Calgary: Names & Placemaking Challenge

A pet peeve I have about condo developers is that they should do more research into the names of their condos and capitalize on the opportunity to use the names as part of the evolution of a sense of place. 

Two of the best examples of missed opportunities are the new condos facing onto Memorial Park – Park Pointe and The Park.  With a little research, imagination and respect for the area’s history, they could have been called Andrew or Carnegie. Why? Because the historic Memorial Park library (the first library in Alberta) was funded by an $80,000 Andrew Carnegie grant (total cost was $100,000 in 1912).  Or perhaps they could have been named after William Reed, Calgary’s first parks superintendent who created park.  Or, maybe even Alexander Calhoun Calgary’s first chief librarian could have been the inspiration for naming rights.  For that matter, one of the condos could have simply been named The Library.  

On a related but different note, from a design perspective, it would have been nice to have had a strong sandstone element in the exteriors of condos near as the ground level to pay respect to the historic sandstone Memorial Park Library building.

Rendering of new The Park condo looking southeast from historic Memorial Park.  It makes no reference in design or name that would enhance the sense of place the area  or of 13th Ave SW as an important historical street. 

Rendering of new The Park condo looking southeast from historic Memorial Park.  It makes no reference in design or name that would enhance the sense of place the area  or of 13th Ave SW as an important historical street. 


Another good example of a missed opportunity is the Montana, the relatively new condo next to the Nellie McClung House on the 700 block of 16th Avenue SW.  Might have Neillie or McClung Place/Tower have been better?

The Montana condo with the McClung house in the foreground on the left side.

The Montana condo with the McClung house in the foreground on the left side.


Church,  Homestead, Carpenters?

Hats off to the developers in Kensington who are doing a better job with names like St. John’s on Tenth St. (after the church that used to be on the site) or Lido (after the Lido Café, that was torn down after over 70 years of calling the block where the new condo will be built home).  That being said, I am think there must be a better name for the community’s latest condo, Kensington. I can think of two – The Riley (the entire Hillhurst / Sunnyside/ West Hillhurst /SAIT area was once part of the Riley family ranch) or The Carpenter (given the site was home to the Carpenter’s Union Hall for many years).  

St. John's condominium on the site of the church of the same name.

St. John's condominium on the site of the church of the same name.

Plaque on the side of St. John's condo documenting a bit of the history of the site.

Plaque on the side of St. John's condo documenting a bit of the history of the site.

Savoy / Riviera ?

I also question the name Savoy for a new condo in West Hillhurst, a community with a rich history.  The Savoy name is most commonly associated with a five-star luxury hotel in London.  I am not aware of any association with the site or the community.  Grand Trunk, the original name for the section of land that it is located on, would have been a much more interesting and appropriate name.  

In my opinion, the same could be said for the Riviera now under construction in Parkdale. 

Savoy condo in West Hillhurst at the corner of 19th St NW and Kensington Road.

Savoy condo in West Hillhurst at the corner of 19th St NW and Kensington Road.

I also don’t get the names for Calgary’s three upscale condos - River, Avenue and Concord. These names are simply too generic or have nothing to do with Calgary and they do not add any value to the sense of place of the communities they are located in.  

There are a plethora of new condos next to the downtown that could easily have had names that would have fostered a unique sense of place for both locals and visitors. 

These four condo towers are located near Stampede Park on Macleod Trail, in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities are called Sasso, Vetro, Nuera and Alura. What a missed opportunity to preserve some of the community's rich history?  

These four condo towers are located near Stampede Park on Macleod Trail, in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities are called Sasso, Vetro, Nuera and Alura. What a missed opportunity to preserve some of the community's rich history?  

Community Names

Taking it a step further, the same criticism could be said about some community names.  What’s with the name “West District” in West Springs?  Surely, there is a more meaningful name that is linked to the history of the land – West District could be anywhere.  I also hate community names like Royal Oak, Tuscany or Maple Ridge. Lovely as they may sound, they have no relevance to Calgary.  On the other hand, names like Quarry Park make sense (the site was once a quarry) and Silver Springs (it actually has springs with silver water).  Chinook Park makes perfect sense, as does Garrison Woods and Currie Barracks.

