Calgary: North America's Newest "Design" City (Revisited)

As a result of the strong response to this blog, I have add some additional projects which have been suggested to me that further position Calgary as one of North America's leading "Design" cities.  

Recently I was reviewing my collection of photos of urban places and spaces in Calgary and began to realize that over the past 10 years Cowtown has become home to some pretty amazing and diverse new urban design projects.  There are several major projects that have definitely raised the bar with respect to urban design.  The diversity of the projects also impressed me - hospitals / office / bridges / parks / riverwalks / parkades / art galleries / underpasses / private homes.  I have not even touched on public art, which will be a future blog. 

However, not everyone agrees with me that Calgary's design standards have been elevated especially when it come to office buildings.  While working on this blog a colleague told me when it comes to office buildings they still tend to be short and rectangular. He is disappointed that Calgary has none of the  interesting computer generated shapes that we are seeing in places like Dubai.

 Another colleague, who has brought major international investors to the city to look a development opportunities shared with me confidentially that these investors are underwhelmed by the sense of place we have created so far.  I am thinking that will have to wait for its own blog - "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" of urban design in Calgary. You can't please everyone.  

While it is hard for Calgary to compete with non-democratic governed cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore or Shanghai, where the economics and planning rules are totally different, I believe we can compete with other North American cities for the quality of our urban design, especially over the past 10 years or so.  I think Calgary is ready to be placed on the international map of architectural tourism cities. 

While we may not have the "Wild, Weird & Wacky" architecture that some cities have, I believe we have moved away from the pioneer prairie pragmatism of the past. I am not sure there is an emerging Calgary school of design yet. However I do see a trend emerging with the introduction of the subtle use of bold colours in many of the new condos and smaller office buildings as well as the bridges.  Colour seems to be the accent pillow for Calgary's urban designers. 

Some of Calgary's new "Design" buildings have been created by signature architects  from around the world, while others have been done by our local design community.  I thought it would be interesting to put together a photo essay of Calgary in the early 21st century.  

Be sure to read to the end as I have placed Calgary's most controversial and perhaps its most challenging urban design project near the end.  

SAIT Parkade is a hidden gem as you can't really see it unless you are driving into the parkade are taking the LRT.  The skin of the parkade is made of aluminum that has thousands of holes punch into it to allow for ventilation, as well as creating the pixilation that results in the mural of the Calgary's prairie sky.   As a result of the changing sun light, the mural is constantly changing. 

Bing Tom Architects from Vancouver designed the Parkade, in collaboration with Vancouver artist Roderick Quin who designed the cloudscape mural.

The new 4th Street SE Underpass connects Calgary's historic Stampede Park with the new East Village urban village being created on the other side of the CPR railway tracks.  Immediately on the other side will be the new National Music Centre  and King Eddy Hotel (Calgary's home of the blues).  The underpass has won unanimous praise for its sleek and simple design, with great sight lines.  It has already been the catalyst for the development of the Village Ice Cream shop that serves delicious home-made ice cream. It has also inspired the City to redevelop the City Centre's other underpasses.

Broadway Malyan was he lead designer on the underpass, with Marshall Tittemore Architects being the local consultants. 

Calgary is home to over 60 skybridges (called +15 bridges in Calgary as they are 15 feet off the ground).  This one has been retrofitted with colour film on the glass to give it a contemporary stain glass feel.  This bridge enhances the arts district nature of the area as it connects Calgary's Museum of Contemporary Art with the EPCOR Performing Art Centre, as well as a major parkade and the Municipal Building (aka The Blue Monster).

The "Cloud"  is an interactive art installation by artist Caitlind r.c. Brown that was unveiled at Nuit Blanche September 15th 2012 on Calgary's Olympic Plaza.  The artwork is made of 1000 working light bulbs with pull chains and 5000 burt- out light bulbs donated by public. Visitors independently pull the chains to turn the light bulbs on and off which result in a shimmering effect.  While I was there, the public all got together to turn off all the light bulbs and then at a count of 3 they pulled the chains all the lights came on at once.  You gotta like public art that is fun.

