Flaneuring Bow Valley College

This past week I had some time between meetings downtown so I decided to start flaneuring to see what I might find.  It took only minutes to stumble upon Bow Valley College’s (BVC) new South Campus building, which I am embarrassed to say I had not visited. 

As soon as I opened the door the ambience changed with lots of students milling about - sitting around chatting, studying, reading on their computers, chatting on the phone or wandering the halls.  It definitely had the feel of a campus…very different from Calgary’s corporate world.  I also noticed the ethnic diversity of the students – it didn’t feel like downtown Calgary! 

As I had just come from the announcement of the design/build team for the new Central Library, who promised to create a people-gathering place, I couldn’t help but think GEC Architects and the BVC building committee has created a wonderful space where people of all ages and backgrounds fell comfortable hanging out.  There is even a Tim Horton’s on the ground level, which had a long line-up – love the street animation!

BVC students are surrounded by contemporary art where ever they go. 

Just one example of how all of the walls have been designed to accommodate art. 

What probably impressed me the most though was the art – it is everywhere.  And, I’m not just talking pretty pictures for decoration; this was serious art – Joanne Cardinal-Shubert, Ron Moppett and Colleen Phillipi and Maureen Enns.  Not sure why I was surprised, as the original North Campus building always had lots of interesting contemporary art, but somehow this seemed more impressive. 

As I continued to flaneur, down the hall, up the stairs, past the food court there was art in every nook and cranny.  I loved the fact that there were large didactic labels for each work with information on the artist and the art. It was also obvious that the art had been installed strategically to allow the viewer to make connections between the works. In one area there is a series of works by artists with First Nation heritage that make a very interesting mini-exhibition.

Joan Cardinal-Schubert drawing is just one of several pieces by major Calgary and Canadian artists. 

Painting by Richard Emery Duck Chief from the Blackfoot Nation of Siksika is just one of many pieces that celebrate the First Nation culture. The piece is titled "Spirt N Spirit." 

I was also intrigued by the light box sculpture in the main hall of the South Campus, which reaches up two floors. I later found out it is titled “Chromatic Light Column” and was commissioned by the AFA for the new Calgary Courthouse, but is now in BVC’s permanent collection (there must be a story there).  It was completely refurbished with the participation of the artist, Nicholas Roukes and is a great addition to the building’s impressive main hall. 

Given I have recently been advocating for more fun things in downtown, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two Franz Spohn Gumball Mosaics, one of Mayor, Nenshi and one of Premier, Alison Redford have a place of prominence on the second floor.  And, yes these portraits are made from coloured gum balls – kind of pointillism gone wild!

The space definitely had the feel of public gallery, but was much more animated, which is a good thing. 

Franz Spohn's gum ball portrait of Mayor Nenshi captures the mayor's signature smile with the iconic Calgary Tower in the background.  There is a wonderful sense of optimism in this artwork that is at the root of Calgary's sense of place and BVC's place in that culture. 




A quick email to Carol Ryder, who I remembered has been involved in the “mega makeover” of BVC for years got me lots of information about the art and plans for the future.

The Art Committee was formed over four years ago to celebrate art and the importance of exposing BVC students, as well as the public to contemporary art and the statements it makes about time and place.  

The Committee Members include BVC Staff:  Sharon Carry (President, BVC), Val Hoey  (Associate Vice President College Advancement, BVC), James Holroyd (Artstream BVC), Charlene Tomlinson (Director, Ancillary and Facilities Services) and Tina Overwater (Stewardship Officer).

Public members are:  Daniel Doz (President ACAD), Margo Helper (Board Member AGA), Robin Murphy (artist and City of Calgary Public Art Consultant), Helen Zenith (artist and owner of NewZones Gallery), Kelly Jones (artist) and Carol Ryder - Founding Chair.

I also found out the Committee has hired, Katherine Ylitalo on contract as the Curator of the BVC Collection. Ah! That is why the art is hung so sensitively and that there are museum like labels. 

