Iconic Canadian art hidden in YYC office lobby!

By Richard White, December 28, 2013

It always amazes me what you can find in downtown Calgary if you just explore a little bit - get off the beaten path.  A few weeks back I shared with you some artworks that I found in the lobby and hallways at Bow Valley College.  The place is a friggn public art gallery with art everywhere. Learn more at: Flaneuring Bow Valley College 

Another day I was flaneuring the east end of Stephen Avenue and while not off the beaten path there was the one of downtown's more successful public artworks - the larger than live famous five ladies.  Learn more at Famous 5 at Olympic Plaza

Today I had an appointment at Eight Avenue Place (EAP) and discovered paintings by Jack, Jack, Ray, Jean, Jean-Paul and Marcelle - all members of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.  It is not everyday you find in an office lobby with museum quality artworks. 

But then downtown Calgary is not your average downtown, with over 40 million square feet of office space, it is one of the top 10 downtowns for corporate headquarters in North America.  Every new office building has wonderful art in the lobby and on the plaza making the downtown a 40-block contemporary art gallery.  Learn More: "Downtown Calgary giant outdoor art gallery"

Someday someone is going to create an app that will be a self guided tour of YYC's Downtown Art gallery. 

Iconic Canadian Artists

In the meantime, EAP has created a brochure for six masterpiece contemporary artworks by iconic Canadian artists:

  • Jack Shadbolt
  • Ray Mead
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle
  • Jack Bush
  • Jean McEwen
  • Marcelle Ferron

While I have been critical of Calgary's downtown in the past for being too corporate, too conservative and too minimal in its urban design, EAP and others have certainly contributed to making our downtown more visually interesting with literally hundreds of artworks.  

EAP's Lobby Art & Design....

As you enter from Stephen Avenue you are immediately welcomed by Jack Shadbolt's, "Wild Grass Suite - Quintet" (1979).  I love the fact that you can grab a coffee next door and sit and enjoy the art.  

In this close-up of one of the panels you can see that the image looks as if was inspired by the Alberta prairie grasslands where they meet the foothills.  The piece has a wonderful sense of playfulness and certainly adds lots of warmth and colour to an other wise stark lobby.

The next piece you encounter is Ray Mead's "Totem" (1986) which hangs above the concierge desk. Again it adds lots of colour and have an aboriginal quality to them in the simple mark-making and flattened stylized images.  The title also suggest an affinity with First Nations sense of place. 

Tucked away in one of the three elevator lobbies is this unusual Jack Bush painting "New York 55" (1955).  Unusual in that most of us associate Bush with bright primary colours, yet this piece is mostly blacks, browns and pinks. The piece definitely conveys New York's sense of place as the world's leading skyscraper city with its collage of vertical blocks, interspersed with smaller marks for windows and swirls for window reflections. This is probably the most literal Bush piece I have ever seen and certainly is museum quality. 

Definitely a good choice for EAP as it is one of Canada's best skyscrapers.  Did you know that Downtown Calgary is built at the same density as Manhattan or Chicago? 

Any public art gallery in Canada would love to have this piece titled "Oliviers" by Jean-Paul Riopelle in their collection.  I wonder if the EAP tenants who pass by it everyday even realize that they get to enjoy a painting by one of Canada's iconic artists everyday.  While other office buildings in North America have modern art in their lobby; there are very few that have iconic works of art. 

Jean McEwan's "Le Climat Rouge" (1957) invites contemplation, I want to grab the bench that is underneath the painting and move it to the middle of the elevator lobby and just sit and study it.  

It is obvious that the six artworks have been carefully selected to complement each other with a focus on use of colour, brush and mark-making and abstracting from nature. 

Marcelle Ferron's "Chile" (1973) combines elements of Shadbolt, Mead, Riopelle, Bush and McEwan in her work.  

Signature Furniture 

EAP lobby also includes modern office furniture by Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll.  The huge south facing two story atrium or winter garden would make a wonderful sculpture garden. While there are plans for a major piece of public art, it is most likely to go outside on 9th Avenue.  

Currently the lobby features numerous "ice bursts" suspended from the ceiling that add an element of surprise and elegance to the minimalism of the lobby design. 

The lobby offers dramatic views of Calgary southern sky.  

The lobby has several inviting areas to sit and linger each authentic modern furniture.  And yes over the holidays they had the TVs turned to the Shaw's burning fireplace. 

EAP's has one of the most dramatic office lobbies in Canada, perhaps North America.  

These "ice bursts" were created by Stephen Stefanou of Venue Arts.  Each point of the bursts is individually created by slowly pushing a metal rod through the heated plastic-like material, so each is unique. There are several "bursts" hanging from the ceiling  in the central lobby as well as the lobbies of the two towers. Flood lights are used to slowly change the colour of the bursts adding yet another element of surprise. 

While under construction EAP had over 20 reproductions of artworks by senior Calgary artists covering the construction hoarding along the side of the road.  It was literally a who's who of Calgary art. I have never seen this done before. 

On the second floor (+15 level) SQCommons has been operating a "pop-up" contemporary gallery both in the public areas and in a 6,000+ square foot future retail space.  The space has also been used for several special events including Burst Calgary. 

The unique design for Eight Avenue Place was inspired by the Canadian Rockies with their jagged, angular, shard-like peaks. The building's facade reflects Calgary's abundant sunshine at several different angles during the day and seasons creating an ever-changing facade. 

Last Word

Eight Avenue Place was designed by Pickard Chilton an international architectural firm based in New Haven, Connecticut and Gibbs Gage Architects from Calgary.  It was the first pre-certified LEED Platinum high-rise building in North Americia.  The first tower is 49 floors and the second tower which will be completed and occupied in 2014 is 40floors.  Combined they provide 1,800,000 square feet of office space on 89 floors. 

Kudos to AIMCo, SITQ and Matco the co-owners of EAP for their innovative use of art (both locally and nationally) to differentiate themselves from other major office complexes.  I can't wait to see the outdoor sculpture piece they will commission.

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Downtown's Udderly Art Pasture

Flaneuring Bow Valley College

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

Readers' comments:

RW writes: Great article. Most of us, myself included might notice these things but do not tie it all together because we are on a mission aka meeting/lunch/deadline.  The thought of having art all around us sure gives another dimension to our corporate downtown. Keep up the increased pace of writing...I find your “investigative” sleuthing makes me re-think and re-examine my urban environment.  I sometimes find myself in a situation re-examining a streetscape or a public space and wonder how Richard might interpret the situation as compared to how I am seeing it. A recent example occurred when I was describing Stampede Trail  and the activities/signage and buzz we hope to create with a new entertainment district and thought back to your signage article and how you might view our approach (I think you will get excited).

GB writes: When I was a young man, I worked for Manulife and we operated Calgary House at 550-6th Avenue. The lobby has a full wall bronze of "Pan and the Three Graces". In 1972 I had a plaque put up describing the piece, but I think it is gone now. The amount of great public art in Calgary is amazing, but much of it is seldome seen or identified. Good for you for bringing some of it to our attention.

JB writes:Thank you! Viewing this blog this morning brought a burst of warmth into my office! All that lovely color! This definitely warrants a trip downtown.

