Let’s be plain about this (since the designs certainly are), the four concepts on the table for the new Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton have been met with a collective yawn from the community. Why? The most plausible answer to surface blames the fact that contractors led the design process.

Instead of going with convention when looking to develop a new structure for the city, the province of Alberta decided to mix things up a bit. Calling architects first would have taken too much time, so the province brought in construction firms to bid on the new museum in an effort to streamline the process and save Albertans a bit of cash along the way.

But what did they get as a result? Exactly what you would expect. Not a lot of anything. One commenter responding to an online newspaper article discussing the designs summed it up pretty well when they said that some of the renderings looked like nice community colleges. And this is for a museum, sites that generally evoke quite a bit of flair, intrigue and even a dash of whimsy. But not this time. And not in Edmonton.

The four finalists hoping to move the museum into the heart of the city each have their own, differing take on how impressive the designs really are:

EllisDon Construction Services boats a “dynamic” home with “grand galleries, surprising spaces and innovative design.” The design itself, created with the help of architect Jack Diamond, calls for extensive glass cladding to reveal the streetscape and outdoor rooftop activity areas.

Graham Design Builders and Jardeg Construction Services say it has “quiet beauty” and doesn’t scream for attention, but has well-proportioned and functional components. The “whiteness” of the building designed with the help of architect Richard Meier claims elegance and transparency.

Ledcor Design Build chose to “celebrate the story … of the people of Alberta.” The group, including Lundholm Associates Architects, claims gardens and terraces help engage visitors.

PCL Construction Management and architect Raymond Moriyama has a “timeless” design with a “museum in the park,” and a greenspace that wraps three parts of the structure.

Budgeted at $340 million, some Edmonton city officials and others in the community were hoping for something a little more striking than a giant box coming from the province’s efforts.

Defenders of the process, including the infrastructure minister of Alberta, say this process gets a higher quality building both faster and for less money than by calling architects first.

“The exterior design of the new Royal Alberta Museum must be such as to compel Albertans and our guests to visit and experience the facility for the first time,” says Lindsay Blackett, Minister of Culture and Community Spirit.  “Inside, the province’s treasures and the spirit of discovery will spark their desire to return time and again.” 

Of course, contractors know that fancy designs cost more and in an effort to keep costs down and streamline the building process, you can only imagine the basic designs help meet everyone’s financial goals and timelines for a completion in 2015, a quick turnaround considering a firm will not even be chosen until September.