Currently, BVC has over 150 pieces of art installed on campus and will have more on display once the North Campus renovations are completed.  The art has been chosen from various public collections – Alberta Foundation For The Arts, City of Calgary’s Civic Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art MOCA and the BVC Collection. Several local collectors have also donated or loaned work like Paul Ziff, Ted Washington and Patrick Windle to name a few.  As well, artists have also donated works.  Obviously, it has been truly a community initiative. 

Yes those are gum balls! This is a close up of Premier Redford's smile.  


Yes you can donate!


Yes, BVC is in the final steps of a public art policy that will be used as a criteria and guideline for future donations and additions to the BVC Collection, both permanent and temporary.  

BVC welcomes individuals and corporations to donate art within their guidelines to the collection and tax receipts are issued for the professional appraised value of the artwork donated


Public Art Commission


I found out BVC is the planning stages of posting an RFP for a major art piece to grace the NE entrance to the College. It will serve as a gateway piece into East Village for those travelling east and into downtown for those travelling west.  

This is grand hall of the South Campus building which is a bee-hive of activity and serves as a wonderful public art gallery. 


Last words


In the May 2010 edition of BVC’s “The Current” (employee newsletter) I found the following quote from Hoey, “For many years, it has been the vision of our President Sharon Carry to create an art collection that replicates the mosaic and diversity of the College.” 

In the same article Ryder states, “Public art will energize our public spaces, arouse our thinking and transform the halls and walls of the College into a welcoming and beautiful environment that invites interaction. Public art can make students and faculty talk and ask questions. It adds calm to a hurried life and offers a sense of place and community.”

I think they have been very successful. This left me wondering; “Does Calgary really need a civic art gallery?” But that is a topic for another day.


If you like this blog you might like:

Calgary Civic Art Gallery: Do we dare to be different? 

Poppy Plaza Review

Olympic Plaza needs a mega makeover

Rise of Public Art / Fall of Public Galleries

Ron Moppett's "Moonlight"  is contemporary painting that fosters a sense of thought and contemplation which is perfect for a post-secondary campus. 

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Cafes are perhaps the most important component of a vibrant urban street life as they attract pedestrian, bike and vehicular traffic all day, every day not just at breakfast, lunch and dinner as restaurants do.  They attract people who just pop in and grab a coffee and go, as well as those who sit and linger (sometimes for hours).  They are a great place to meet, sit and contemplate life or to people watch. You can’t do that at a retail shop.  “The greater the café culture the greater the urban vitality,” I say.  Look at Paris! Calgary has a very established, diverse and growing independent café culture dating back to mid ‘80s. 

It is no surprise our café scene was founded in Kensington given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design and Southern Alberta College of Art – home to many of the city’s young bohemians.  Kensington has been home to the Roasterie and Higher Ground for decades.  I believe Calgary’s first Starbucks also opened in Kensington, ironically right next to Higher Ground. 

The Roasterie opened in 1985 long before lattes, laptops and lounging at cafes were commonplace. In fact, the Roasterie has access to what is perhaps the best patio space in the city i.e. the small west-facing courtyard on 10th Street, one that captures the late day sun making it comfortable even in the winter.  It is a year-round hangout for artists, art students and creative types from Sunnyside and Hillhurst.  The newer and nearby The House Coffee Sanctuary is the Generation Y’s hangout.  And a short walk off 10th is Vendome, located in a charming historic red brick building, which would be a home in Paris and is clearly a destination café. Higher Ground and Starbucks, on the other hand, attract more of the Hillhurster bourgeoisie crowd.  There is also a Second Cup at the north end of 10th Street and a Tim Horton’s in the Safeway.  Kensington remains the home of Calgary’s café culture.

Since the ‘80s, Calgary’s café culture has been growing exponentially. Caffé Beano on 17th Avenue is the southside’s bobo (bohemian/bourgeoisie) hangout. It was made famous by Calgary playwright and writer Eugene Stickland who used it as his writing studio and talked about it often in his Calgary Herald column. Bumpy’s Espresso Bar & Café on 8th Street a popular central Beltline café is especially favoured by the espresso crowd and has been a Krups Kup of Excellence winner two years in a row.

