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The Aga Khan Garden Pavilion at the University of Alberta is being designed by an associate professor at Ryerson’s School of Interior Design (RSID).
Taymoore Balbaa’s architecture firm, AXIA Design Associates, was chosen by the University of Alberta to design the pavilion in collaboration with two other firms in Canada, arriz+co and Kasian. The pavilion will be called the Diwan.
“I have to say, this is a very unique project and the building itself is guided by a larger context which is the Aga Khan Garden,” Balbaa said. “It was clear to us that the beginning of the [design] process had to be a response to what was there.”
The 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden was inaugurated last year as a gift to the University of Alberta from the Aga Khan.
Balbaa said the Diwan will include a flexible space to hold various events and the design is based on different elements already present in the garden.
“We use for example, the same limestone that they’re using extensively in the garden,” Balbaa said. “We’re very careful about our selection of materials so that again, it’s working in harmony with its surroundings.”
Established officially in 2010, AXIA was founded by both Balbaa and his business partner, Chris Wong. Balbaa said the company was founded on the basis of competition work much like the competition they participated in to be awarded the Diwan project.
“That’s how we built our portfolio. We didn’t go about it I guess, in a traditional way looking for small renovation projects,” he said. “Those projects come now organically but we aimed high from the beginning.”
Balbaa began teaching at Ryerson in the Department of Architectural Science program (DAS). He then left the program to teach at RSID. He said he consistently teaches the core design studio courses. Although he now teaches at RSID, Balbaa said he continues to expose his students to different architectural design elements as the two arts align.
Justine Houseley, project designer, and Michael Good, project architect, both graduated from Ryerson and now work at AXIA. Houseley, graduated from RSID in 2017 and Good graduated from DAS in 2013.
Houseley said she is still in disbelief that she gets to work on the Diwan project.
“I’ve never really worked on anything where I got to see something fully realized to that scale, like a building that was put in place because of something that you’ve touched,” Houseley said. “I think that in itself is a really great learning experience for me and I’m just excited to see it come to fruition.”
Good said he enjoys working at AXIA because the work environment lends itself to a free flow of ideas.
“It’s always rewarding to follow through on what you did in school,” Good said. “It’s nice to be able to see what’s inspiring you to be built.”
Lois Weinthal, the chair of RSID, said faculty work on various areas of research and creative activities. She said Balbaa’s practice is an example of how faculty continue their creative work.
“Having him be able to have this very public project that was awarded through a competition is important to us,” Weinthal said. “It shows that our faculty are staying really relevant and current.”
Balbaa said the project is due for completion in late spring 2020. The project is being funded by the University of Alberta through donations.