Flaneuring Fun in Maple Creek SK!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. Thanks for all the support in 2013 and looking forward to some interesting dialogue in 2014.

Thought I'd share with you some vintage Christmas decorations we found in downtown Maple Creek SK. outside their thrift store.  

If you are driving past Maple Creek on the Trans Canada Highway this Holiday Season (or anytime for that matter), Maple Creek is definitely worth getting off the beaten highway.  

Happy Travelling Everyone Everyday!

Found these fun lawn ornaments lined up on the wall outside the Maple Creek thrift store.  We had to stop and check it out.

Don't you just want to take these guys home with you?  Love the shape of the shadows.  

The classic Santa Claus!  

Sorry, can't stop now!  

Looking at the photos taken while flaneuring Maple Creek, thought some of you might like to see more  fun finds. 

We found this totem piece with the little buckaroo very fun!

Great welcoming entrance to the historic Jasper Colonial Hotel bar...

Howard's  Bakery was chosen as best bakery in Saskatchewan in 2013...loved the apple fritters and the maple glazed cinnamon buns.  

BC Cafe is the classic prairie restaurant - Chinese Western menu.  Definitely worth a try - grilled cheese and soup recommended. 

Yes they love their football?  

The new prairie sentinel! Brutalist architecture at its best? worst? 

For flaneurs there are lots of flashbacks to the past in Maple Creek!

Happy and safe holidays everyone!

 

If you liked this blog, click on these blogs:  

Ten Commandments of a Flaneur

Flaneuring Uptown Plaza  

Tale of Two Donuts!

 

Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard

By Richard White, 

I often wonder when developers and urban planners will wake up and see the light (pun intended), recognizing the importance of “lighting” in creating urban vitality - and I am not just talking about street lights.

When will they realize the bleakness of today’s city centers and urban streets is due in part to the absence of the colour, charm, playfulness and character that neon lights provided (day and night) to downtown hotels, restaurants, pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas and retailers.

Show me a street full of neon and I will show you a street full of life.  Human beings are attracted to neon like moths to a light bulb.  

Downtown Decline

The heyday for most of North American cities’ downtown was in the early to mid 20th century.  It was a time when downtown streets were full of bright, flashing neon lights. 

Perhaps the best articulation of the importance of neon light to creating great street life was in the 1964 hit song “Downtown” in which Petula Clark belted, “Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty. How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles; forget all your cares.” 

 In retrospect, the mid ‘60s was also the beginning of the rise of minimalism urban design that shunned “ornamentation and decoration,” including neon signage.

Neon signs are works of art and function much like public art in creating a more visually engaging public realm that invites people to stop, look around and linger.  Cities around the world spending millions of dollars on public art each year that rarely captures the public’s imagination and is soon forgotten or ignored in the new minimalistic urban landscape.

Perhaps we should be encouraging developers to create signature neon signage that are “works of art” while at the same time help brand the building and add to are part of an engaging downtown wayfinding system.        

 

In my mind, the Boneyard Park is a must see Las Vegas attraction, way more interesting than The Strip.  It is much more authentic and offers an up close and personal look at one of the iconic artifacts of urban design - the neon sign. 

The link between folk art and neon art becomes more obvious the more you explore the Boneyard Park.

I am not sure which came first Disneyland or Vegas but there is a strong link between the two i.e. the sense of play, fun and fantasy. 

A perfect example of how neon signage was critical to the branding of hotels in Vegas. The sign immediately said "Fun" even without the lights on. 

Another example of branding and signage.  Love that the signage is large and easy to read. Too many downtown and suburban buildings today have small signage that is hidden away making it very difficult to find them.

The Boneyard is like a grave yard or junk yard; this just adds to the fun of exploring.  The juxtaposition of the different signs is wonderful. You also get the sense of how sculptural the signage is.  These truly are works of art. 

The Boneyard entrance is a wonderful mid-century modern building that is very inviting and memorable.

Freemont street recalls the main streets of many cities from the mid 20th century when the streets were indeed brighter and more fun visually than they are today.  

The Silver Slipper is fun day and night, male or female, young or old.  

Love the link between cartoons and neon characters.  

A good example of how neon signage can be used to add fun and colour to an otherwise ordinary streetscape. 

Lighting can also used to create a fun facade in the evening, which is even more important in winter cities like Calgary. 

Las Vegas’ Boneyard Park

Being in the Neon Boneyard Park (a two-acre oasis with over 150 historic neon signs) is like being in a museum’s storage room, with the “museum” being outdoors in the middle of the city. See artifacts in their raw state, not polished, lit up or presented in isolation on a pedestal. Here you see them randomly mixed together in junk-yard like fashion, yet they are still  wonderful works of art.

Las Vegas Signs Project has been restoring signs from the Boneyard Park and installing them along Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Vegas since 1996. Several restored neon signs including the Horse and Rider from the Hacienda Hotel and the Silver Slipper can be enjoyed day and night by both pedestrians and those in vehicles. 

Access to the Boneyard is by guided tour only.  Our tour guide was very informed and informal, providing lots of information but allowing lots of freedom to explore on our own, take pictures and ask lots of questions. 

Guided tours are 7 days a week and reservations are recommended.  (Note: As tours can be cancelled due to inclement weather - especially wind storms - don’t wait until the last day of your Vegas vacation to visit).

The Neon Museum’s Visitor Center is the lobby of the old La Concha Motel Lobby designed by acclaimed architect Paul Revere Williams. It is like something right out of the Jetsons.  Built in 1961, it is an excellent example of the mid-century modern Atomic and Space Age design with its curvilinear arches.

See Appendix for history of neon.

The crowd gathers waiting for the Freemont Experience to begin.  

Age of LED

Today the most popular form of decorative lighting is LED light.  There are several reasons for this. While the initial price is almost the same as neon, once you have a neon sign there is no changing it, whereas LED lights can be updated as often as you like. 

Secondly and the biggest advantage of LED displays is that they use 5 to 10 times less power. Thirdly, neon tubes need their gases refilled periodically and the glass can break, while LED is maintenance-free. In addition, LED lights are brighter and can be seen from further away and even in daylight. 

Arguably, the best use of LED lighting is also in Vegas – The Freemont Experience, which began in 1995. Today, a 1,500 foot-long canopy (three football fields) covers Freemont Street in old downtown Vegas. It acts as a movie screen.  The canopy has 12.5 million LED lights, which when combined with 180 strobe lights and 8 robotic mirrors on each block plus a sophisticated computer system, can generate 16.7 million colour combinations. 

Combine this with the 555,000 watt sound system and you get an amazing light and sound show that attracts, on average, 25,000 people per night for the Freemont Experience.

While I realize not every downtown can afford this kind of nightly entertainment, more downtowns should seriously look at how sound and light shows can be part of their quest for 18/7 vitality. 

Another good example of use of LED lighting to enhance downtown vitality is “Crown Fountain” at Chicago’s Millennium Park.  Learn more: Putting the public in public art.

 

The Freemont Street canopy is washed with colour as thousands of people mill about waiting for the show to begin.  

Let the show begin...the canopy becomes a huge video screen for spectacular light and sound show.

Even at night the Crown Fountain attracts hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds to play and interact with the LED faces and the wading pool. 

Take away idea

Downtowns need to focus more, or as much on becoming entertainment districts as business districts.

