Mill Woods Aurora

Recently our firm submitted a design for the Edmonton Park Pavilion Design Competition. Intended to promote design excellence and as part of the City of Edmonton’s commitment to “cutting edge” quality design, and ensuring that such a level of design and innovation is brought to all civic buildings, the competition was a fun way for our firm to work together to generate exciting ideas are outside the scope of our everyday work.

Our Design:

The Mill Woods Aurora Pavilion is a dance of the spirit for the many streams of culture and activity that traverse the Mill Woods community and its major public park. It engages the broadest range of visitors and passersby, as much in snowbound winter evening as warm summer day. It guides accessibility, new uses, casual meeting, and cultural connection, in addition to enhancing the existing park landscape and supporting its organized activities. It will enrich the exploration and celebration of cultural memory, volunteerism, achievement, and future possibilities across diverse heritage traditions. It provides an interactive beacon for Mill Woods’ vibrant and sustainable future.

The Design Addresses the Following Community, Urban, and Architectural Issues

Design Rationale

Rather than concentrating the design of place and shared experience to the building interior or ground plane, in an annualized landscape that is as dark and snow-covered as it is warm and verdant, we wish to offer architectural experiences and possibilities as users move freely through the Community, the Park and the design. The Pavilion will communicate strongly through all seasons, in the night environment, through many media and senses, and to the park as a whole. We believe the role of the Park and Pavilion is to engage the community and passerby as much as the active user, and we have organized the design to support this idea.

We wish to:

  • Create a sense of place that celebrates passage and journey, movement and light;
  • Design for potential ease of construction and use should the Pavilion be phased;
  • Foster a common experience of connection, of wonder, and of possibility;
  • Engage the community’s creativity and the diverse cultural and activity streams of its citizens in architectural experiences that invite exploration, touch, and further contribution to an evolving history for the Pavilion and Park.
Description of the Design and Its Achievement of Edmonton Design Committee Principles
 A Universal Scale
The Aurora Borealis is a special and shared northern experience. Our intention is to interpret and link this experience with community aspirations. Unlike its heavenly counterpart, however, the Pavilion’s Streamers of reflected sun and LED light can be openly approached, touched, used and explored by day as well as night, through its textured materials, web-based technology, lighting, and formal movement. Like the aurora, the Pavilion will be an integral part of the skyline for the Park, its surrounding streets, and adjacent community buildings.
Mill Woods consists of flowing streams of heritage, of connection and of capacity that link with 85% or more of global cultures. Each of these streams shares a common experience: of migration, of settlement, and of aspiration. Such patterns of experience are not new to Alberta’s plain. The Plains Cree, migrants themselves from the woodlands of central Canada, called the Aurora the dance of the spirits.
  • The Aurora’s Streamers            Streamer – any one of the luminous streaks that make up the aurora borealis and the aurora australis

Much like the mysterious and magical Aurora, the Pavilion’s Streamers are designed for movement and possibilities, a Dance of the Mill Woods Spirit. The texture of their stainless steel chains will sparkle in the sunlight and glisten in the rain. They create and support ice sculptures in the spring thaw, provide light shows from near and far, and can even generate waves of bubbles when children paint their surfaces with soapy solution on windy days.

Most importantly, however, the Streamers highlight community engagement, volunteerism, cultural heritage and public-spirited initiative. We strongly encourage their embellishment and decoration with brightly coloured disks engraved with the names and stories of community volunteers, athletes, leaders, and achievers. We invite further additions that acknowledge donors and contributors to the Pavilion’s construction, to further amenities in the Park and community, and to supportive programs and neighbourhood capacity-building initiatives. Informal additions of commemorative locks that carry personal meaning and connection will build tradition and help the Pavilion create a unique sense of centre for citizens of all ages. 

The Love Padlocks tradition may have originated in the Far East, but now includes over 28 countries, Rome’s Ponte Milvio, similar bridges in Paris, and districts of Los Angeles. At each of these famous locations couples place locks to symbolize their commitment. Like these examples of popular tradition, as well as destinations like Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses, the Pavilion will become a celebration of Mill Woods’ world of distinct heritages united in community achievement.

Over time, it is our hope that the Streamers of the Mill Woods Aurora will develop into delightful and luminous veils of commemorative story and aspiration. The Pavilion will become a unique, highly visible symbol of a common history, of connections to Mill Woods’ many heritages. It will be a magical addition to the Park year round and in its night environment, using light show compositions and patterns contributed by the public through the Pavilion’s web interface.

In its relationship to the open plain of the Park, the Pavilion is also evocative of a larger morphology of history, passage and movement on the Prairie landscape:

  • of stockade and trading fort;
  • of buffalo pound, and livestock fence;
  • of carved river and streambed.

