“[It] is just as much about community as it is about art.” – Siamak Hariri, Partner in Charge, Hariri Pontarini Architects

Weaving together old and new, the MacLaren Art Centre defies the “pristine” quality of many art institutions with a welcoming and accessible building that is just as much about community as it is about art.

A Home for People and Art

Originally housed in the former residence of local businessman Maurice MacLaren, the intimate nature of the space – the feeling of home – had become one of the most salient and cherished characteristics of the MacLaren Art Centre. It is no surprise then that when a move to a new facility was being planned in the early 1990s, residents of Barrie overwhelming asked for that feeling of intimacy and friendliness not to be lost.

This request became the driving force behind the design of the new MacLaren Art Centre. Starting with the premise of the gallery not as a temple for the arts but as a place for the community to come together, the new spaces are reflective of the institution’s commitment to openness, transparency and the demystification of art. Features like the spacious yet welcoming entryway – complete with a fireplace and café – immediately convey a sense of comfort and hospitality. The materials chosen throughout are warm and familiar – far removed from the “pristine” qualities that sometimes make art galleries unwelcoming.

The decision to make an art gallery that would be accessible, welcoming and homey did not come at the expense of meeting world-class standards. The centre is seen as a regional leader in the arts because of its secure, environmentally controlled exhibition spaces meeting professional museum standards.

Adaptive Reuse

A careful balancing act of old and new, the art centre’s home carefully weaves a new addition to a beloved heritage structure – an elegant red-brick Beaux-Arts building that served as Barrie’s public library from 1917 to the 1990s. The building, one of Ontario’s 111 Carnegie libraries (a distinct group of libraries built with grants from the Carnegie Foundation) was carefully restored as part of the conversion. Special attention was given to integrating its spaces with the new addition.

The conversion of the Carnegie library into the MacLaren Art Centre successfully breathed new life into the heritage structure, ensuring this community-focused building would continue serving Barrie as a space for gathering and exchange for years to come.



 This post forms part of our World Architecture Day Queen’s Park Picks 2018 series in which we asked Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament to nominate a prominent building, past or present, in their riding for a chance to learn more about it. Check out the rest of the series to learn more about great buildings across the province!

 The OAA would like to thank Hariri Pontarini Architects for the information, images and drawings that made this blOAAg post possible.


MacLaren Art Centre. History of the Gallery Building. Accessed electronically: https://maclarenart.com/about-us/history-of-the-gallery-building

Guillén, Vanessa V. MacLaren Art Centre – 2001 (video). Accessed electronically: https://vimeo.com/40686356

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