Currie Barracks does a great job in fostering a sense of place by using historical names for the streets and with their banner program.

Currie Barracks does a great job in fostering a sense of place by using historical names for the streets and with their banner program.

At the west entrance is a huge memorial with bronze statues and plaques that share some of the stories that are associated with the site's rich military history.  

At the west entrance is a huge memorial with bronze statues and plaques that share some of the stories that are associated with the site's rich military history.  

The Challenge

I challenge developers to invest a little more time and effort into naming condos and new communities with names that are relevant to Calgary’s history, climate, topography, flora and fauna.  

I would suggest engaging one of Calgary’s historians – Harry Sanders or David Finch - to help out with the research.

Richard White, September 24, 2014 

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Beakerhead: Education coefficient needs improvement?

Richard White, September 14, 2014

Beakerhead's premise of a smash-up festival of science, engineering and art is perfect for Calgary with its plethora of engineers, geologists, software developers and IT people and our lust to become an international cultural centre.

However, what I saw (based on visiting a couple of sites during the day, one lecture and following many twitter feeds) was lots of sizzle (literally, it seemed to be all about the fire), but not a lot of substance.  I think I have some qualifications to make this statement as I have a MSc, have published scientific papers (all be it many decades ago) and for the past 30 years, I have been part of Calgary’s cultural scene.

Maybe I am old school, but when I went to the Stampede Grounds' smash-up site, I was expecting something more challenging and educational.  What I found was a playground full of loud adolescent students (I understand there are over 20,000 students participating in various Beakerhead events) having a lot of fun, but I am not sure what they were learning about art, science or engineering.  Back story: I also have experience establishing curriculum-based education programs. I didn’t see any notes being taken, no didactic information and no guided programs - it seemed like a free-for-all.

I didn’t see much that was challenging from an art, science or engineering perspective either. A solar-powered bike isn’t exactly new or innovative, neither is a warming hut with a wood stove or a couple of mini-homes. Although I was invited to drop by the site by an artist, I have no idea where the art was. It was more like a trade show. 

Maybe I just chose the wrong place and time as some of the evening pics on twitter looked much more animated and visually interesting.  

This fun, multi-armed robot was perhaps the most photographed and tweeted image of the festival (Photo Credit: Elred Naxela)

The burning man, as I called it, was very popular at the Stampede Grounds. Later learned it was The Gee Gnome, which explains the tacky pink flamingos, sand and fence; this was suppose to be a front yard setting with a fun gnome. I think? 

Net Blow-up created in Austria is billed the first self-supporting, climbable structure in the world.This spider web climbing structure was popular at the East Village site. (Photo Credit: Elred Naxela) 

A ride in the solar-powered tricycle was fun and probably second to the robot as the most photographed object.

A ride in the solar-powered tricycle was fun and probably second to the robot as the most photographed object.

The Spirit House by artist Califoria Jayson Fann is like a human-sized birdhouse turned on its side. It was only later in reading the Calgary Herald that I learned this was an art project as there was no information available that I could find. Maybe there was an App?

The Spirit House by artist Califoria Jayson Fann is like a human-sized birdhouse turned on its side. It was only later in reading the Calgary Herald that I learned this was an art project as there was no information available that I could find. Maybe there was an App?

These youth seemed to be having fun throwing the big dice up in the air and playing the classic game of snakes and ladders.

This tiny house/shed was cute but not really innovative. Yes, you could live in the space, but it really is no different than one of those summer trailer vacation homes that have been around for decades. 

Love the idea of warming huts that Winnipeg has implemented along the river at The Forks.  Good tourism plug for Winnipeg, but where is the science or the art?  Each winter The Forks has a call for proposals from designers to create unique warming huts like this one.

Low-tech, old school fun! 

Last Word

An old equation states "enlightenment = engagement + entertainment + education." I would say Beakerhead's engagement and entertainment value is very high, but there is an opportunity to enhance the educational coefficient.

Reader's comments:

CC wrote: "good points, seems a bit weak on the theory." 

CA wrote: "Beakerhead in Banff was about art and intellect. Now about spending grant money for a show. Still cool but has lost it's way."

