Calgary leads Vancouver in condo design?

By Richard White, January 10, 2014 

Calgary’s first high-rise condos were built at the end of the ‘70s early “80s boom.  Eau Claire 500 was built along the Bow River before there was the Eau Market, the Eau Claire Y and the Bow River Promenade.  The Estate was built as part of the Ranchmen’s Club’s extensive renovations in 1982. 

In many ways The Estate is the model for current condo development with its street level townhouses integrated into the design. Today townhouses at street level are the norm, but in the late ‘70s new townhouses in the Beltline were quite unusual.  

Could it be that Calgary was the inspiration for Vancouver’s plethora of townhouse podium with high-rises tower above that were built starting in the ‘90s? 

Calgary's Estate condo on 13th Avenue which was Calgary's millionaire's row in the early 20th century. 

Highrise condos with street level town homes was innovative in the '80s.

Calgary's historic Ranchmen's Club was established in 1914.


It is perhaps ironic that The Estate was designed by Vancouver architect David Tom who is now a partner in one of Vancouver’s most influential architectural firms BingThom Architects. In 2007, they were the architects for the SAIT Master Plan and in 2009, the architects for the new SAIT parkade which is an amazing work of art and architecture.

The proposed condo tower at 26 floors was way in excess of the ‘80s zoning height limit of 17 floors. The design also called for no balconies, which was also precedent setting urban design for the time.  The city agreed to transfer the density (floors) that would be allowed above the Ranchmen’s Club site if it were to torn down to the land to the west for the condo.  The city also accepted the lack of balconies; given the design included internal climate-controlled conservatories and the street level town homes along 13th Avenue SW. 

In 2014, the Ranchmen’s will be celebrating its 100 anniversary in its R.E. Donnell designed three story Renaissance Revival brick and terra cotta building.  The interior features extensive highly detailed dark woodwork that creates an immediate sense of history, character and charm.  The club is a reminder that Calgary’s original economic engine was ranching, not oil and gas.  Together with the historic Lougheed House and gardens across the street, this area is a hidden gem of Calgary’s history.  

The Estate reflects both the past and the present.  There is a sense of timelessness in the extensive use of brick as the main exterior material.  Yet, without balconies and any other ornamentation the design reflects modern minimalism.  However, it avoided the boxy look of most late 20th century high-rises by placing the tower on a diagonal to the street to create visual interest and maximize the views for each apartment. 

This blog first appeared in Condo Living Magazine, February, 2014. 

The entrance to the Estate is inviting and intimate. 

Designed without protruding balconies gives the Estate a clean modern sense of place, yet the facade pallet is harmonious with the historic design of the Ranchmen's Club. 

The Estate and Ranchmen's Club from the gardens of the Lougheed Mansion across the street.