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Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium

Edmonton

Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Queen Elizabeth ll Planetarium is located in Coronation Park, which is situated at the northeast corner of the 111 Avenue and 142 Street intersection. The building is part of an early site development plan that located the Planetarium on 114 Avenue in the middle of the park on a diagonal NE/SE axis that links it to the 142 Street and 111 Avenue intersection. The one-storey structure is distinguished as an early example of Modern Expressionistic Style in Canada.

Heritage Value
The Queen Elizabeth ll Planetarium was designed to be the main focal point of Coronation Park, dedicated in honour of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll in 1953, and was officially opened September 23, 1960, by Mayor Elmer E. Roper. The building was Canada’s first planetarium and was the country’s only civic planetarium until the Dow Planetarium of Montreal opened in 1966.
In 1958, a proposal was put before Edmonton City Council to build a permanent civic memorial to mark the visit of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in July of 1959. Originally, there were several projects proposed, including a 30.8 metre (94 foot) trilon, which would symbolize the three levels of government. A fountain and an observatory were added to the list. Eventually, the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada recommended that a Planetarium be constructed. A committee was struck, consisting of Professor E. S. Keeping, Professor Gads, Franklin Loehde, F. Jersen, D. Rosenfield, and Earl Milton to put together a proposal for submission to City Council. On March 9, 1959, the proposal to construct a planetarium in Coronation Park was approved by City Council for a budget of $110,000.
The first Director of the Planetarium was Ian McLennan, a member of the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He was selected as Director barely a month before completion of the building at the age of 23, and served in this position from August 22, 1960, to October 31, 1965, when he moved on to become the director of Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York. Following his start in Edmonton, Ian McLennan has become a world-recognized expert in strategic planning and management of planetariums and other similar public science projects.
The design of the Planetarium is a unique and early example of the Modern Expressionistic Style in Canada, as described in “A Guide to Canadian Architectural Styles” by Maitland, Hucker and Ricketts. This style rejects the rigidity of the International Style with the use of dramatically idiosyncratic shapes, rooted in the European Expressionist movement of the early 20 th century. The Planetarium exhibits common elements from the Modern International Design that express lightness, including extensive use of glass in an aluminum curtain wall, framing of the exterior building elements, sophisticated structural expression and the sense that the building is ‘floating’. The design may also have been influenced by the popular fascination with space age design in the 1950s. It has the appearance of a spacecraft hovering off the ground, including the round dome of the theatre space itself.
The Planetarium is associ ated with Robert Falconer Duke, City Architect, and Walter Telfer, assistant City Architect, both of whom stamped the construction drawings. The design of the building is attributed to Denis Mulvaney, from several sources including: from former Director, Ian McLennan; from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s “Stardust” (October and November 1964); and the Sydney Morning Herald, dated May 21, 1969. The general construction contractor was R.V. Coambs Construction Ltd.
Robert Falconer Duke was born October 16, 1904, in Birkenhead, England, and came to Canada in 1905. He graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 1933, and worked for the federal Department of Public Works from 1938 to 1946, when he moved to Edmonton. He joined the City of Edmonton’s Architect’s Department as Assistant City Architect on July 2, 1946. Duke was Acting City Architect from November 17, 1949, to February of 1950, at which point he became City Architect and Inspector of Buildings. Chief of the Department for over twenty years, he retired on October 15, 1969. He was a member of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and a member of Alberta Association of Architects. Duke’s designs included most of the city’s public buildings, excluding schools, from 1950 to 1969. His designs, such as the 1959 Westwood Bus Barns and the Edmonton Power utility buildings, have been acclaimed as architecturally significant. Duke is considered a master architect in the municipal context. He was admitted to the Alberta Association of Architects on July 11, 1946. Walter Telfer was admitted the Alberta Association of Architects on May 23, 1956.
Denis Mulvaney was born in 1921, and attended Cambridge University where he was at St. Catherine’s College and studied architecture. During the Second World War, he was sent to India to live with his father, where he served in the Indian army. He returned to England where he worked at the British Welding Institute before he moved his family to Edmonton in the mid-50s to work in the City Architect’s office. His projects included the Planetarium and the original Storyland Valley Zoo, as well as numerous substations and other buildings at the time. In 1961, the family returned to England and then on to Australia where Mulvaney worked on the Sydney Opera House. Mulvaney maintained a life-long friendship with Ian McLennan, and they advocated for a Planetarium to be constructed in Sydney, but it was not to be.
The building is associated with the Royal visit to Edmonton in July 1959, and was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth ll on July 22, 1959. The Queen planted an oak tree in the vicinity of the Planetarium. The Planetarium is also closely associated with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, established in 1903, as the early proponent of the project.
The exterior art mosaics in the concrete entrance plaza are of significant heritage value, and are included in the designation. The art pieces were conceived and constructed in 1964 by Edmonton artist Heinrich Eichner. The mosaics depict the twelve zodiacal constellations: Leo, Taurus, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Pisces, Virgo, Libra, Aquarius, Scorpio, Gemini, Cancer and Aries. The artist Heinrich Eichner was born in 1922 in Schweidnitz in Lower Silesia. He and his wife Edith came to Canada in 1959. Eichner's favourite subjects were animals, which he sculpted in wood. He had several exhibitions of his work while still in Germany and subsequently had many more in Edmonton. He and his wife often collaborated on each other's art.
Also of significant heritage value is the site planning of Coronation Park in which the Queen Elizabeth ll Planetarium is located. The siting of the building is an integral part of the “scepter” path design that is a major distinguishing feature of the park (particularly when viewed from the air) and a symbol of sovereignty.


