Loft living in Calgary

By Richard White, June 24, 2014

By definition, a loft is a large, flexible living space with no walls that could be divided up into several rooms by the use of furniture and room dividers.  Lofts are often associated with converted warehouse space with high ceilings (12+ feet), exposed mechanical and electrical services and bare brick and/or cement walls.  Calgary’s true warehouse lofts are mostly in the Beltline near the railway tracks - Imperial, Manhattan, Lewis and Hudson Lofts. 

With the renaissance of urban living, which began in the late 20th century, the popularity of loft living soared.   Because Calgary lacked the inventory of warehouse buildings, Battisella Developments pioneered a “Made-in Calgary” loft living building design that included two-storey open floor plans, extensive use of steel, exposed beams and stairs inside, as well as a colourful, industrial exterior with lots of large windows.

Chartreuce, built in 2001, served as the prototype for Battisella’s stellar evolution into becoming Calgary’s most creative urban condo builder.  Designed by Peter Jungen of Habitat Design and enhanced by Graham Edmunds Architecture, this 12 unit, townhouse loft condo project it is located on the corner of 17th Ave SE and 13th St SE literally, a stone’s throw away from the CPR rail yards next to Inglewood.  Though a huge risk to build a contemporary loft in this less than ideal location, Battisella pulled it off.

Chartreuce's exterior on 13th St. SE is fun and funky. 

Just a stone's throw from the CPR rail lines, the backyard patios are like a hidden urban oasis. 

The patios are like mini botanical gardens. 

Orange Lofts

The company then took on an even riskier project - Orange Lofts (est. 2003) in East Village.  Back then; East Village was still in its early formative stages, still just a bunch of surface parking lots, crumbling sidewalks, homeless shelters and seniors’ apartments.  Most were questioning if the City’s vision of a new urban village would ever even get off the ground.

Orange Lofts, a six-story, 106-unit loft building is in many ways a bigger and bolder version of Chartreuce. Designed by Vancouver’s Kasian Kennedy architects, it has the same modern industrial-looking façade with slate blue stucco at street level and steel/aluminum above.  The distinctive, red ladder-like decoration recalls the black exterior emergency fire ladder staircases on early 20th century iconic New York walk-up apartments. 

The exterior’s colourful, playful box grid pattern is visually stimulating and satisfying.  No Calgary beige or boring minimalism contemporary architecture here!

The ground floor units were designed with flexibility in mind, i.e. they could be commercial or residential spaces. The thinking was that retail spaces might not sell in 2003 but by 2023, that might be the best use for them with East Village’s evolution.

In keeping with its name, the lobby featured neon orange elevator doors and with glass and steel walls and railings.  The interiors of the units have 16-foot ceilings with huge floor-to-ceiling windows. The floors are polished concrete, all of the mechanical piping is exposed and kitchen shelves and stair railings are steel, enhancing the loft’s industrial or warehouse look.

Orange Loft looking west to the municipal building, Calgary Tower and the downtown core.  

Last Word

Battisella also took a risk in building only 93 parking stalls for the106-unit Orange Lofts, building, probably the first and only condo with fewer parking stalls than units.  (Note: Most condos have at least 1.5 stalls per units, as most Calgary condo buyers want at least one and some two stalls).  However, given an underground parking stall at the time cost about $40,000/stall ($60,000 today) by reducing or in some cases eliminating parking stalls, Orange Lofts became very affordable. 

I believe some units were only $99,000 (without parking) when Orange Lofts came to market in 2003.  What a bargain for attractive, modern concrete building just minutes from everything!

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