The Wednesday Room

Mark Burkart, MArch’98

Walker McKinley, BA’90, MArch’96

by Christina Reynolds    main photo by Roth and Ramberg


If it feels like you’ve stepped into a Stanley Kubrick movie when you enter The Wednesday Room on Stephen Avenue, then McKinley Burkart did its job. The room oozes a lounge-y 1960s vibe inspired by the director’s famous films, most notably The Shining.

“Since the first time I watched The Shining, I’ve always been haunted by that unsettling scene where Jack Nicholson talks to the bartender,” says Mark Burkart, founding partner of the Calgary- and Vancouver-based architecture, interior-design and brand-strategy firm. “We wanted to channel the atmosphere of … the films of Stanley Kubrick in general; a kind of uncanny tension and oddness.”

The orange, beige and brown colour palette — updated with warm mahogany panelling and a wall of earthy sandstone — mixes together like the flavours of a classic cocktail. The restaurant is one of many in this city where McKinley Burkart has made its mark; in fact, the company is often credited with raising the bar for restaurant-design culture in Calgary. “We’ve had a little to do with that,” founding partner Walker McKinley admits, modestly.

McKinley and Burkart started their business in 1997 when Burkart was an architecture student and McKinley was a recent grad. McKinley overheard that Burkart was travelling to Cuba and asked him to bring back some cigars. Not long after, they bonded over cigars, rum — and a common view of architecture.

Fast-forward 22 years and they now have more than 100 diverse projects on the go. To list just a few: there is ongoing work as global architects for Budweiser; department store designs for Simons; retail storefronts for three cannabis brands; and artificial intelligence lab designs for Microsoft — where the Redmond, Wash.-based AI experts favour decidedly low-tech chalkboards and whiteboards. “We are way more digital,” says McKinley, with a laugh, about his firm’s own design process.

One of McKinley Burkart’s recently completed projects is Hoopla Donuts, a tiny storefront in Calgary Place’s office-tower mall. Here, the vibe is frenetic, sweet, bold and stimulating — in part generated by an almost constant queue. It’s a little bit retro, this time ’80s, but (yet again) infused with a 21st-century freshness. One of the challenges here, says Burkart, was not just a tight space, but a tight budget. Yet this doesn’t show in the clean lines of two half-circle (i.e. doughnut) windows, or in the smooth edges of the budget-friendly birch-plywood tables and chairs (custom-designed by McKinley Burkart).

“Calgary’s public spaces are mostly private. We gather within commercial settings, and it’s become that way everywhere … the lines are breaking down in these spaces and on the streets, and that’s healthy,” says Burkart.

Whether it’s channelling the esthetic of classic movies in The Wednesday Room (its very name comes from one of the “chapters” in The Shining), or arranging Hoopla’s lease to allow furniture to be placed in the Plus-15 space beyond its official footprint, McKinley Burkart is dedicated to ensuring we continue to look at private-public spaces in whole new ways.

Calgary’s public spaces are mostly private. We gather within commercial settings, and it’s become that way everywhere … the lines are breaking down in these spaces and on the streets, and that’s healthy.

Mark Burkart

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