They need to become a place where people, “Linger on the sidewalk. Where the neon signs and LED lights are pretty. The lights must be much brighter there, so you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares.”   

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtowns need to be fun

Putting the public back into public art

Cruising in Chicago

The curse of minimalism

 

 

 

 

 

Neon History (excerpts from www.neonlab.com)

Over the last 150 years, the luminous tube industry has evolved from the simple laboratory experiments in the second half of the 19th century to an industry of world-wide proportions.

In the late 1800s, scientists developed reliable and somewhat safe high voltage supplies and began running high voltages through many things to observe what would happen. Often, they tested to see how wide of an air gap the spark could jump. It was discovered the spark gap was inversely proportional to the pressure of the air and that an evacuated glass tube was the ideal method for viewing light from gas discharges.

After British researcher William Ramsey discovered the five rare gases between 1894-1898 (receiving the Nobel Prize in 1904), it then became possible for French scientist, Georges Claude, to figure out that these gases could be made to produce light discharges when electrical discharges were passed through them. Finally, the long desired method that scientists had been looking for - a form of practical lighting by glowworm or phosphorescent light which emitted “light without heat.”

By World War l, Claude had acquired many patents, but he had more on his mind than strictly scientific knowledge. He envisioned a lucrative market for his tubes in lighting and signage. Because neon gas produced the brightest light, it was used almost exclusively and soon the generic “Neon Sign” was born. By 1924, “Claude Neon” franchises appeared in 14 major cities across the United States. And by 1927, 611 out of a total of 750 neon signs in New York City had been made by Claude Neon Lights, Inc.

A great period of creativity for neon took place in the years that followed, a period when many design and animation techniques were developed. Unfortunately, the economic conditions caused by the Depression slowed neon’s growth. However, one place neon continued to work its magic during this period was on the exteriors of movie palaces, providing a colorfully glowing invitation to the fantasy world within.

Then following World War ll and the advent of plastics, manufacturers began promoting Plexiglas shadow boxes with fluorescent lighting, neon’s cousin, behind lettering and graphics. Neon, by then considered old fashioned, was relegated to use as a hidden light source. Still today, 75% of neon is used in this way.

During the last decade, neon has seen a rebirth, as artists, architects and interior designers have begun to rediscover its exciting possibilities. Neon tube construction hasn’t changed much since the days of Claude Neon. It’s still a handcrafted medium where a glassbender heats and forms each letter, one bend at a time. However, state-of-the art components and much-improved equipment make the neon tube of today superior to its predecessor.

 

The Bee's Knees Experience

By Richard White, December 15, 2013

Spent last Wednesday night at 'in lovely downtown De Winton, Alberta listening to local musicians jamming.  It was a true grass roots experience, no egos here?

Perhaps it is the prairie version of an east coast “Kitchen Party” - instead of everyone gathering in someone’s kitchen and playing tunes, people gather at the neighbourhood café or bar and take turns playing for others.

Everyone is invited to participate at the Bees Knees Experience and stay as long as you want.  The lead cycles to whomever wants to play a song.  There is no sound system, no mics and no electric guitars - everything is unplugged.

A blast from the past

One can certainly picture nights and afternoons like this in kitchens of Canada's Maritime provinces or porches in the Mississippi Delta. Musicians playing for the pure enjoyment of it...any skill level is welcomed to join in.  The song selection is all encompassing - country, blues, rock or island music - anything goes. 

You don’t read about these jams in the newspapers or the magazines…they aren't all over social media….yet it is vital to creating a vibrant music scene.

Too often we think of culture as something that only happens downtown… in formal cultural spaces…but in reality much of it is happens in the churches, schools, cafes and bars in the ‘burbs. 

The big city jams are more orchestrate with a full stage and sound system. The performances are more polished as often the musicians have played together for years. Also, there is a formula, you get your three or four songs before its time for the next musicians.  There is lots of fun, often accompanied by dancing and a good bar room buzz.  

A "music city" needs both grass root and professional jams. 

 Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Paul's trombone adds a unique sound to the Bees Knees experience. 

It doesn't take long before Merv (Smilie) joins in. 

The Bees Knees Experience

When a buddy suggested we check out the Wednesday jam at Bees Knees Café just off Highway 2 in De Winton I was skeptical, but the “flaneur” in me said “Why Not!”   Back story – for past 20 months three buddies (two play guitars, one gets beer i.e. me) had been getting together to jam in their respective houses and regularly attending jams at Mikey’s, Blues Can and other pubs. 

It was time for a pre-Christmas house jam at GG’s who happen to live in the De Winton area, so why not kick it up a notch by combining our jam and dinner with the Bees Knees jam. 

As we arrived the “OPEN” sign was flashing, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside and there were few cars around.  But, as we got closer we could see one guitar player…opening the door, we were surprise to find four guitar players and a trombone player jamm’n away.  What was missing was the audience?  Was this a private jam? 

We were quickly welcomed to sit and listen or join in - there was even an extra guitar if we wanted to use it.  We sat back enjoyed the music and our bottle of wine for a few songs. The trombone added a nice rich element to the jam that was unique. 

Jay takes the lead on this one...

Smilie loves to let others take the lead. He is life long learner! Take it away Ron and Ron.

GG finally joins in....he loves to pick...

Angry River

Soon Merv couldn’t resist the temptation! He grabbed the extra guitar and joined in. He was quickly assimilated into the group…singing and playing as if he was a BFF.  He was even encourage to play his “Angry River” song he had written about the flood – his first attempt at song writing.  Later GG joined in…the first time he has played in public!!!

As we left we found out the group wasn’t locals from the De Winton area but from Ogden to Okotoks.  Turns out the owner of Bees Knees Café lets them and anyone else who wants to join in use the space to jam Wednesday nights – 6 to 9 pm. There is even a small stage for more formal music events.

Explosion

It is just me or does it seem there has been an explosion of live music events in Calgary over the past few years.  Seems like every café and neighbourhood pub has some live music one or two nights a week.

Jay's guitar string art...

Tina's artifacts or Bees Knees Still Life

Last Word:

If Calgary is going to evolve into a vibrant music city, the development of places like Bees Knees Café is just as important as the multi-million dollar projects like National Music Centre and cSPACE.  

I encourage all of us to get out and support the local jams, open mic nights and other performances.   

I you like this blog you might like:

Cowtown's Budding Music Scene 

Are we too downtowncentric?

Cafe: Montreal vs Calgary 

Calgary North America's new "music city."

The Bees Knees Experience

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

By Richard White, December 3, 2013

Do you consider yourself to be a bit of an “urban explorer?”  Its literal meaning is “the exploring of off-limit urban places, often associated with abandoned sites and buildings or underground water and sewer systems.” 

Other terms for these activities are “urban spelunking,” “urban caving” and “building hacking.” While I and urbanists have often used the term, I don't think we have used it correctly.   

I think the term “urban pioneers” would be more appropriate…especially in Calgary given our long history of pioneering!  To me, urban pioneers are people who are willing to live, work or play in gritty urban places, fix them up and transform them into funky, friendly neighbourhoods that eventually get discovered by the masses.

Where would an urban pioneer hang out in Calgary?

