My Edmonton

“A lump rises in our throat at the sight of beauty from an implicit knowledge that the happiness it hints at is the exception.” –Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

I love Edmonton. My mother, who was born and raised in Vancouver, has never really recovered from the move that brought her here as a teenager. She hates the winters and the mosquitos. I don’t care much for the cold and the bugs, either, but I do love my city. I love its size, its seasons, its river valley, its prairie skies, its people, and yes, even its buildings.

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a few people talking about the lack of “iconic” or “signature” architecture in Edmonton. Those who make this argument believe that Edmonton needs more beautiful buildings to enhance its global reputation. By doing so, the city will reap the rewards from more tourism, more civic pride, and more people choosing to make Edmonton their home. In essence, these advocates are arguing in favour of what has come to be known as the Bilbao Effect.

Putting aside the fact that the man who built the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Frank Gehry, called the entire concept “bullshit,” and that his fellow architect Witold Rybczynski has stated that the Effect might be better named the Bilbao Anomaly, I take umbrage with the idea that Edmonton doesn’t have any beautiful, or “signature,” buildings. Admittedly, it’s a tough line to take. As many people have pointed out, including Zoe Todd on her excellent Tumblr Post-Awesome, many of Edmonton’s recent residential and commercial developments have been absolute disasters. They are cheap, they are flimsy, and they are ugly. But there are lots of beautiful buildings to love in our city, as well. Buildings to be proud of. Buildings worthy of our protection, and our admiration. I don’t think we need to race out and build a bunch of new ones to enhance our global reputation. I think we just need to focus a bit more on the ones we already have.

And so, guided by this belief, I decided to start taking some pictures. A simplistic notion, I know, and one already being accomplished to great effect by people like Mack, Hugh Lee and Darren Kirby, but I’m a simple man. Below is a link to some images I have started taking around the city. Lots are from the UofA, because I spend a bunch of time there and the campus has so many great buildings, but I’m going to be adding more over the next couple months. I have a long list. If, during that time, you notice any buildings I’ve missed, please feel free to leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to snap a picture.

Statue of Big MillerArts BuildingArts BuildingArts BuildingArts BuildingArts Building
Arts BuildingRutherford HouseRutherford HouseTelus BuildingTelus BuildingCorbett Hall at Dusk
Corbett Hall at DuskAthabasca HallAthabasca HallBiological Sciences BuildingBiological Sciences BuildingButterdome
Physical PlantETLCETLCETLCETLCAthabasca Hall

My Edmonton, a set on Flickr.


  1. Tim Smith says:

    Nice job Andy. I particularly like the one of Athabasca Hall. As per Martin’s recommendation, I’ve read one book by Rybczynski, however, discussion of the Bilbao Effect is new for me. Do you recommend any titles in particular?

  2. Hey, Tim. Makeshift Metropolis by Rybczynski has a whole section on the Bilbao Effect. Everything else I’ve read about it has been in magazine or newspaper articles. Best bet is to just Google it and go from there. Happy surfing!

  3. This is great. I’d love to see what you could do as a book. 🙂

  4. Well, first things first. I need to take some more pictures. 🙂

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  1. […] Here’s a great post by Andy Grabia on Edmonton buildings to be proud of. […]

  2. […] to meet. Stuff like this is really important! He also curates a great set of photos in his “My Edmonton” […]

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