In December 2016, Edmonton City Council adopted a Winter Design Policy. This policy recognizes that winter is a core part of Edmonton’s identity, and ensures that winter is fully considered in the design and development of City buildings and public spaces.

This policy will allow us to take advantage of the positive aspects of winter, such as prairie sunshine and sparkling blankets of snow, while mitigating the harsher ones like cold winds and slippery ice. We can even turn the long hours of darkness into a positive winter asset and use it as a canvas for painting with light.

The policy has the companion Winter Design Guidelines to provide ideas and inspiration for making the policy a reality. The guidelines were created to help city builders like planners, developers, community leagues and ordinary citizens incorporate a winter lens into their designs. Practical and innovative examples for creating a city that is more comfortable and accessible in the winter are provided throughout the guidelines.

The guidelines emphasize supporting outdoor life by building public spaces that are more inviting and enjoyable to be in year-round. The Winter Design Guidelines are based on five principles that can be applied at all scales (e.g. neighbourhoods, blocks, parks, sites, buildings):

  1. Incorporating design strategies to block wind, particularly prevailing winds and downdrafts.
  2. Maximizing exposure to sunshine through orientation and design.
  3. Using colour to enliven the winterscape.
  4. Creating visual interest with light, while being mindful of density, spread, and colour.
  5. Designing and providing infrastructure that supports desired winter life and improves comfort and access in cold weather.

We hit the street to find existing examples of the five Winter Design Guidelines principles.

Wild Earth Bakery

Wild Earth Bakery and Café’s bold colour enlivens our winterscape. Sometimes they put their tables out on the sunny south side of their building, where bare-branched deciduous trees let the winter light in. It’s a lovely place to sip a coffee and have one of their famous cinnamon buns.

Hyatt Place downtown Edmonton

Hyatt Place, Edmonton.

The newest hotel downtown, Hyatt Place, has a deep setback and columns closer to the building that helps to block falling and blowing snow, as well as prevailing and downdraft winds. The covered driveway makes welcoming visitors more pleasant on the frostiest days. On top is a contemporary lounge surrounded by big south- and west-facing windows that let the winter light in and give a view of the river valley in all its winter glory. The second-story patio also captures south and west light, providing a space for sunny afternoon winter patios.

Earth’s General Store

Earth’s General Store, downtown Edmonton.

104 Street downtown Edmonton

104 Street outside Earth’s General Store. Photo by Mack Male.

The awnings help create a sheltered place to sit and enjoy winter sun.

The yellow and white-striped canopies at Earth’s General Store on 104 Street have multiple winter design components. They make the entrances obvious, add colour, and provide protection from the elements. The festive lights add another colourful design dimension at night; they’re an inexpensive and chic way to add whimsy in winter.

Winter patio at Cafe Bicyclette.

Café Bicyclette at La Cité Francophone is well known for its year-round patio. This example incorporates all five of the winter design principles. The west-facing patio is sunken so it gets some afternoon winter sun and is protected from the wind. They have blankets you can borrow and patio heaters to keep you warm. The red window frames give a pop of cheerful colour while the large windows reflect light onto the patio and let the winter sun into the bistro. The string of lights around the framing adds visual interest during our early dusks.


Art Galley of Alberta in winter

Art Galley of Alberta, downtown Edmonton.

The Art Gallery of Alberta is a stunning architectural building in our city and incorporates many winter design principles. The steel ribbons are not only a treat for the eyes, but they also act as a canopy to protect pedestrians from snow and downdraft winds. The huge windows face south and west to let in the winter sun. In the evenings, it’s beautifully lit from inside which spills out onto the street. This is also one of the few buildings in Edmonton that have heated sidewalks, making the entryway more accessible for all throughout the year.


Edmonton High Level Bridge Lights

High Level Bridge and Dudley B. Menzies Bridge. Photo by Mack Male


Downtown Edmonton. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

Edmonton is increasingly using light to bring visual interest to our city. The High Level Bridge, ATB Tower, and Edmonton House are recent structural light additions to the more established City Hall, Alberta Legislature, Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, and Muttart Conservatory lights. Temporary Christmas lights across the city and the tree-wrapping lights in many of the Business Improvement Areas also entice Edmontonians to venture outside in winter.

Alberta Legislature Winter Lights

Alberta Legislature. Photo by Mack Male.

What other structures in our city embrace Edmonton’s new Winter Design Guidelines? Let us know your favourites!

Posted under Winter Strategy