Some place with urban grit and Calgary chic. Would it be East Village, Inglewood, Bridgeland, Bowness, Forest Lawn or perhaps Manchester?  My vote goes to 10th Avenue SW or what I like to call the “Rail Trail.”   

This is a Christmas window along 10th Avenue from a few years back.  There are lots of hidden gems along the rail trail if you keep your eyes open. 

Wrong side of the tracks?

For the past 100 years, 10th Ave has been the wrong side of the tracks. For many Calgarians, the area conjures up a picture of ugly parkades and empty gravel parking lots.  It is definitely not pedestrian friendly - no designer sidewalks or street furniture and no colourful banners or hanging baskets. 

Having recently become a big fan of Mikey’s Juke Joint (the new King Eddy) at 18th Street and 10th Avenue SW., I have slowly discovered the quirky charm of the area on the south side of the CPR rail tracks.

Mikey’s is tucked onto a corner in the underbelly of the Bow Trail/Crowchild Trail spaghetti over/under passes as well as the West LRT sky train.  The locale is the epitome of the urban landscape – freight trains go by regularly and lots of warehouses, empty lots and chain-link fences. This is where John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac or J.D Salinger would hang out if they were alive and living in Calgary today. 

If you are thinking you’d like to try some urban strolling in Cowtown, here is my suggested tour of the 10th Avenue Rail Trail.  You could do it in an hour or you could take a half day, have lunch, a drink or take in a blues jam session. 

One of the many ugly surface parking lots on the north side of 10th Avenue facing the CPR tracks. The Centennial Parkade is the building on the other side of the two fences and the tracks. 

Prairie Oysters & Beer

I’d suggest starting your stroll at 2nd Street SW with an early lunch or a beer at Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub.  They offer a unique Calgary experience - “Around the world in 80 beers!” While most pubs come and go, Bottlescrew Bill’s and the sister restaurant Buzzards have been around since 1980.

In June 2011, the Globe and Mail writer Robin Estrock listed “devour prairie oysters” at Buzzards Restaurant as #5 of “The 15 things to see and do in Canada before you die!”

Heading west, the next block has a north/south dichotomy with the north side being one of the many nasty surface parking lots and the backside of the Royal Canadian Pacific Railway shed. You would never know this is home to one of the best collections of heritage railway cars in the world. 

On the south-side is a collection of historic brick warehouse buildings that originally served the CPR freight trains and today house some noteworthy retailers (e.g. Roche Bobois one of the world’s most exclusive international contemporary furniture stores).  I wonder if 100 years ago they ever thought these buildings would one day be used to sell $15,000 sofas?

The next block offers up the same dichotomy with brick warehouses on one side and the City Center Parkade (CCCP - adding one more C would be fitting as this structure looks like a concrete bunker from Russia) on the other.  Did I say there are no hanging baskets on 10th Avenue?  I take that back as there are baskets at this parkade. 

This block also has the flagship CRAFT brew pub, with 100 beers on tap -  it has become an instant hot spot for the young and restless after work crowd.  The National is another larger playground for Calgary's GABEsters, with it Bourbon room and 8-lane 10-pin bowling alley. Who says Calgarians don’t stay downtown after work?

At the southwest corner of 4th Street is the shinny new Centre10 office tower that has risen out of the ashes of two failed condo developments on the site. A sister office complex is planned for the north side of 10th Avenue.

The alley between 10th and 11th Avenues is home the entrance to Metro Vino one of Calgary's oldest wine stores.  

Loft Living

At 5th Street, you’ll encounter the historic red brick Hudson Lofts; this was the first of the early ‘90s loft conversions in Calgary and the beginning of the renaissance in downtown living.  There are plans for more condos, hotel and another office building in this area over the next few years - the surface parking lots are quickly disappearing.

The next stop is the Uptown Bottle Depot, a “must do” stop for every urban explorer/pioneer.  If you want a truly unique Calgary experience, return your empties here; urban grit at its grittiness.

However, just across the street is the old Alberta Boot block, plans were recently announced for a new 360 Residence Inn by Marriott.  Lamb Development Corp. plans to build a 30 story, 230 unit condo building to the west of the Depot. 

Another just block west is the Commonwealth Bar & Stage, Montauk Sofa and Speed Theory (bike shop).  You are now on the edge of the Design District. 

Hudson Loft is one of many brick warehouse buildings along 10th Avenue a few of which have become loft condos.  

Centre Ice

Centre ice for the “Rail Trail” is 10th and 8th Street. It’s home to several retailers and restaurants including Mountain Equipment Co-op, Trepanier Baer Gallery, The Social Page, Bonterra Trattoria (best patio in the city), Bumpy’s Café, Café Mauro, Edo Sushi, Holly Grill, Decadent Desserts and The Ferocious Grape. 

The old West Canadian Graphics (WCG) building on the southwest corner will soon be the funky Mark on 10th condo by Qualex-Landmark.   Next to this site is the carcass of the Astoria condo (remember the plans for the $10,000,000 penthouse condo). This fenced off abandoned construction site would be a great place for true “urban explorers.”  

The eventual development of the WCG and Astoria sites will result in over 500 people living near centre ice.

Strolling further west, you pass by Vistek Camera store and quickly arrive at the Midtown Co-op grocery store block.  For those interested in what it might be like to live in the Rail Trail area, stop in at the Qualex Landmark condo sales centre on the northside of the Co-op block and find out about their latest project. Next door is Interior Living furniture store to help you furnish your new condo and Tri-Yoga a popular spot for young, hip and flexible.

The Mountain Equipment cooperative store (MEC) is the anchor retailer on 10th Avenue and was the catalyst for making 10th and 8th Centre ice. 

Street Ballet

Crossing 11th Street you will pass by some “no-name” office buildings and industrial buildings before you arrive at Community Natural Foods at 12th Street.  This has to be one of the liveliest places in the entire Centre City.

Not being part of Calgary’s granola gang, I am always surprised at the animation - an urban ballet of pedestrians, bikes and cars trying to get in and out of the too small parking lot.  The Korean Village restaurant in the strip mall next door is a hidden gem, I am told by a colleague who once lived Korea (could be a place to stop for lunch).

Those with a good imagination can envision how the next block would have changed if the proposed Lausanne and Montreau (two 50 storeys high-rises) condos had been built across from the Lighting Centre.  

This is a close up of the murals of LP records on the back side of Heritage Music store (museum) that can be seen from 10th Avenue. 

Rolling Stones meets Big Bang Theory

Some recent road changes mean you no longer have to go to 11th Ave to cross 14th street - pedestrians, bikes and cars. However, I’d suggest you do go to 11th to checkout Heritage Music - it’s the wooden shack with the Rolling Stones’ Tongue record mural on the backside.  Inside is a mind-boggling collection of vintage vinyl, Hollywood memorabilia, as well as CDs – well worth exploring.

At the northwest corner of 10th Ave and 14th St is All Season Rental Adventures.  Who knew that you can rent ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, scooters and even toboggans in Downtown Calgary?

Keep wandering past the Sunalta Community Association Building all the way to 18th Street and check out Sentry Box, Calgary’s premier fantasy, science fiction and military literature and gaming superstore (13,000 square feet).  It’s home to Calgary’s Dungeon and Dragon crowd and is where the Big Bang Theory boys would hang out if the TV show was based in Calgary. Along the way you will find a huge Western Veterinary Centre, one of the largest in Canada, as well as two surprising religion centres. 

