In 1911, the now world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the Banff Pavilion, a visitor center commissioned by the Government of Canada. Undertaken in conjunction with Canadian architect, Francis Conroy Sullivan of Ottawa, the Pavilion was completed in 1914, serving the town for 25 years before its premature demolishment in 1939.
History of the Banff Pavilion
Frank Lloyd Wright and Francis Conroy Sullivan, Wright’s only Canadian student, designed the Banff National Park Pavilion in 1911. Commissioned by the Department of Public Works for the National Parks Service of Canada, the original design was put forth by the community of Banff with Sullivan and Wright later hired to develop a more refined concept.
Construction of the Pavilion began in 1913 and was finished the following year. Originally intended as a gathering area for visitors and community functions, completion of the Pavilion at the start of WWI saw it become a temporary quartermaster’s store for the Department of Defence. After the war, the Pavilion assumed its intended role as a picnic area and shelter for park goers, drawing large summer crowds from Calgary and Southern Alberta.
Built on the banks of the Bow River, the Pavilion was subject to flooding and frost heaving, leading to the decay of the wooden floor supports. In 1939, the structure was demolished. Although initially meeting with some resistance, the Pavilion became very popular and its demolition met with protest from residents, who’d appreciated, and grown accustomed to the business it had generated.
Why Revive The Pavilion?
The Banff Pavilion epitomizes Wright’s renowned Prairie School Style marked by horizontal lines reminiscent of native prairie landscapes. This genre, which has defined the architect, has made its way into design-doctrine as a movement that shifted modernism towards organic architecture, a philosophy of design that harmonizes both the “built” and natural environment and creates an equality between form and function.
Numerous samples of this characteristic style can be seen across the United States. However, the Pavilion was the only Prairie School Style structure in Canada.
Reviving the Pavilion lends an opportunity to rebuild a work by one of the most recognizable architects in modern history whose influence in the field is still tangible today and whose work continues to be studied and admired.
The Pavilion, having never been replicated, lends Banff an opportunity to reclaim this historic treasure and capitalize on the fame and reputation of an architectural legend.
Importance of the Pavilion to Banff
Supporting arts and culture: Home to the Whyte Museum as well as the Banff Centre (a globally recognized institution for the creative arts) and proprietors of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, the town of Banff is admired for more than its breathtaking landscape. Rebuilding a structure designed by one of the most famous architects of the 20th century, would augment the town’s reputation as an arts and cultural epicenter.
Adding an attraction: Banff is a tourist town, renowned for its natural beauty, and dependent on the flow of national and international visitors throughout the year to sustain its economy. The Pavilion would become another point of interest for the town, becoming a strong draw for new visitors, particularly art and architecture enthusiasts, and appealing to current Banff devotees who appreciate the town for its historic charm. It would also make Banff the only destination in Canada with a Frank Lloyd Wright attraction.
Reclaiming history: Banff’s Registry of Recognized Heritage Resources is indicative of the town’s commitment to preserve and protect landmarks of historical significance. Protected by this program are numerous properties that were built in the same era as the Pavilion. It is fair to say, having the advantage of such a registry during its existence, the Pavilion might still be standing today, adding to the historical record of architecture in Banff.