JG wrote:  "My Grade 5 daughter and my husband went to Beakerhead on Saturday night. Their assessment is that it did meet expectations. Apparently, a U of C researcher was on site explaining the construction and mechanics of the fire-octopus. Also an explanation of laser cat and the collection of art that it shot out of its eyes. Perhaps the multiple venues and duration of events led to inconsistency of experience, but that's also a bonus as it allowed many people to take it in over a 5 day period. At the very least, it was able to draw Calgarians into different neighbourhoods they may otherwise not have a chance to visit."

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Beakerhead: Stevenson says "Adapt or die!"

Top 10 things heard at Mark Stevenson’s Beakerhead talk, “The future and what to do with it.”

#10     Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

#9       Happiness is finding something more important than you and dedicating your life to it.

#8       Think like an engineer, not like a politician.

#7       Police your cynicism. Cynicism is a recipe for being lazy.

#6       Embrace the evidence.

Calgary's Bow Tower meets its big blue sky!

Calgary's Bow Tower meets its big blue sky!

#5       How many people have you inspired?

#4       The most adaptable people, cities and cultures are the ones that will survive.

#3       Decline of the institution; rise of the individual.

#2       Stop being defined by what we own. Be defined by what we create.

#1       Did you ask a good question today? 

Lyon, France, public art.

Adapt or Die?

Stevenson’s talk was entertaining, engaging and educational. Like an extended TED talk it was perhaps too polished and slick - but maybe that is my cynicism showing through. 

From a Calgary perspective, he was very optimistic about our collective future given our plethora of engineers and our existing culture of energy research and development.

The take away message I got from Stevenson was that if Calgary can adapt its knowledge base from fossil fuels to solar, wind and alternate fuels over the next 25 years, we will continue to be one of the world’s leading cities. 

As I like to say, “life is just a continuous series of adaptations. 

By Richard White, September 12, 2014

Calgary's power hour or the march of the engineers (photo credit: Jeff Trost).

Kudos to CMLC for making a tough decision

By Richard White, May 8 2014

I think everyone I know was surprised to learn that Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s (CMLC) is closing the public washrooms on Riverwalk in East Village.  Since its inception in 2007, CMLC has done an amazing job of developing and implementing an ambitious vision and master plan for the once-troubled and downtrodden East Village community.  

Throughout the East Village redevelopment, CMLC has been very transparent in the process, hosting numerous open houses before making any key decisions.   It truly has been a collaborative and cooperative community process.  While not everyone will agree with every decision (you can’t make everyone happy), there was always lots of public consultation as part of the any decision-making.

In this case, CMLC engaged a group of experts last summer to assess the perception of safety across in East Village, which included three community meetings. The recent changes in Riverwalk programming i.e. close the washroom except for events and removal of a few lounge chairs was based on dialogue with the community, police and crime prevention experts.

As a founding Board Member of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association, an International Downtown Association Board member and now as the community strategist at Ground3 architecture, I am passionate about creating public spaces that are safe and attractive for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

This is not a homeless issue

I have been very impressed by the work of CMCL in taking risks and being ambitious with the design and programming of Riverwalk incorporating inclusivity at all times. While some see this as an affront to the homeless population and clients of the nearby Calgary Drop-In Centre, I believe their clients also want and deserve a clean and safe Riverwalk. I don’t believe this is a decision to penalize the homeless, but rather a proactive decision to deal with criminal activities taking place in the washrooms. I have a strong hunch there is “more to the story” behind why the decisions were made - I don’t think we need to know the all the ugly details. 

The decision to close the washrooms (except when an event is happening) and the replacement of the few permanent lounge chairs (there are still hundreds of places to sit along the river and pathway) after four years was a tough one for CMLC to make.  

This is one of public washrooms that have been closed except for event use.  

Riverwalk is well used by Calgarians of all ages and for a variety of activities.  Note there are lots of places to seat, the few lounge chairs that have been removed will not be missed. 

Zero Tolerance 

I am confident the Police and Bylaw Officers can and will deal with it the criminal and conduct issues in East Village. The City of Calgary has a Public Behaviour Bylaw that addresses some of the public space issues we have faced in the past.

