosing, there’s no shadow line in certain lighting conditions, which can make it hard to see the steps from above. Thankfully, no one ever had a problem!

Next time, I hope I can come up with a way to do all-new stairs and avoid the tricky retrofitting issues that come with refinishing old stairs.

Hearth by

The interlocking of tile, concrete and wood where the ensuite bathroom and bedroom meet is my favourite materials “moment.” An unplanned composition dictated concrete floors and shared utilities.

Some of the best moments were outside, in the summer, dining in the northern late evening light.

When I moved to Toronto, in fall 2015, the space was made bare again. No matter how much of yourself you pour into a space, it’s just a shell for the life you bring to it.