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A world-renowned American artist known for her 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and her 1988 Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL has been chosen to design the rooftop terrace at Glenbow Museum.
Maya Lin was in Calgary on Thursday when the announcement was made. She will design the 13,000-square-foot terrace on the fifth-floor rooftop of the building, which has been renamed the JR Shaw Centre for Arts & Culture. The space overlooks downtown Calgary.
“When (Glenbow CEO Nicholas Bell) called me up and explained they were determined not to build a brand new museum but they wanted to do an adaptive reuse, I thought it sounded so exciting,” Lin said in an earlier interview with Postmedia.
The terrace will include a pavilion, event spaces, sculptures and gardens and an oculus and skylight. The terrace will be a part of the redesigned Glenbow Museum, which is currently undergoing a $205-million renovation. The terrace will be in one the final stages of the project and is expected to be done in 2025. The Glenbow is scheduled to reopen to the public in 2026.
Lin’s design will draw inspiration from the Prairies. This is her first project in Canada.
“I split my time between art and architecture, to be able to do urban infill projects and adaptive reuse is a big show for sustainability,” she says.
She said she was also inspired by the overall design of the reimagined Glenbow, which is led by Calgary’s DIALOG.
“I really responded to DIALOG’s facade, with the concrete, thin panels that are slightly organic in nature,” she says. “That design has directly inspired the pavilion design.”
Lin first gained prominence in 1981 at the age of 21 when she was still an undergraduate at Yale and was selected to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. It has become known as “The Wall” and quickly became a new standard for memorial design.
Lin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016. She was recently commissioned to build a water garden for the Obama Presidential Center, which is opening in 2025. In a career that has spanned decades, she has worked in architecture, public art, sculpture, landscape and memorials, which she calls “Memory Works.” The Glenbow project will blend a number of her disciplines.
“It’s design, architecture, landscape — all integrated,” she says. “The (pavilion) roof is very sculptural. This one is a cohesive merger of the different aspects of my work.”
“In architecture, I’m trying to frame and create spaces. So when you are creating a garden that will be there for other art works that might be rotated in, might be permanent, my personality quiets down a lot. That might be why the most sculptural aspects of the work I’ve chosen to put on the roof of the pavilion. Because I involve art work as well as architectural work, I know it’s.a very different relationship when you are actually responding and relating to a really strong architectural (design.)”
Lin said she was also attracted to the project by Bell, who she has worked with before when he was curator of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. Over the years, Lin’s work has often had an environmental theme. In 2021, she created Ghost Forest, which placed 49 Atlantic white cedar trees, which were damaged by salt water inundation due to climate change, to Madison Square Park in downtown Manhattan. At Renwick, she used 54,000 marbles for an installation called Folding The Chesapeake, a model of Chesapeake Bay.
Lin’s work has been exhibited around the globe. In 1994, Frieda Lee Mock’s documentary about the artist, Maya Linn: A Strong Clear Vision, received an Oscar.
“All you can do as an artist is follow your curiosity and your voice,” she says. “That’s all I can do.”
Bell says the 50-year-old roof terrace is meant to be a community space and offer “refuge and respite.” It also highlights a larger theme of the Glenbow redesign, which is to open up more of the facility to the public than before.
“This is a rooftop that was built in the early 70s and was completely dead for 50 years,” Bell says. “No one ever came out here, this was nothing by weeds. The idea is that this will serve Calgarians for all four seasons. There are areas with landscaping, so there will be plantings out here. There will be areas that will be a respite from the city, where you can have a nice quiet cup of coffee or glass of wine. She will building a four-season pavilion in the centre here that will be open for the summer and then conditioned for the winter.”
Lin says urban-revitalization projects such as the Glenbow can have a “transformative effect” on a city.
“It’s a big statement as far as sustainability is concerned,” she says. “Art has a way, magically, of just bringing a neighbourhood to life. I sense that’s what will happen, I think DIALOG did a great job designing the building. I think it’s going to be something that people will really gravitate towards. What you hope it that it begins a real renaissance of an area.”