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Photo credit: Lindsay Reid


Qaumajuq means “it is bright, it is lit” in Inuktitut. It is the world’s first building dedicated to contemporary Inuit art, and will become a hub that connects Canada’s North to its southern regions. Designed by Los Angeles-based Michael Maltzan Architecture in collaboration with Winnipeg firm Cibinel Architecture, the four-storey extension of the Winnipeg Art Gallery highlights the culture, landscape and light of the North. [1]

The name was chosen by a circle of Elders and advisors, as part of a broader selection of Indigenous names for the institution and its component elements—including an Ojibway name for the Winnipeg Art Gallery itself, which sits adjacent. It’s just one of the ways that Qaumajuq’s impact ripples beyond its architecture.

The architecture itself makes a memorable impact. At night, light shines through the glass wall of the double-height entry area. A stone wall hangs like a curtain above, as though lifted up to let the museum glow, not unlike the light of a qulliq: a seal oil lamp. The undulating façade also suggests the curtains of aurora borealis which sweep across the northern sky. The wall has become a frequent screen for light and video projections, amplifying the effect at night. [2]

Maltzan was inspired by a trip to Nunavut where the team visited Inuit communities and artists’ studios. Maltzan’s design echos the ephemeral qualities of the North. Qaumajuq’s undulating white stone façade, made of Bethel Granite, hovers above the ground as if floating over the glass-filled lobby. Its abstract quality recalls the scale and carved forms of the North as well as the artwork housed within its walls. [3]

“This is a very secure space; it’s climate controlled but very visually accessible, and the way we can do that is because a large chunk of the Inuit collection is stone and stone is resilient with light,” he says. “It’s a way for the audience to not just see thousands of artworks, but you can also see curators working within the space.”

As Maltzan notes, there’s been an increasing trend in making hidden collections much more a part of the visitors’ experience, that plausibly started in the 1970s with Arthur Erickson’s Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. “I think the most forceful, most dynamic presentations of a collection are [presenting] them right at the front door of the museums,” he says. “The visible vault space you can see from the outside; you don’t even have to enter the centre to get a sense of the art.” [4]


[1]       Luke, Nicole. “It Is Bright, It Is Lit: Qaumajuq, Winnipeg, Manitoba.” Canadian Architect, June 21, 2021. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/it-is-bright-it-is-lit-qaumajuq-winnipeg-manitoba/.

[2]       Bird, Lawrence. “Letting the Light Out: Qaumajuq, Winnipeg, Manitoba.” Canadian Architect, June 21, 2021. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/letting-the-light-out-qaumajuq-winnipeg-manitoba/.

[3]      “New Spaces: WAG.” WAG, May 28, 2021. https://www.wag.ca/qaumajuq/new-spaces/.

[4]       Melnyk, Rebecca. “A Bridge to the North.” Canadian Facility Management & Design, 2021.

Additional information:

Hampton, Chris. “The Green Cube.” Canadian Art, September 27, 2018. https://canadianart.ca/features/the-green-cube/.

“New Home for World’s Largest Inuit Art Collection – REMI Network.” REMINET, March 26, 2021. https://www.reminetwork.com/articles/new-home-for-worlds-largest-inuit-art-collection/.

“Qaumajuq: WAG.” WAG, June 25, 2021. https://www.wag.ca/qaumajuq/.

“WAG – QAUMAJUQ EXPANSION.” Cibinel Architecture Ltd. | WAG – Qaumajuq Expansion. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://cibinel.com/project/wag-inuit-art-centre-expansion/.

“Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq: Michael Maltzan Architecture.” Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq | Michael Maltzan Architecture. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://www.mmaltzan.com/projects/winnipeg-art-gallery-qaumajuq/.

Project Title: Qaumajuq Expansion, Winnipeg Art Gallery 
Artists:  Michael Maltzan Architecture, Cibinel Architecture
Year: 2021

Place: Winnipeg, Manitoba

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