Ambitious architecture does justice to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

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The newly-opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights has a cutting edge design, as well as sustainability and accessibility features

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It seems fitting that a museum with subject matter that's as aspirational as human rights, should be similarly aspirational in design. The newly-opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is just that. The building is a mix of cutting edge design, construction, accessibility and sustainability.

Creating a new museum from scratch gives architects the chance to match the building to its planned contents. Romania's Digital Museum, for example, is replete with high-tech features and external LED lighting, whilst the fluidity of the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art aligns closely with the act of storytelling. The CMHR design, for its part, seeks to reflect the concepts of freedom, equality and respect.

The CMHR is said to be the first new national museum built in Canada since 1967, the first national museum to be established outside Canada's National Capital Region and the first major project in Canada to use virtual reality construction design across all contractor groups. This sense of ambition is extended to the structure itself.

The building comprises a "mountain" of 400,000-year-old limestone encased in a huge "glass cloud" that's said to symbolize light and hope. The impressive façade is made up of 1,300 pieces of glass, of which no are two exactly the same. According to CMHR, it takes a raindrop about eight minutes to slide from the top of the cloud to its bottom.

The museum is crowned by a 23-storey glass spire, or "Tower of Hope," that rises 100 m (328 ft) into the sky. At the top is an observation deck from which visitors can look out to the horizon, and at night the tower is "illuminated as a symbol of enlightenment."

Once inside, visitors are led through different gallery spaces along an 800-m (2,624-ft) continuously-rising spiral path. This constant upwards trajectory is designed to symbolize the upward struggle towards fully realized human rights around the world.

While these abstract design representations no doubt have merit, the building also has a number of more tangible features that are indicative of society's progress and aspirations. The CMHR claims that its building is the most inclusive design in Canadian history. Based on advice from the Inclusive Design Advisory Council, the museum is said to set new Canadian and world standards for accessibility.

As you would expect, the museum provides nearby parking for those with disabilities, welcomes service animals such as guide dogs, and provides free entry for support individuals. It is also entirely accessible by ramps and elevators. In addition, though, exhibition content and audio tours can be accessed via tactile access points and keypads that are flagged up by floor strips, whilst all videos are interpreted into both American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language. Braille is used throughout the building, print size and contrast meets required standards, and descriptive audio tours are also available.

The building has also been built with environmental sustainability in mind and is designed to achieve an LEED rating Silver (pending certification). Green features include insulated glazing, rainwater collection use in the building’s cooling and toilet-flushing systems, low-flow fixtures and waterless urinals. Showers are provided for cyclists, and bus passes are subsidized for staff to encourage green commuting.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened in September.

The video below provides an introduction to the museum.

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