The following are prohibited in public places:

  • Fighting
  • Defecating and urinating
  • Spitting
  • Loitering that obstructs other people
  •  Standing or placing one’s feet on tables, benches, planters or sculptures
  • Carrying a visible knife

I would like to add “loud swearing” to the list.  I know this was an issue on Stephen Avenue and Olympic Plaza in the past. Some individuals would persistently shout and swear at each other using language that would intimidate everyone within earshot (including me and I think I am very tolerant).  It was a way of a few taking ownership of a public space and keeping others away by making them feel so uncomfortable they would walk away and not return. These undesirable behaviors should not be tolerated. 

I believe a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to violent, destructive and aggressive conduct in public spaces. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable in a public space.  Everyone needs to be held up to the same community conduct standards - rich and poor, young and old.  

My recommendation

Police and Bylaw officers should have a “zero tolerance” policy along Riverwalk this summer to ensure it is a safe place for ALL Calgarians. Enhanced policing and bylaw enforcement has worked before to make problem areas safer and I don’t see why it can’t work again.

I have no problem if CMLC wants to close the washrooms and remove a few permanent lounge chairs.  But I would hope that once the intervention has been complete they might experiment with opening the washrooms seven days a week from 9 am to 9 pm from May to September and 10 am to 3 pm from October to April. I see no need for them to be open 24-hours a day.

The addition of new condos, office buildings, restaurants, cafes, a library and museum will add lots more pedestrian traffic to East Village in the next few years. More people will make the area safer and more attractive for everyone. 

Last Word

This situation is very unfortunate, happening just as new condos are rising out of the ground, the National Music Centre is under construction and the new Library visioning is happening. The good news is the addition of more people living, working and playing in East Village over the next few years will make it safer for everyone (including the homeless) as it will mean more eyes on the streets and public spaces - something criminals shy away from.  People forget there was a time when Eau Claire was a prostitute stroll – look at it today.

Creating great urban villages is not just about managing big construction projects. It is also about getting the small operational things right.  Creating good public spaces requires ongoing management and experimentation in response to new issues and opportunities.

I believe a city is defined by the attractiveness of its public spaces as gathering places for passive activities – think Central Park in New York or Millennium Park in Chicago. Riverwalk is an award-winning public space that has attracted international attention as one of the best designed public spaces of the 21st century.

We must do all we can to make Riverwalk and all of Calgary’s parks and public spaces safe and and inviting for ALL Calgarians. I say kudos to CMLC for making a tough decision.

Riverwalk has been designed so special events can take place and yet others can enjoy a passive quiet experience near by. 

Here are the few lounge chairs that have been removed. While they are nice, they are not essential. 

This is Chicago's Millennium Park. Great public spaces have areas where people love to gather, linger, relax and chill-out.  

Design Downtown for Women - Men Will Follow

Guest Blog: David Feehan, President, Civitas Consultants LLC

Years ago, when I was the downtown director in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a retail consultant we had engaged named Robert Sprague made a startling statement. “In 1950, 95 percent of the retail sales in the US occurred in downtowns. Today, less than 5 percent of retail sales are made in downtowns.” Sprague made that statement in the early 1990s and it is still true today, even in cities where there has been successful downtown revitalization. Only a few major cities still have downtown department stores and strong retail components - Seattle, San Francisco and Washington DC. 

Many theories have been advanced as to why retail stores virtually abandoned US downtowns in a few decades. After all, office buildings were still being built in downtowns during the latter half of the past century. Major attractions – convention centers, ballparks, arenas and museums – became symbols of hoped-for reinvestment in and around downtowns. Other fads came and went – festival markets, aquariums, enclosed shopping malls; and still, downtowns continued to lose the one feature so many saw as they key to success – retail stores.

Some blamed the massive shift in residential development. Others pointed to the building of high-speed expressways that could whisk people to suburban communities quickly and without so much as a stoplight. Still others saw the increase in crime and the urban unrest of the 1960s as the culprit. Many thought that “white flight” – a desire of whites to get away from expanding black urban populations – was killing downtowns and central city commercial districts.

No doubt all of these factors and more contributed to the decline of downtowns since 1950. But one of the most obvious factors has until very recently been almost ignored. Downtowns have, by and large, ignored their most important customer – women – while shopping mall developers designed their facilities specifically for women.