Across the street is Mikey’s Juke Joint.  If you are strolling on a Saturday, try to arrive  about 3ish so you can experience the Saturday afternoon blues jam hosted by saxophonist and owner Mike Clark. 

Sleeping on the Rail Trail

The Calgary Mattress  Makers  at 19th St. is more of an old world arts and craft studio than a factory. Owner Dean Halstead encouraging people to walk-in and chat with him about your sleep needs.  He and his team then create a hand-tied, chemical free mattress custom made just for you and your partner with each side custom made to meet your individual needs.  After a day on the Rail Trail you may want to lie down for bit. 

Call me crazy - but in a few years, the “10th Ave Rail Trail” could well become Calgary’s hippest, coolest, hottest, funniest, liveliest neighbourhood!

 

The Sentry Box is a hangout for hipsters, GABEsters and families.  

Camera Buffs

The Rail Trail offers some unique views of some of Calgary’s modern glitzy architecture – Bankers’ Hall, 8th Avenue Place, Husky Oil Tower and Nexen Tower. It also offers some gritty views of urban industrial, warehouse and transportation design.

 Bring your camera!

This is an image of the Calgary Tower that I happened upon when flaneuring 10th Avenue several years ago. 

Found these beauties on the side of the Gulf Canada Square Parkade. 

Found these eyes staring at me as I headed into Mikey's just a few days ago.

The futuristic Sunalta station is a camera buff's paradise. You could spend an entire day they taking photos of the architecture inside and out as the light changes during the day.

The Rail Trail is full of surprises like this Kingdom Hall for Jehovah's Witness and not too far away is a Buddhist Centre.  

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City?

By Richard White, November 26, 2013 

Recently I read in the Calgary Herald that our city is “the unofficial folk club capital of the planet!”  The quote was attributed to Suze Casey the Artistic Director of the Calgary Folk Club one of seven such clubs in the city.  Casey might be a bit bias, but hey I am all for putting the statement out there and challenging other cities to dispute it. 

The statement was made in the context of the Canadian Folk Music Awards coming to Calgary for the first time, which Casey thought was an injustice given our status as the “folk club capital of the planet.”  Unfortunately, it turned out no Calgarians (no Albertans for that matter) won any of the awards - a good host never hogs the awards! 

Amy Thiessen and Russel Broom at Lolita's a tiny intimate room in trendy Inglewood, home to several music venues including the Calgary Folk Festival's new Festival Hall. 

Prince's Island is the best

Not only does Calgary have a strong folk club culture, but we have one of the best folk festivals on the planet that takes place each year on Prince’s Island an oasis in the middle of the Bow River (best fly fishing river on the planet).  Recently, Calgary also became home to intimate Festival Hall, which is operated by the Calgary Folk Festival to provide year-round music programming.

One of several weekend jam session in Calgary's downtown.  This is an all ages jam. There is a teenage brother and sister on stage in this photo.  

GABEsters

For me Casey’s statement was another piece of evidence that Calgary is more than just a collection of conservative corporate towers, but one of North America’s vibrant urban playgrounds – a statement I have been championing for 15 years.

Recently, I wrote a blog about Calgary’s Beltline community as being one of the most attractive hipster communities in North America, certainly on par with those I have recently visited in Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver.  I even suggested we create a Calgary based term “GABEster” to reflect that our hipsters are unique in that they are highly paid geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers who love to work hard and play hard, not the typical bohemians.    

Calgary's International Blues Festival at Shaw Millennium Park. 

WAMJAMs

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate Calgary has an incredible weekend afternoon music jam culture (WAMJAM).  In the downtown, there are jams at Blues Can, Ironwood, Mikey’s Juke Joint (yes we have a juke joint) and Ship & Anchor on both Saturday and Sundays. 

Add in places like Broken City, HiFi Club, The Palomino, The RePublic,  Wine-Ohs and the numerous open mic nights as many of the independent coffee houses and you have a very vibrant indie music scene in Calgary’s downtown that is hard to match. 

It doesn't stop there most of the downtown churches have active music programs from classical to folk. Any night of the week, I can find a place that offers great local music.  

Over the past few years I have visited Chicago, Portland, Ottawa, Vancouver and San Francisco and asked about WAMJAMs and it was hard to find anything to match scope and strength of Calgary’s downtown jams. 

 Mikey's Juke Joint is located next to the railway tracks under a busy over pass, has just the right sense of place and ambience you want for blues bar. 

Hexters to National Music Centre 

Outside of the downtown there are numerous live music spots.  Hexters in Bowness has a great Sunday afternoon jam. Recently, I attended for the first time and was shocked to find 150 people there a “football Sunday” dancing up a storm – how cool is that.  You can even go to very edge of the city and find live music.  Bee’s Knees is a coffee house in an estate community (big homes on big lots) on the southern edge of the city offers live music twice a week – a jam session and an open mic night. FFWD our weekly art and entertainment newspaper list 64 venues across the city 

Calgary is also home to the National Music Centre which hosts one of the largest collection of keyboard instruments on the planet. With the opening of their mega 150 million dollar new home in 2015, Calgary will certainly be not only a major music city, but also urban playground destination.

And then there is Sled Island which was quickly becoming one of North America's premier music festivals until it was flooded out last June.  I expect it will come back stronger than ever in 2014.  The festival offers over 250 bands, plus film, comedy and art exhibitions at 30+ venues.  

Even in March, the Ship & Anchor's patio is full of GABEsters. 

Sir Elton John likes Calgary 

I haven’t even mentioned Alberta Ballet’s successful collaborations with the likes of Sir Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Sara McLachlan to create original ballets. Or Calgary Opera's commissioning of new contemporary operas.  And there is the Calgary Stampede, includes an amazing 10-day music program that includes major headliners as well as local musicians, and it is not all county and western music.

For most people, Austin, Memphis and Nashville are top-of-mind when you think of North American music cities.  My plans are to visit Memphis in January for the International Blues Challenge January 21st to 25th where Calgary’s Mike Clarke Band (owner of Mikey’s Juke Joint) and Tim Williams will be competing.  I am curious to see how Calgary competes with the big boys of the bayou.

Guitar Club

A grassroots affair modeled after successful shows in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Calgary Guitar Show will be a one day/all ages event focused on bringing together anyone who loves music. It will provide a venue for retail music stores and collectors alike to sell their guitars, amplifiers and accessories and an opportunity for the public to meet collectors, talk to technicians and builders, and hang with local musicians. A much anticipated event that will evolve and expand in years to come.

The Calgary Guitar Show will take place at The Golden Age Club in the heart of Calgary’s East Village. In addition to the 20+ vendors expected to sell their goods, homegrown talent will be showcased on the Club’s magnificent stage and 50/50 raffles held to support the community. Following the show, an exclusive “After Party” for vendors, sponsors and friends will be held at the National Music Centre to wind down the day. Tickets will be limited to 150 for an evening of food, drink, entertainment and an exclusive tour of the National Music Centre collections – a fascinating journey for all!

For more information go to calgaryguitarshow.com.