Several new major skyscrapers have been built in downtown Calgary since the beginning of the 21st century.  The one that gets the most attention is The Bow tower as it was designed by Norman Foster and has a unique semi-circular shape that mirrors the "bow shape" in the Bow River as it passes through downtown.  However, Jamieson Place is the one that I like the most with its strong vertical lines that trust just  slightly above the top of the tower.  It has a 21st century Art Deco feel to me.  However, the Calgary architectural firm of Gibbs Gage who designed the building talk about Frank Lloyd Wright (the father of prairie architecture) as their inspiration. Inside is an amazing winter garden with a huge growing wall and hanging glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. 

Recently Calgary's 100 year old Memorial Park was redesigned adding in fountains, more flower planting and a bistro restaurant to the existing 100 year old sandstone Carnegie Library building and the many war memorials.  It is home to one of Calgary's many Remembrance Day ceremonies.  

I take a lot of flack over the fact that I like this building a lot.  But then i am a sucker for colour and I am a kid at heart.  Yes, it looks like lego design, which is not surprising as children were consulted in the design.  I love the fact that the building shouts "children."

This is the roof of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology parkade located in the centre of the campus. There is a full-size playing field on the roof connect to the recreation centre. The glass ramp is the  dramatic pedestrian entrance to the parkade from campus. 

This photo captures the new Wonderland sculpture by Jaume Plensa on the plaza of the Norman Foster Bow Tower.  In the background is the Suncor Centre (built in the '80s), which consists of two towers the tallest one was the tallest in Calgary until the Bow was constructed.  The Suncor Tower has an interesting slanted roof top and the two towers together make a reference in their design to the iconic prairie grain elevator.

This photo is taken from the Esker Art Gallery which is located on the eastern edge of the Centre City.  The downtown skyline can be seen in the background.  Like the SAIT campus buildings there is a lot of use of neon sticks in the ceilings of the gathering spaces.  Both were designed by the same Calgary architectural firm Kasian.  

Looking down at the cafeteria study area in SAIT's Trades & Technology space.  This building was also designed by the Calgary architectural firm KASIAN. 

This rendering of the Eight Avenue Place office complex illustrated perhaps the best new office building design that is more Calgary centric.  The two towers combine to create a Rocky Mountain ridge-like edge and the glass captures and reflect the luminous big blue Calgary sky.  The lead architects for the project were Pickard Chilton with Gibbs Gage as the local architects. 

This photo illustrates how the skin of the EAP towers capture the electric blue Calgary sky to create a shimmering effect that is analogous to the shimmering sunlight in the mountains with the snow.  The building colour and shape changes through-out the day as the different plans of the building capture the light differently; this is not captured in the rendering.

Calgary's new sense of design extends into residential developments also. The inner-city streets are being invaded by contemporary infills like this one.  One of the distinguishing features is multiple slanted roofs and strong lines both vertically and horizontally, that seem to reflect Calgary's sense of place which is a the transition from the flat prairies to the vertical thrust of the Rocky Mountains.  

Another example of the infills that are on every block of our inner city communities.  In this case a modern duplex has been built where there once was a small cottage bungalow.

This is Calgary's RiverwWalk not to be confused with San Antonio's River Walk.  It is a promenade that extends from Chinatown to Fort Calgary where it will link up with the Stampede Parks promenade.  On the west side it links to the Eau Claire Promenade all the way to Shaw Millennium Park. Downtown Calgary is the hub for an 800 km city-wide pathway system. On nice days winter and summer, thousands of Calgarians with stroll and ride the pathways. 

Another look at our RiverWalk which has several places to sit and contemplate the river's edge.  The Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world.  Even in downtown Calgary, you can walk to the rivers edge and try your hand a fly fishing. 

This is Caglary's Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava, which has been very controversial for a variety of reasons from cost to procurement.  However, since completion it seems to have captured the public imagination and makes a bold statement along Calgary's Memorial Drive which has recently been redesigned as a more ceremonial street. 

Another view of the Peace Bridge and how it links to the pathway on the north side of the Bow River.  It is all part of the Downtown Bow River pedestrian experience.  A second iconic pedestrian bridge is currently under construction at the east end of the Downtown to create a circular urban walking path.  

The Core shopping centre's glass roof is 3 blocks long, creates a unique perspective of the surrounding office buildings.  It also creates a sunny shopping experience even in the middle of the winter. 

The Devonian Gardens (DG) were first created in 1977, but recently were redesign to become a more formal garden.  DG is attached to The Core shopping centre and also includes a full children's playground and Koi ponds that are loved by children.  It is an oasis in the middle of the downtown. 