Shortly after I left the presidency of the International Downtown Association in 2009, I started asking questions and doing research in concert with Dr. Carol Becker, who had just completed a survey of business improvement districts, or BIDs as they are more commonly known (BIAs in Canada) on behalf of IDA. Among the questions we asked ourselves were:

  • Are there significant gender differences in the way public spaces are perceived?
  • How important are women in terms of retail decisions, residential decisions and business location decisions?
  • Who really designs the downtown experience?
  • What obstacles are there to women who want to participate in and direct the design of downtowns?

Let me be clear: we were not just thinking about physical design – things like buildings and parks. We were interested in designing the whole experience – things like mobility and access, safety and security, friendliness, aesthetics, activities, opportunities to dine and be entertained as well as shop.

Research Says

Here is briefly what our research revealed:

  • Women control or influence roughly 80 to 85 percent of retail purchases.
  • Women control or influence approximately 80 percent of residential and health care decisions.
  • Women constitute nearly 60 percent of college graduates.
  • Women control more than half of the private wealth in the US.

And yet, women are grossly underrepresented in the professions that design the downtown experience. Architects, landscape architects, urban planners and designers, engineers, real estate developers and brokers, even construction professionals and lenders are predominantly male. Only 16 percent of registered architects are women. Only 3 percent of engineers are women.

We could not find a “Top 50” firm in any of the above categories in the US that is headed or owned by a woman. But perhaps in government agencies that impact downtown we might find women more represented? Not hardly. In the US federal government, at the cabinet level, there have been 14 Secretaries of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but only two have been women. At the Department of Transportation, 2 Secretaries out of 16 have been women; and at the Department of Commerce, only 3 out of 43 Secretaries have been women.

At the professional association level, we had hoped to find women better represented, but this was not the case. Virtually all of the professional and trade associations having to do with the downtown experience (International Downtown Association, National Main Street Center, Urban Land Institute, American Planning Association, American Institute of Architects, National League of Cities, US Conference of Mayors, International City and County Managers Association, American Public Transportation Association, International Parking Institute and others) were headed by men at the time we began our research. Today, a couple of women have been named to top posts. 

In short, what we have is a terrible mismatch. One only has to look at the things women hate like dirty, dark parking garages, filthy or nonexistent public restrooms, street furniture designed for a person taller than 5’ 9” tall, multi-space parking meters with screens that are too high and hard to read, lack of signage and wayfinding, and a hundred other things that men tend not to notice. 

Last Word

Women are not as involved in downtown design as they should be.

Dr. Becker and I, along with a number of noted co-authors and contributors are set to publish a new book this summer, called “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow.” In the book, we suggest some ways that those of us who care about downtowns and urban commercial districts can begin to change they way the downtown experience is designed and delivered.

The book also challenges decision-makers to not just ask women what they want, but to bring women into leadership positions in the decision-making process.  

Dave Feehan can be reached at:


DEW writes: 

Reading David Feehan's blog brought to mind Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947), the founder of Britain’s hugely successful department store, Selfridges. This American mastermind recognized the female consumer and he understood the public culture of his era. He revolutionized the shopping experience for the public, particularly for women, and in the process of doing so became a multi-millionaire. Many of his ideas continue to be practiced in department stores today (e.g., place cosmetics and perfume at the front entrance,  have merchandise out in the open and not hidden behind glass, carry ready-to-wear clothes, offer novelty etc.).  Mr. Selfridge not only pushed "pink", he also, perceptively realized the social mores of Britain were changing and capitalized on it. He welcomed all British citizens to mingle in his attractive store for commercial enjoyment. This inclusive policy proved effective in two ways: it contributed to the erosion of Britain's class system and it simultaneously increased the department's store customer base. 

Selfridge’s department store provided the upper/middle class women with a socially-acceptable excuse to venture out independently. Women could legitimately go out “shopping” without raising (society’s) eyebrows. And to make the ladies’ shopping excursion pleasant, Mr. Selfridge added an elegant dining area to his department store … men soon followed. Gentlemen frequented the restaurant to either socialize with their companion(s) or to while away the time as their significant others shopped.