 

 

Tim Williams and Mike Clark (owner of Mikey's) have fun on stage. 

FUN ideas for Downtown Calgary!

By Richard White, November 24, 2013 

I recently shared some of the fun things to see and do in downtown Spokane, Wash. — and spoke of how, if Calgary wants to have an attractive, vibrant downtown, it is vital to create entertaining and even purely whimsical things for people to enjoy.

In this blog, I want to open up the discussion as to how we might add more fun to Calgary’s rather staid, office-centric core, where sober practicality can too often be an excuse for lack of imagination and engagement.

Arguably, the most fun spot in our downtown is the Colourful Cows for Calgary exhibition, hidden away on the second floor of the Centennial Parkade. Where, and what, you say?

That’s where a dozen or so of the Udderly Art cow sculptures were put out to pasture, so to speak, at a city parkade on Fifth Street near Eighth Avenue around the corner from the Globe Theatre.

Udderly Art was a charity event that took place in the summer of 2000. Using the same fibreglass cow as a template, artists were sponsored by companies to come up with everything from a Mae West-inspired entry named Moo West to a Holy Cow that was perforated with holes. The history of one of Canada’s most successful public art projects is there for everyone to enjoy. Thirteen years later, perhaps it is time for another fun summer public art program. 

Just one of the dozen of so cows that are grazing on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  

Everybody loves a train

Is it just me, or is there something fun about a train?

Did you know that at noon every day, the steam whistle on the Canadian Pacific Railway No. 29 steam locomotive goes off in front of the Gulf Canada Square building on 9th Avenue? Too bad this couldn’t happen more often; it would be great if anyone could come up to the train anytime pull a lever and the whistle would sound. 

I hope downtown doesn’t lose the engine when the railway company moves its headquarters out of downtown. If it is moved, perhaps it could be replaced by a monster oil sands truck. Last time I talked about Spokane’s popular Big Wagon slide. How about we get a decommissioned truck and turn it into a slide? Maybe with a little imagination, it could also become a climbing apparatus for kids. What kid (even dads) wouldn’t want into climb the big truck?

We need some visual reminders downtown that we are one of the world’s leading oil and gas centres. 

The historic Engine #29 sits on Gulf Canada office building which is the head office of the historic Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. Unfortunately they are moving out of the downtown.   

Climbing walls?

Speaking of climbing, if we want to add some fun to our downtown and give a nod to the Rocky Mountains and our passion for recreation, we need a mega downtown climbing wall. Perhaps we could start by turning the Calgary Tower into a huge climbing wall. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch people climb the outside of the tower? The colourful hand and foot holds, with their funky shapes and patterns would make the tower look like a totem sculpture.

If the Calgary Tower doesn’t work, perhaps an existing or new office developer could create a climbing wall on the outside of their building or in the lobby. Canmore has a climbing wall in their new recreation centre in a space that looks remarkably just like an office lobby — wouldn’t that animate a sterile office building. I could see the space being used by all kinds of people for different events.

For anyone who argues the liability lawyers would have a field day with this idea, I recently toured the University of Idaho’s climbing wall facility, which has one of the highest walls in the world. It turns out injuries are minimal and they have had no liability issues.

The climbing wall located on the main floor of the new Canmore, Alberta recreation centre bears a striking resemblance to an office lobby with its two floor open ceiling. Sure beats a sterile office lobby for animation. 

The University of Idaho in Moscow has once of the tallest climbing walls in the world.  Wouldn't this be a nice addition to downtown Calgary. 

Family days

In the early ’90s, the Calgary Downtown Association organized a Kids’ Days event.

But rather than the usual face-painting and art-making activities, how about an annual or monthly downtown scavenger hunt that encourages families to explore, learn and have fun downtown.

Perhaps it could even be self-guided, encouraging families to find interesting things, such as a bush plane hanging from a ceiling … or a buffalo skeleton … or the Cowabunga skateboarding cow from Udderly Art.

Might we convince Calgary Transit to offer free rides on the LRT to downtown on the first weekend of the month? Kids love to ride the train and come down to the “tall city” (as my nephew used to refer to Calgary’s downtown when he was three years old). 

This is an actual plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Centre.  

Christmas

Calgary used to have a downtown Santa Claus Parade, creating an annual fun event for families to do in the core. I think some of us still have childhood memories of going downtown to see the animated Christmas windows at The Bay and Eaton’s.

Flagship retailers in New York, Chicago and Paris pride themselves on their magical Christmas windows, attracting tens of thousands of people to their downtowns at Christmas time.

Perhaps we could convince businesses along Stephen Avenue, aka Calgary’s main street, to create amazing Christmas window displays each year that would add some fun and excitement to the street for everyone. While some of the current windows are nice, none have the magic of past Christmases. We need to kick it up a notch, perhaps through a contest with proceeds going to charity

Why wait for Christmas...fun, funky, quirky downtown windows should be part of the unique downtown experience all year. 

Kids banners

We could also have an annual fun banner program downtown.  Instead of the text-oriented designs used for most of the current banners, children’s workshops could be organized throughout the city to generate art depicting what they like about Calgary.

Judges could choose which ones get made into banners, while others could be displayed as part of exhibitions at City Hall and the Devonian Gardens.

Everybody loves children’s art as it is always colourful and fun. Imagine if every lamp post downtown had a kid’s banner on it? Imagine how the Seventh Avenue Transit corridor could be transformed into a children’s art gallery — now that would change downtown’s sense of place

Imagine if these LRT station banners used children's art to create a more unique sense of place and play.

FUN Architecture 

The proposed new downtown library is an opportunity waiting for some fun urban design. We should let kids in on designing the library; they did a great job on the Alberta Children’s Hospital. At minimum, they should be part of the creation of the library’s children’s area. 

The proposed Telus Sky building also has an element of fun in its design, which I think (and hope) could probably be played up even more as the design evolves. Maybe one of these two projects could incorporate the climbing wall?

It is not coincidence that the Alberta Children's Hospital looks like it was constructed with lego.  A youth advisory group provide the design team with ideas about what the hospital should look like - big windows and bright colours were two of the suggestions.  The building is both fun and welcoming, something every building should be. 

Some of Calgary's most colourful and fun architecture is hidden from view, like this office building at Canada Olympic Park.  Imagine if this building was along the 7th Avenue Transit corridor or along 9th Avenue as a gateway into downtown.  This makes a fun statement. 

Alley Art Gallery

While recently strolling through downtown Boise, Idaho, my wife and I recently came upon an alley full of young girls and their moms. We wondered what was happening.

It turns out it was a dance company that was using their “Freak Alley” paintings as a backdrop for a photo session. Even a place in a state known for its potato production is willing to fly its freak flag — how fun is that?

 The walls of the buildings facing the alley and an adjacent surface parking lot are full from the ground to the rooftops of street art by numerous artists, whose styles range from graffiti to realism. It is a wonderful outdoor gallery and a nice urban surprise.

If only we use a little imagination and co-operation, Calgary’s downtown has plenty of alleys that could become outdoor art galleries.

 Downtown is already mega urban art park that contains more than 100 public sculptures, not to mention a few murals. Perhaps the city’s bonus density program — a municipal policy that allows developers to build more floors in return for creating public amenities like indoor gardens, plazas, public art and Plus-15 bridges — could include creating an alley art gallery. 

