Whenever I travel, I am always reminded about the importance of entrances and their role in navigating the streets of any city. A well designed entrance tells you immediately where the entry to the building is and it invites you to step inside or at least slow down and admire the building, be that as a pedestrian or a driver.
Recently on a road trip to Montana, I was struck by how many of the buildings had much more interesting entrances than what we see in Calgary. I saw organic grocery store with funky canopies. a Safeway with a chalet like entrance, an ultra modern church entrance and a grain elevator inspired Starbuck building with a drive-thru window with the same attention to architecture as the main entrance. Yes Montana could be the new hot bed of urban architecture on the prairies!
Can you think of one building in Calgary that has a grand entrance? To me a building’s entrance is critical to its success. It establishes he character and charm of the building. It is the first and last thing you experience. At least it use to be - these days most of the people enter a building from the parkade elevator than they do the front door. The same could be said about condos dwellers also. Perhaps this is why less and less attention is given to the actual entrance of our buildings. It is interesting to note that the interesting buildings in Montana had no parkades.
When I think of entrances I think of stately pillars, grand plazas and the pageantry of flags or banners. The actual doors are also important. The Lancaster buildings’ brass doors distinguished it from all other building along historic Stephen Avenue. Other great downtown doors that come to mind are also brass - J.J. Bowlen Building and Court of Queens bench (soon to be demolished, but the doors will be saved)
Not sure if it is just me, but a revolving door says something, different than a sliding door or a one that you have to pull open. The presence of a doorman also contributes to making the entrance more public friendly – think hotel entrances. I have often thought it would be better for office buildings to have welcoming doorman at their entrance rather than security guards sitting at a desk in the lobby. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were greeted at the door by a friendly doorman open the door for us and saying; “Let me get the door for you….Have a nice day!” That would be civilized would it not?
Let’s look first at our public buildings. The entrance to the old City Hall is better than the new Municipal Building but both are really lacking the grand entrance they deserve. The entrance to the Glenbow is tucked away inside the Convention centre - there is inviting entrance from 9th Avenue or Stephen Avenue. The entrance to the new Telus Convention Centre is not much better, as the doors are flush with the building as is the signage. I have helped many a conventioneer find the entrance when they were just a few feet away. The W.R. Castell Library has its entrance on the busy corner of 7th Ave and MacLeod Trail, but you wouldn’t say it is welcoming. The Performing Arts Centre as five theatres, but only the Jack Singer has what I would call good entrance. It is unique in that it is one of the few buildings in our City that has real pillars. The new Courthouse Complex could have had a wonderful grand entrance, but instead security regulations created a design with a much more conservative streetscape.
Office buildings don’t fair much better. Does the Suncor Center have a great (memorable) entrance? How about Bankers Hall? They all have plazas off of the sidewalk but there is not a strong link from the street to the front doors. Of the older towers the one that made at least an attempt to be link to the street with a grand entrance would be Nexen with its glass garden lobby off of 8th Avenue and the corner plaza with the sculpture off of 7th Avenue. The mid-block glass atrium of Western Canadian Place is also nice link to both the street and the +15 system. One of the problems for architects in designing an office tower in Calgary is that they have too many entrances – there is the street entrance, the +15 entrance and the elevator entrance. The new Bow Tower certainly has a grand entrance from the Centre Street and 6th Avenue side.
What about condos, do any of those have a grand entrance? Eau Claire 500’s entrance is hidden away from the street, Princeton’s entrance is from an inner courtyard. Do any of the new condos in the Beltline have memorable entrances? I can’t think of any.
What about our shopping centres and major stores? Does Chinook, Market Mall, South Centre have an impressive. Holt Renfrew has perhaps the best entrances, with their great storefront windows. It says shopping? It also says classy? The Downtown Bay with the colonnade along Stephen Avenue has a very unique presence that recalls a time when buildings were created with a sense of place and entrance.
What about our churches, recreation centres or other prominent buildings? I have not done an exhaustive search but I can’t think of any that are truly memorable. Something that we would want to put on a Calgary post card. Can you? If so let me know and I will visit them and report back.
Seems to me Calgarians like to hide our entrances. Even in our homes the front door is often tucked away often in the darkness of the shadow of the garage and home. There is no sense of welcoming. Many homes don’t even have a front sidewalk anymore it is just a driveway. What does this say about us? You may think it is a small thing, but it is all of these small things that together make our city streets less and less public friendly.
Characteristics of a good entrance:
- Visible from a distance
- Integral to the overall building design
- Connects to the street