Selfridge‘s idea to concentrate on the needs/desires of the female consumer and market to them accordingly worked. He employed various business strategies --- novel and conventional, to reach his target group. Selfridge constructed a grand building with enticing interiors; cultivated outside greenery (his store had a roof-top garden); created an elegant eatery; published tastefully done, but slightly seductive “come hither” advertisements; designed “state of the art” displays against a backdrop of theatrical touches and antics; installed all the latest technological innovations of his time; and organized unique publicity stunts --- all these strategies worked for him. And this winning female concept continues to work, judging by the doubled dividends paid out in November 2013 by Selfridges to its current Canadian owner, Galen Weston, (despite the slight dip in the department stores profits*). 

So it stands to reason, that Mr. Selfridge’s chief business strategy of zeroing in on female needs could be refashioned to suit current downtown urban design plans--- just as David Feehan suggests in his article. If the charismatic Harry Gordon Selfridge were alive today, and was an urban planner, one can be absolutely certain, he would already be in his bomber-jet blitzing the downtown core with his multi-coloured female-friendly confetti --- because it works!

(*Financial Times- November 2013- Duncan Robinson-

Many downtowns like Calgary are creating comprehensive wayfinding maps to help pedestrians find what they are looking for.  Note distances are in minutes not distances; this is very helpful to women who often relate more to time than distance. 

Wayfinding systems like Calgary's encourage downtown visitors to explore other areas in the vicinity. 

Unfortunately dark and dingy underpasses that often link one downtown district to another are not attractive to anyone. 

Convoluted sidewalks, pillars blocking views and dark spaces along downtown streets don't make for a pleasant shopping experience. 

Yes it is nice to have trees downtown, but not in the middle of sidewalks. 

Sidewalk clutter and blind corners don't make for an enjoyable shopping experience. 

Too many downtown public washrooms are not cleaned as often as needed.  In fact, too often it is hard to even find the public washroom as it is hidden away down a hall with no signage.  Most downtown building owners discourage the use of public washrooms. 

Downtown seating is often too high for people to sit comfortably with their feet on the ground. 

Downtown seating is often too high for people to sit comfortably with their feet on the ground. 

Even on a bright day, office and condo towers cast shadows on the street that make it look dark and unattractive.  Railway tracks and barriers make it difficult to walk across the street.

Empty lots with fences like this one are a huge turn-off for women.

Tree grates like this on are common on downtown sidewalks. They are not problem for men in shoes but for women they can be an accident waiting to happen. 

Entrance to this parking ramp is intimidating to everyone, but especially women.  To be fair, significant improvements have been made to parkade design over the past 20 years. 

Unkept parks and plazas are a turn off for anyone wanting to come downtown for shopping, dining or entertainment. 

Sticky sidewalks and plazas are no fun to walk on.

Broken curbs and sidewalks don't make of a pleasant walking experience. 

Designing safe and attractive connections between downtown and neighbouring communities is critical to attracting women to shop downtown. 

Everyday Tourist Note:

While this research is for American cities, I expect same is true for Canadian cities. London, Hamilton and Windsor no longer have any department stores and struggling indoor retail centres.  Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon struggle to make their downtowns viable shopping districts.

We have to rethink how we plan our downtowns from the design of parkades, street furniture and sidewalk, to street signage to wayfinding systems. We talk about making our urban places more pedestrian friendly, when perhaps we should be more specific and make them female friendly. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results – that’s insanity!

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A-mazing University of New Mexico campus: Albuquerque

Richard White, April 25, 2014

Sometimes I think all university campus planners should be shot. This was never more true then a recent visit to the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque (ABQ) where even the people in their Visitor Center had difficulty explaining how to get to buildings. Why? Because the campus’ random connection of sidewalks, pedestrian malls, plazas, patios, gardens, alleys and ponds are not intuitively understood.  It seems like every time the university wanted to add a building, they threw a dart at a map of the campus and built wherever the dart landed (as long as there wasn't a building already there). The end result is an A-MAZING campus design!

Why can’t campus planners use a grid system (or some pattern that is easily understood and communicated) that would allow everyone to negotiate their way from building to building in a straightforward manner?