It would be fun to have an alley art walk that people could experience anytime they are downtown. 

Fun art from Boise's Freak Alley.

 Calgary does have some fun art like these two sculptures at Bow Valley Square. They always make me smile.

Calgary does have some fun art like these two sculptures at Bow Valley Square. They always make me smile.

Zip Line

Freemont Street in Las Vegas is very much like Stephen Avenue — both are pedestrian malls. One of Freemont’s big attractions is a zip line down the middle of the street.

I am not sure this would work on Stephen Ave, but perhaps it would somewhere else downtown; maybe in Shaw Millennium Park, or in Prince’s Island. How about across the Bow River (a reader once suggested this to me) going both ways.

It could add a whole new dimension for those walking to work and would be a fun activity for Calgarians and visitors.

Freemont Street in old downtown Vegas has a zip line under the white canopy that covers the street for several blocks.  The canopy is used in the evening for a spectacular light show that is set to music.  Now that FUN!

Bring back the neon

In the heyday of downtowns in the mid-20th century, the streets were “brighter,” as ’60s singer Petula Clark once noted in her song, Downtown. But that is not true today. Most of the streets in downtown Calgary are dark, with little or no light on the sidewalks. Any signs you come across are very subtle and corporate.

We need to bring back the flashing blade signs of the neon era that shout out that something fun is happening inside. A great place to start would be to animate the EPCOR Centre and the Glenbow with some great neon signs.

Downtowns across North America use to fun places with lots of colour and street animation animation provided by the flashing bright neon lights. Today there are few of the big, bold beautiful neon signs left.  

Last Word

These are just a few of my wacky FUN ideas I am sure there are more and better one’s out there. Email me your thoughts on how to make our downtown or city centre a more FUN place for everyone and I will tweet and blog them out. 

If you like this blog you might like: 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

FFQing in Tri-cities

Downtown Spokane Fun

An edited version of this blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on Saturday, November 23, 2013 with different photographs. 

FFQing in Downtown Calgary's Udderly Art Pasture!

By Richard White, November 21, 2013

Next time you are downtown and between meetings and looking for something fun to do head over to the Centennial Parkade along 9th Avenue from 6th to 5th Street and checkout the Udderly Art Legacy Pasture.  Or bring the family down on sunny but cold winter day and enjoy the warmth of the greenhouse-like pasture.  It is a great place to just let the little ones run. Weekend parking is just $2. 

Here you will not only find a dozen or so fun, funky, quirky cows basking in the sun, but also the history behind one of Canada's biggest and best public art projects.  There are several large didactic panels that tell the story of how the project came to being,  a well as background on some of the most famous bovine beauties. 

You will find some interesting factoids like:

  • Did you know that $1,234,896 was raised for 76 local charities?
  • Or, that each virgin cow was 54" tall head to hoof and 84" long from nose to tail and weighs 90 pounds.
  • How about the fact that 800,000 people visited the website from 36 different countries (that was before iPhones and iPads).  
  • You can learn more by visiting the pasture which is open 7-days a week and its Free.

Kid Friendly

Kids will love to have their picture taken with famous beauties like "Jingle Belle" (great christmas card opportunity), Cow Belle with a working Fisher Price musical instrument that kid's can actually play.  

This is the entrance to the pasture from 5th Street. As you can see it is a wide open space for kids to run in the sun. 

There are several huge information panels that explain the story behind some of the more popular bovine beauties. 

Moony Trader is one of the first cows you encounter. Damien Manchuk from ACAD was the artist, the piece was commissioned by Hugh McGillvary of CIBC Wood Gundy who had an idea to dress up a cow as a stock-trading pit trader.  Hugh took Damien to men's clothing store to see what well-dress cows were wearing in 2000 and let his imagination go to work.  The result was a pin-stripped hind quarters, a bright yellow striped power tie and the now antique looking computer strapped to his nose so he could keep up with the TSE quotes 24 hours a day. 

Chew-Choo was also done by artist Damien Manchuk and was commissioned by Canadian Pacific Railway. 

Another large information panel gives the history of the project and has a picture of each of the more that 100 cows commissioned for the project. 

The Udderly Art Pasture is a great place to meet friends or even have lunch together.  Too bad there weren't a few tables and chairs.  

Be careful to look closely as there are lots of subtle details that can be missed at first glance. 

One of my favourite pieces was Chewing the Cud by Evelyn Grant commissioned by the Calgary Downtown Association (yes I am bias as I was the Executive Director of the CDA at the time).  The piece was a wonderful bronze bovine schmoozing with the two "fat cats' on Stephen Avenue. Unfortunately the piece was often vandalized not only when it was on the street but even in the pasture.

 

Today all that is left is this photo of Chewing the Cud and The Conversation on Stephen Avenue but it is hard to view with the reflections.  

This is Clayton Kaplar's photograph of the Chewing the Cud on Stephen Avenue from the book "Udderly Art Colourful Cows for Calgary." 

FFQing is the act of finding fun, funky and quirky things as you flaneur the urban spaces and places! 

There are fun bits of humour everywhere you look.

Jingle Belle is a great kodak moment for any family.  

Cow Belle invites visitors to play a song or two. 

Eau Claire Market Mega-Makeover Revisited

By Richard White, November 20, 2013

Eau Claire Market is quickly becoming the new East Village i.e. there seems to be a new redevelopment plan announced every 5 years, but nothing happens.  I am hopeful that Calgary’s economy will stay strong for the next five to ten years so the latest plan can come to fruition.

When Eau Claire Market was opened in the early ‘90s it was one of the first “entertainment retail” centers  (ERCs) in North America.  ERCs with their multi-screen cinema complexes, IMAX theatres, themed restaurants, pubs, bars and boutiques became all the rage across North America.  

Eau Claire Market was popular at first (the lust of the new), but it quickly began to struggle.  I have been told that a destination retail center needs a minimum of 500,000 square feet and Eau Claire has only about 200,000.  There were also issues of the lease with the city and restrictions on types on tenants mix - mandating tenant mix almost never works. 

It didn’t help that Chinook Centre also underwent a mega makeover and became one of the premier ERCs in North America.  In the early ‘90s, when Eau Claire Market opened Chinook Centre was an old tired mall.

Similarly, Stephen Avenue Walk experienced a transformation in the late ‘90s into an upscale restaurant row.  Over the same period, cinema complexes became bigger with 20+ theatres opening in Chinook and in the suburbs.  Eau Claire’s cinemas quickly became dated. 

These computer generated images illustrate the gem-like or crystal-like shapes of the proposed new Eau Claire Market towers.  It will be interesting to see if these shapes can be built in a cost effective manner.  Note the balconies carved out in the sloped roof-top. 

A view of the proposed redeveloped Eau Claire Plaza has lots of people, tents and a strange looking meandering canopy.  It is easy to create these visionary images, but much more difficult to achieve this vitality in reality - especially in the winter.   

Back to the drawing board!

The current owners Regina-based Harvard Developments had a plan to redevelop the Market back in the 2006, but missed the window of opportunity when the economy crashed in 2007.  Now it is late 2013 the economy is looking stronger with numerous major projects either under construction or in the works and the idea of creating mixed-use urban villages has evolved significantly.