Hotel Le Germain building is a vertical office tower and hotel tower with a horizontal condo on top.  Each tower has its own design and materials  At street level is the lobby and restaurants.  Truly a mixed-use building and definitely an out-of-the-box design. 

Is Calgary ready to become an "design destination" for tourists and students of architecture and urban design?  Some would say it is premature.  However, I think one could easily spend several days exploring Cowtown's new urban design sensibility.  I have not even touched on our public art or our public spaces, nor have I looked at our new condos.   And then there is also the gems of the past and our two historical Main Streets Stephen Avenue Walk and Inglewood.  Yes, I believe Calgary is ready for those urban explorers!  And just to prove it I have a few more fun / funky cowtown urban design gems to share with you! 

This is an image of the copper underbelly of the Sunalta Station of Calgary's new west leg of our Light Rapid Transit System.  It is the new gateway into the Downtown from the west, offering riders a spectacular view of the downtown skyline. In the evening when the sun is setting, the glass towers can become a symphony of gold and copper colours.  I am not sure if the designers had this in mind when they chose the materials. 

This is the street view of the Sunalta Station, Calgary's first elevated LRT station.  Designed by local architectural firm GEC the elliptical shape works to protect the station from wind, snow and rain.  It was also inspired the Chinook Arch cloud formation which brings warm winds to Calgary in the winter. 

The South Health Campus (hospital) open recently on the southern edge of the city. It will become the hub for a master planned urban village.  It features an prairie mural as part of its design.  The architects for this project is the Calgary firm KASAIN, who also did the Children's Hospital 

Another view of the South Health Campus' distinctive design that is a hybrid of art and architecture. 

Telus SPARK, Calgary's new Science Centre glows at night. Colours can fade in and out to create a light show like the northern lights.  It is the gateway to the Centre City from the east and provides a hit of Calgary's new urban design sensibility for those driving along the Deerfoot Trail (Calgary's busiest freeway).  Photo credit: Leblond Studio Inc. 2011

In 2009, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, installed a state of the art LED lighting system on the 110 year old  Langevin Bridge which is the gateway into the downtown for many visitors to city from the airport.  The lights can be programmed in an infinite number of ways to celebrate various holidays and special events.  The total energy consumption per year is the equivalent of about 3 homes.  Photo credit: CMLC

The Child Development Centre at the University of Calgary is one of several new buildings that are transforming it into a "design" campus.  This building I believe was Calgary's first LEED platinum building.  It is home to a school and The Ability HUB for Autism and several other organizations. 

EEEL Building on the University of Calgary campus i believe just received its LEED Platinum status.  EEL stands for Energy Environment Experiential Learning.

The Winter Garden at Jamieson Place offers a tranquil place to sit, relax and reflect.  The Green Wall in the background is 22 ft hight and 100 ft wide and has over 20,000 plants.  It was designed by McRae Anderson of McCaren Designs who chose plant types, leaf shapes, sizes and textures to  mirror the topographical changes in the land around Calgary as you move from prairie grasslands to foothills to mountains.  

In the foreground is one of three Dale Chihuly glass sculptures that hang over the infinity ponds.  

The Water Center presents a dramatic gateway into the Center City via an industrial area on the south east edge.  In shape and materials it suggests a huge culvert from the road side.  It is also home to a major public art projects as part of the City's 1% for public art program.  

Calgary also has some "design" condos in the Center City like "Colours" by local developer Paul Battistella.  In this case the podium is a parking garage but it is nicely designed with random colour panels  that add a bright and youthful sense of place along the emerging First Street promenade area. 

This is an older photo of the Arriva condo which was the first condo to be built in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities.  It was designed by local architects BKDI and was suppose to have 3 towers but went bankrupt.  However, it has been bought out of receivership and a new tower is planned next to it, however, it won't be a sister design. 

Currently under construction the St. Patrick's Island Bridge is designed to look like a skipping stone.  It will link Calgary's East Village to St. Patrick's Island which is being redeveloped as a mixed-use recreational area.   When combined with the historic Centre Street bridge and the Peace bridge it will create a wonderful figure 8 walking tour of the majestic Bow River.  The bridge was designed by RFR from Paris.