The Architecture of Qaumajuq

Project Spotlight: A landmark building designed to reflect the landscape of the North

ᓴᖅᑭᑎᑦᑎᓂᖅ ᓄᓇᐃᑦ ᑭᒡᒐᖅᑐᐃᔩᑦ
An aerial view of the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq at dusk, showing a wavy white facade and main-floor lobby with large glass windows.

On May 25, 2018, the The Winnipeg Art Gallery broke ground on what was then called the Inuit Art Centre project. Now, thanks to an incredible community of stakeholders, Qaumajuq is open to the public! Learn more about the unique design elements that make this centre so special. 

An aerial view of the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq at dusk, showing a wavy white facade and main-floor lobby with large glass windows.

Designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, Qaumajuq builds on the lasting design of the WAG’s 1971 building, designed by Gustavo da Roza. The 36,000 square-foot addition and 16,000 square-foot renovation of the existing building offers new galleries, classrooms, art studios, a lecture theatre, research areas, new shopWAG and the one-of-a-kind Visible Vault, to house a portion of the nearly 13,000 works of Inuit art in the WAG-Qaumajuq collection. 

As part of the design process, Michael Maltzan joined WAG Director & CEO, Dr. Stephen Borys, Curator of Inuit Art Dr. Darlene Coward Wight, Associate Architect George Cibinel and architectural photographer Iwan Baan on a trip to Nunavut to visit Inuit communities and active artists’ studios. The excursion provided a unique opportunity for the project team to experience the people, culture and landscape of the North during the formative conceptual design phase of the building. After the trip, Maltzan’s plans for the building shifted. So inspired by the visit, the architect drew heavily on the ephemeral qualities of the Northern landscape. What results is the perfect setting to celebrate historic and contemporary visual art and culture.

A view from below of the undulating stone facade of Qaumajuq against a blue sky.

In designing Qaumajuq, Maltzan worked to respect the context and character of the iconic WAG building, without replicating it. Its striking, high-profile façade creates a newfound visibility for the Gallery, with vantage points along Memorial Boulevard and beyond. The undulating white stone, made of Bethel Granite, hovers above the ground, as if floating above the glass-filled lobby. Its abstract quality evokes the scale of the North and resonates with the carved forms of the artwork housed within its walls. The mass of windows throughout the space allows views into and out of the building, supporting connections between the museum and the downtown neighbourhood, opening the Gallery like never before. 

On the first level, the glass and chrome Visible Vault is the first thing visitors see: the sparkling, jewel-like case for the WAG’s collection of Inuit carvings. The vault’s curved glass walls allow visitors to walk around the collection but also to be immersed in it, and to watch curators, conservators and other Gallery staff working within the enclosure. Glass floors at the north end of the vault invite visitors to peer into the vault on the floor below.

Inside Qaumajuq, two figures climb a staircase in the main lobby. The Visible Vault is at left, and large glass windows to the exterior surround the lobby.

On the third level, the expansive light-filled main gallery, called Qilak (meaning: Sky in Inuktitut) offers 8,500 square feet of open, flexible exhibition space dedicated to the display of Inuit art. The voluminous gallery is intended to reflect the vast landscapes of the North. Skylights in the ceiling suffuse the space with light that shifts throughout the day in a natural timeline. Giizhig/Kisik (meaning: Sky/Heaven/Day in Cree/Michif/Ojibway) and Pimâtisiwin (meaning: To be alive in Cree/Ojibway) offer two smaller exhibition spaces for more intimate or light-sensitive shows.

A view inside the Qilak (main gallery) space, looking up at the large white staircase and several circular skylights.

Ilipvik (meaning: A place to learn in Inuttitut-Nunatsiavut) provides a multi-purpose room designed to host virtual tours, school sessions, orientations, lectures, and screenings. Enclosed in glass, the steps are connected to the wider first level. A curtain closes the space off during screenings and private events. The curtain surrounding the space is an artwork in itself, printed with Yesterday and Today by Inuit artist Elisapee Ishulutaq. 

Behind Illipvik is the Gallery’s new café, Katita, where visitors can lounge and enjoy lunch, or take snacks to go. 

Back in the WAG building, the Gallery Shop and Studio have been transformed as well. In the shop, two walls of glass extend to both the Gallery inside and out to Memorial Boulevard with a new street entrance. WAG Studio has moved to the penthouse level, providing direct access to the large Rooftop Sculpture Garden. New art-making spaces include a dedicated education lobby and reception, clay studio, kiln room, and two exterior studios for summer and winter programming.

Qaumajuq is part of the Manitoba Green Building Program and is targeted to achieve Power Smart Designation and LEED V4 Building Design & Construction certification.  

Credit: This video was originally published by The Winnipeg Art Gallery, July 29, 2021. COURTESY WINNIPEG ART GALLERY-QAUMAJUQ.

This story is part of the Qaumajuq Partner Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.