Cafe Rosso's flagship store at Ramsay Exchange. 

Root of all Evil sits precariously in Ramsay "off off" the beaten path. One of over 100 public artworks in Calgary's City Centre. 

Over the past few years new cafes have popped up like dandelions in the spring.  Caffé Rosso, which opened in Ramsay Exchange in 2007, now has three locations.  Both a café and a bakery, it was an immediate hit with the hipsters living and working in Inglewood and Ramsay despite or maybe because of its off beat location in an old industrial site away from any pedestrian traffic.  I love the industrial ambience and the opportunity to visit perhaps Calgary’s best piece of public art – Dennis Oppenheim’s “Device to Root Out Evil” or as most people call it “the upside down church.”

Phil & Sebastian Coffee is truly a “it could only happen in Calgary” story. Two engineers become espresso aficionados, do some solid research, open up a small café in the Calgary’s Farmers’ Market in 2007 and soon become a beloved market vendor. It has been a whirlwind for them since opening up a flagship café in Marda Loop and their own roasting operation in 2009.  In 2010, they moved away from the street and into the mega Chinook Mall for their third location - a daring move for an upscale urban café.  In 2012, two of their baristas top first and second place in the Canadian Barista Championship – first place Jeremy Ho and second place Ben Put are known to locals as “Ben and Jer.”

de Ville Luxury Coffee & Pastries is another rapidly expanding Calgary-based café.  Even with its flagship store closing due to the demolition of Art Central to make room for the 58 story uber chic TELUS Sky tower don’t it will reopen in the new tower in 2017. Meanwhile the Fashion Central and Bridgeland cafes will continue to meet Calgarians’ growing craving for caffeine. 

Gravity Cafe the new gathering spots for artists in historic Inglewood. 

In the past year alone three new cafes have opened in three different YYC urban villages.  Lukes Drug Mart, an independent pharmacy since 1951 (the oldest independent pharmacy in Calgary) in Bridgeland recently evolved into a hipster café, grocery and drug store.  In May, they opened up Calgary’s first Stumptown Coffee Café at the front of the store, with Stumptown trained baristas a sure sign the Bridgeland has arrived as a tony urbanite village.  

Over in Inglewood, Gravity Café and Wine Bar opened in the new Esker Foundation building to immediate praise and was chosen Avenue Magazine’s Best Café in 2013.  The new “in spot” in Inglewood has even spawned a Friday Night Market with the arts community.  Its very active live music program recalls the ’60 hippy coffee houses. 

Portland's Stumptown coffee now available in Calgary. Wonder when Phil & Sebastians will open in Portland or maybe Cafe Rosso or one of the many other Calgary based cafes / roasters.

Lukes Drug Mart located in Calgary's newest hipster village Bridgeland.

Analog Coffee opened recently on 17th Avenue SW at 7th Street in the heart of RED (Retail Entertainment District, formerly Uptown 17th). This uptown upscale caffeine hangout is the flagship store for Fratello Coffee Company, a second-generation Calgary roaster. A hit from day one, it has perhaps the best windows for people-watching in the city.

Calgary isn’t afraid to import cafes from the Pacific Wet Coast either. Caffe Artigiano from Burnaby BC has two locations in downtown Calgary, both in office buildings, and both catering to the corporate coffee klatches.  Artigiano, both a coffee house and bistro, is perhaps best known for its “work of art” lattes. 

A recent trip Portland, where I expected there to be a mature coffee culture, I found little in the way of an independent café culture.  This gave me a better appreciation for the depth and diversity of Calgary’s café scene, which I believe is under-rated in the North American coffee scene.  

PS. This blog focuses only on the city centre cafes, but I could have easily included several inner-city and suburban indie cafes – Cadence (Bowness), Central Blends (West Hillhurst) and Weeds (Capital Hill) to name three. I also didn't include the many +15 (sky bridges) and more mainstream downtown cafes - perhaps another blog. 

Analog Coffee has great windows both from the inside and the outside. 

Analog Cafe located on the 17th Avenue aka RED aka RED Mile aka Uptown17th

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.