Mill Woods Community Scale

Most Park visitors use the Pavilion amenities only briefly. They experience the Pavilion from its exterior as they pass through, around, or along the edges of the Park. The Pavilion will enhance the urban experience of these citizens as well as Park users. Interactive lighting controlled through internet access adds to the magic of winter festivals and creates a safe and positive night environment near the Pavilion during evening hours. The stories and commemorative function of the Streamers create connection well beyond the Park boundaries and into the community.

Working with the Park Scale

The location chosen by the City for the Pavilion is central to the Park, providing amenity for all its users. The Pavilion is an entry passage for those arriving from the south, but also a centre of activity and meeting. The orientation of the building complements the goals of the Mill Woods Park Master Plan. The Streamers of aurora extend throughout the site in the form of walkways, connecting the sports fields to the amenities at the Pavilion. The design respects and enhances the path desire lines identified by the Park Master Plan. The Aurora also

provides possible design direction for new elements, pathways, storage buildings, and other amenities that will enrich our experience of the Park.

The Pavilion’s Gathering Space

The two lobes of the Aurora Pavilion are designed to create a vibrant new public outdoor space for Mill Woods and its principal park. Oriented to admit summer breezes, yet protected from prevailing winter winds, this unique and magical space supports many scales of activity and event in all seasons:

  • as summer camp space, race start line, cinema, meeting ground, market, and centre for winter carnivals, seasonal events and cultural celebrations of all kinds;
  • for casual use and event dining that supports concession operations; for kite, chess and games rentals, impromptu croquet games and other amusements;
  • as a venue for temporary exhibitions for the Royal Alberta Museum, Edmonton Fringe Festival performances, tournament headquarters, fundraisers and contest sites, and broadcast studio for local talent shows;
  • for community connection, web-based interaction, citizenship ceremonies, fund-raising, acknowledgement and commemoration using the interactive veils that form the space.

Sustainability Principles


The project will attain LEED Silver certification through a variety of building, site, innovation and community sustainability measures that include:

  • Orientation and clerestory to provide natural day lighting and winter solar gain.
  • Recessed glazing and overhangs for protection from summer sun, with automatically operable clerestory and internal transom windows for natural cross-ventilation.
  • Wood structure from sustainably managed forests.
  • Steel elements have the inherently high recycled content of steel, and no maintenance or coating required for its stainless components.
  • Innovative rainscreen straw bale exterior wall construction on rubble trench foundations forms the building’s unique shapes cost-effectively, with durable finishes and high insulation value.
  • Foundations using rubble trench technology to below frost lines significantly reduces new concrete use and the attendant energy of its manufacture, and allows for recycling of local concrete product from demolitions.
  • Collection of all snow melt and rain water runoff, as an integral part of the architectural design. Permeable paving to central court, combined with hard surface finishes to access walkways, patio, and concession area.
  • Stormwater drainage to infiltration trenches with low maintenance, native drought resistant grasses and habitat protection, with potential below grade water collection for re-use in grey water systems.
  • High performance insulation values to roof and wall, with high reflectance-coefficient roof covering to reduce solar gain and heat island effect.
  • High efficiency gas-fired boiler or potential ground source hydronic loops with in-floor radiant heat for thermal mass storage and humidity control, programmable for daily energy savings and seasonal setbacks.
  • LED-based interior and exterior lighting controlled by sensors and web-based interactive software, exploiting colour capabilities and long life expectancy.
  • Water-bottle filling station as a focus of the gathering space, to promote alternatives to commercially-bottled water use by both sport participants and spectators.
  • Development of a landscape aesthetic and path system that allows for areas of the park to return to zero maintenance native grasses.

Technical Aspects of the Design Solution

Material and Construction Principles (with reference to the Typical Wall Detail)

  • Rubble and concrete trench foundations to below frost depth, with foundation drainage.
  • Concrete slabs-on-grade with clear finish.
  • Simple, sustainable load-bearing wood structure and straw bale exterior wall construction finished in textured, durable cement stucco. The exterior plane assembly of the bale wall incorporates a foundation drainage membrane manufactured from recycled HDPE.
  • Independent post foundation, galvanized steel post and bracket support to stainless steel top and bottom tension cable system and link-chain Streamer elements.
  • Flat roofs draining to select water leader locations, joining to the perimeter drainage system, to infiltration planting beds extending throughout and beyond building.
  • LED lighting systems, web-based programmable to exterior lighting. Webcam technology for community interaction and public oversight.

The Pavilion is a deliberately flexible offering that engages Mill Woods and its citizens in an ongoing narrative of emerging tradition, of identity and reflection, and of a community journey in harmony with economic, social and environmental sustainability.

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