Character-Defining Elements
The character defining elements as expressed in the form, massing, and materials of the 1959 Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium include:
Exterior
● Form, scale and massing as expressed by its one-storey height, the central dome, the circular plan and the impression that the building is floating above the ground;
● Modern Expressionistic Style elements consisting of the circular plan, the lightness of the structure, the transparency of the public gathering areas, the framing of separate material elements, and the central dome that expresses the primary function of the building as a planetarium;
● Concrete slab construction with structural steel support columns around the perimeter, which are embedded within the aluminum curtain wall and masonry walls;
● Central concrete dome over the main planetarium auditorium, supported on enclosing concrete walls;
● Original fenestration that consists of a floor to ceiling gold-coloured anodized aluminum curtain wall for the public gathering spaces, with matching entrance doors and special handles, and square-shaped punched windows in terrazzo frames where privacy was required;
● Projecting entrance feature with an expressionistic concrete canopy and minimal, concealed structural support;
● Expressed concrete floor and ceiling slabs on the exterior with exaggerated concrete frames around the curtain wall windows;
● Ceramic tile covering of all the exterior concrete surfaces;
● Uniquely-designed painted steel guards and handrails;
● Pre-cast terrazzo “floating” stair treads; and
● Use of ashlar (irregularly-cut) field stone for solid wall surfaces, both above and below the expressed main floor slab.
Interior
● Terrazzo floor finish in the Display Room and the entrance Vestibule, with brass radial pattern of divider strips;
● Concrete upstands at the base of the curtain wall in the Display Room, the entrance Vestibule and the north Lecture Room, clad in terrazzo (Vestibule and Display Room) and quarry tile (north Lecture Room), and capped in quarry tile with anodized aluminum ventilation grilles;
● Precast terrazzo “floating” stair treads in the Display Room;
● Mahogany handrails on mahogany-clad steel rod supports in the Display Room;
● Floor to ceiling light-coloured veneer wood paneling with vertical mahogany muntins in the Display Room, the light lock areas, the public corridors and the Lecture Room;
● Special chalkboard feature in the rear public gathering area, which is partly original, altered to house an electrical panel;
● Custom wood doors with padded panels in the Display Room, the adjacent light lock areas and the pubic corridors;
● Rough, textured fibrous ceilings in the Display Room and the north Lecture Room;
● Period recessed pot lights with gold-coloured diffusers throughout;
● Polished granite feature wall in the Display Room;
● Cast metal letters on granite feature wall referencing the Royal dedication;
● Ceramic tile ceiling and column cladding in and near the entrance vestibule in the Display Room; and
● Variety of wall finishes, smooth suspended inner dome ceiling and features in the Planetarium Room associated with the original function of planetarium projection.
Site Features
● Exterior art mosaics depicting the twelve zodiacal constellations: Leo, Taurus, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Pisces, Virgo, Libra, Aquarius, Scorpio, Gemini, Cancer and Aries; and
● Siting of the building is an integral part of the “scepter” path design that is a major distinguishing feature of the park (particularly when viewed from the air) and a symbol of sovereignty.


Location



Street Address: 13831 - 114 Avenue NW
Community: Edmonton
Boundaries: Portion of NW and SW in 12-53-25-W4
Contributing Resources: Building
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s)

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
56.562113 -113.560463

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2017/03/21

Historical Information

Built: 1959-60
Significant Date(s) 1960-1983
Theme(s) Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Science
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context: The Planetarium is associated with the development of an emerging network of space science institutions around the world. The first planetarium in the world was constructed in Munich in 1923, though the concept is as old as 4th Century BC. The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium is historically significant as the first public planetarium built in Canada. It was designed to be the main focal point of Coronation Park, dedicated in honour of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll in 1953. Opened in 1960, it was operated for the first five years by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Several more were constructed in Canada including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium remained in operation until 1983. Edmonton was a leader in this field.

The Planetarium is associated with the work of City architect Robert Falconer Duke, who oversaw numerous civic projects and the rapid expansion of the city between 1950 and 1969. Under the leadership of Mayor William Hawrelak and with the support of the Royal Astronomical Society, the expressionistic design and implementation of this building is unique in Canada and illustrates that Edmonton was at the forefront of popular science and entertainment, and architecture. The actual design of the building is largely attributed to Denis Mulvaney, from several sources including: from former Director, Ian McLennan; from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s “Stardust” (October and November 1964); and the Sydney Morning Herald, dated May 21, 1969. The first Director of the Planetarium was Ian McLennan, a member of the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He was selected as Director barely a month before completion of the building at the age of 23, and served in this position from August 22, 1960, to October 31, 1965, when he moved on to become the director of Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York. Following his start in Edmonton, Ian McLennan has become a world-recognized expert in strategic planning and management of planetariums and other similar public science projects.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0156
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link: http//www.edmonton.ca
Data Source: City of Edmonton, Planning and Development Department, 10250 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 3P4 (File: 49413959)
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