Working with Perkins + Will, one of Canada’s top urban design firms, Harvard has come up with new plan that is both ambitious and attractive.  At the open house on November 15, 2013, 100+ people who turned out seemed very impressed. Yes some of the local residents didn’t like the idea of adding an office tower to the project, but I think it is a good thing.  I understand their logic that there already are lots of office buildings Eau Claire and what it needs is more residential.  However, office workers don’t travel too far during the day so to make this project viable I believe there needs to be a significant office development on site.  If I had my way each block in downtown would have one office and one non-office tower!   

Work Play Numbers

The new vision has approximately 800,000 sf office, 800,000 sf of residential (in four towers), 600,000 sf of retail and 200,000 sf hotel.  For me this translates into 1/3 live, 1/3 work and 1/3 play (retail and hotel). This is truly a mixed-use development of the 7-acre site and definitely has the potential to be vibrant urban village. I wish more blocks in the downtown had this mix of uses.

To me the office component is critical to the mix, as it will provide customers for the restaurants and retail weekdays and the residents during the evening and weekend.

A vibrant urban village needs people out and about 18/7 (18 hours a day, seven days a week); currently our downtown is more like 12/5 (7 am to 7 pm, Monday to Friday – office hours).     

Plans call for Riverfront Avenue to become a pedestrian street with shops facing onto the street for a more traditional urban "high street" experience. 

This view shows how the massing and placement of the towers has been carefully done to maximize sun on the plaza and pathway in spring, summer and fall.  Not sure why they included all the ghost buildings as they don't help sell the vision. 

Devil is in the details!

Creating the vision is the easy part - the difficult part is linking vision with reality.  Will the design work financially? Will it appeal to the market segments?  Is there a market for a new 250-room hotel?  Is there a major tenant for an 800,000 sf of office? 

The new plan calls for reworking of the roads to create more grid-like blocks.  Can the two hotels work across the street from each other - already the area in front of the Sheraton Hotel is very congested.

Does the new plan work to connect the Eau Claire Plaza with Barclay Mall? Does it enhance the Bow River Pathway and Prince’s Island experience i.e. maximizing the sun in the winter and minimizing the wind.  

Does the city have the money to redevelop Eau Claire Plaza as per the approved design by Calgary’s Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative (same guys who did Peace Plaza). 

Regina inspired design?

The 3D images of the glass towers were very impressive, looking like “gem stones.” The towers were definitely not “big boxes,” with their multiple planes they looked like something Picasso and his cubist colleagues would create. 

It is also interesting to note the proposed Eau Claire towers all have a dramatic sloping façade that closely resembles Regina’s Hill Towers, which are that city's postcard office towers.  I expect this is not a  coincidence as Harvard Developments Inc. is Regina-based.  Is Calgary ready for Regina inspired architecture and urban design? 

Regina's twin iconic office towers look very similar to those being proposed for Calgary's Eau Claire Market. 

Last Word

Harvard and Perkins + Will have created a vision for an urban village in our downtown that theoretically checks off most of the good urban design benchmark boxes.  Hopefully as the design evolves it will get even better and the economy will hold for the next 10 years as the project gets built in three phases.  It has the potential to be BIG, BOLD and BEAUTIFUL. 

RH writes: 

Richard. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this proposed development.

Eau Claire market does indeed have an interesting history. As I recall the original intent was similar to Granville Island - an urban market surrounded by other uses making for an interesting urban destination and experience. Problem was that Calgary and Alberta’s growing season are not like the lower mainland - another example of the risk and inappropriateness of “importing” planning ideas from other cities. (Have you written something about this? If not, you should).

The original restrictions on land use were imposed by the city in response to pressure from other downtown developments to ensure that something was developed that was different and did not compete with downtown retail. The City could do this in the lease since it owned the land, as well as in the development approval. As you have pointed out these restrictions were one of the reasons why Eau Claire market did not succeed. Another was lack of density and mixed use. The bottom line, I think, is that the original development was before its time. Same story for East Village.

It takes more than by laws and regulations to implement planning ideas, it takes a strong economy and market demand which then attracts investment.

As I see it, one of the challenges of the current proposal, in addition to the usual risk factors, is how best to make the development “fit” into downtown Calgary. The current plan, which I have not seen except for what’s been in the media, looks like it could be in any downtown, in any city. “What city are we in?”

It’s not the design of the towers, but the relationship of the lower floors with the plaza in front of the Eau Claire “Y”, Chinatown, adjacent residential developments, and the river pathway that are particularly important.

Blaise McNeil is asking about the 1886 café’s future. The land use mix may seem well balanced ,but the development still needs to connect well with the larger surrounding context, which is also the larger catchment area for restaurants, retail and entertainment. 

GG writes:

A billion dollar investment next to the river have we forgotten the flood already? 

If you like this blog you might like:

Poppy Plaza Review 

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City

What is Calgary's iconic image?

Is Calgary too downtowncentric? 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

By Richard White, November 19, 2013

Recently I have been a bit obsessed with the idea of how to add more fun into the “everyday” urban experience.  One of the most unexpected and fun experiences we’ve had recently was the discovery of “Freak Alley” in downtown Boise, Idaho.   As a former artist who initiated the “Street Art for Gleichen” project in the early ‘80 and later as public gallery curator, art critic and reviewer, Boise’s outdoor art gallery was very intriguing to me.  Freak Alley is accessed from Bannock Street and runs between 8th and 9th Streets.

There was some serendipity involved as we arrived around the same time as a dance company of young teens and preteens who were using the space for a photo shoot.   Good urban spaces are incubators for surprises!

While almost every city (large and small) now has a “First Thursday or First Friday” art program and lots have historic mural programs, Boise’s “Freak Alley” is more unique and makes a contemporary statement about Boise’s emergence as an urban playground.

While at first glance most would see the space as “graffiti gone wild,” once you take some time to look and ponder the art you realize it is a contemporary exhibition with strong political and personal artistic statements. 

Freak Alley wall facing the parking lot. The exhibition has the feeling of a salon show with artworks hung side-by-side. 

This was my favourite, I liked the hybridization of cartoon and surrealism.

The alley was full of animation with all of these dancers and their parents prancing about.  The costume designs seemed to fit right in with the artwork.  

This drawing-like painting was also a favourite of mine.  

History

As I understand it, Freak Alley began in 2002 when local artist Colby Akers painted a doorway in the alley. It was well received so he asked other building owners if they would allow artists to paint their doors and wall and when they agreed he asked other artists join in the fun!

Today, Akers still manages Freak Alley reviewing proposals from both local and out-of-town artists to have their artwork exhibited for one year. Perhaps it is the temporary nature of the artwork that allows it to be seedy and edgy, as opposed to the refined work seen in public galleries and juried public artworks.  There was definitely more excitement at “Freak Alley” then when we checked-out BAM aka Boise Art Museum. 

"River Sculpture" by Alison Sky is a 50-foot high relief made of granite, fused glass, neon, painted aluminum and fog misters on the corner of a building which offers great sight lines.  It is a celebration of water and light. 

Found this little guy playing with a piece of public art depicting children playing marbles.  Urban playgrounds should appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. It isn't just about the restaurants, shops, festivals, museums, attractions and performing arts.