Why can’t there be sight lines so you can see more than one building at time?

Why can’t the building's name also be placed at the top where it can be viewed from a distance? Too often the building's names is hidden by trees and shrubs. Sometimes you can be standing right beside the building you are trying to find and not even know it. Universities are not unique in this; it happens with downtown office buildings, retail and restaurants (bring back the blade sign).

UNM is not the only poorly planned campus. Most university campuses I have visited lack a coherent street or sidewalk pattern that allows visitors to easily navigate from building to building.

UNM however suffers more than most universities because all of its buildings are designed in the same Pueblo Revival architecture style. While the design is lovely, authentic and timeless, it is hard to tell the buildings apart because of their same colour and materials. Thought it is nice to have synergy and continuity in design, you need some differentiators.

That being said, with some perseverance and luck, we were able to find some "amazing" places and spaces at the UNM.

School of Architecture and Planning, one of the newest buildings on campus. 

Hodgin Hall the oldest building on campus.  Originally built in 1892, it was converted to the Pueblo Revival style in 1908 and has been recently renovated to keep it looking new.  

Art Spaces

While the university has a walking tour of public art on campus, none of it really excited us. What did excite us though was some of the amazing student artworks in the School of Architectural and Planning building. We struck up a conversation with a student who was doing some photography near the "ping-pong ball" wall that we thought might be public art. He explained that two years ago, he and his fellow students made the "ping-pong" piece, as well as several other artworks inside the building (note many of the artworks are no longer there).  We accepted his kind offer of a studio tour where we got to see lots of design ideas in progress, as well as desks full of funky and quirky desktop vignettes.

We also noticed the Tamarind Institute across Central Avenue from the Architecture and Planning Building, which is one of the world’s leading lithography studios and should be on every art lover's must-see list.  They have a little gallery with some wonderful artworks by the likes of Jim Dine and Roy De Forest.  If you are really interested, they have file drawers full of artworks – and they are for sale.  This would be a great place to buy your first lithograph or add to an existing art collection.

We also spotted Frontier Restaurant and while technically not a campus building, it has been part of the UNM campus culture since 1971. It is huge. And the place is full of kitschy folk art (especially John Wayne portraits). A perfect contrast to Tamarind.  The food is served cafeteria-style. And though I would not choose to eat here, it has been recommended in publications with the likes of the New York Times.

Ping-Pong artwork as seen from the sidewalk in front of the Architecture and Planning Building.

The Ping-Pong artwork close-up. Too bad there was no plaque with title and artist.  We loved moving the balls to create different designs. 

One of the many vignettes found on students work stations. 

A close-up of 8-foot pencil sculpture in the building's lobby. How fitting is this for an architectural school?

Anonymous, Sean Mellyn, seven-colour lithograph, 2001, edition of 20, 22.25 X 17 inches, collaborating printer: Bill Lagattuta. Just one of many fun lithos to look at and potentially buy at the Tamarind Institute. 

This stencil for an artwork was hanging from the fluorescent light fixture. It made for an interesting found artwork in and of itself at the Tamarind Institute.

One of the many file cabinets filled with artworks at the Tamarind Institute.

A small sculpture court can be found near the Hodgin Hall Alumni Center.

A colourful public artwork that fits with the Hispanic culture of the campus. 

Quiet Places

The Zimmerman Library is located in the centre of campus.  Architecturally, it is considered to be the one of the finest examples of modified Spanish Pueblo Revival-style architecture. While the new half is like any new library – high ceiling, little ornamentation and loud - the older building is amazing.  

It has a warmth, richness and seriousness that is lacking in most new libraries where flash, glitz and glitter design often rule.  The design was noticeably subtle, quiet and somber. It invited one to think, ponder and reflect. Yes, space and design does influence the way we think and behave.

The Zimmerman Library is a reminder that we need more quiet spaces in our lives.

Zimmerman Library entrance to the new wing.  

The hallway of the original wing with its rich carpet, wood book cases, murals and decorative ceiling.

Close-up of the wonderful decorative ceiling. 

One of several murals celebrating the pioneers of New Mexico.

Old index card file.


Everyone suggested we check out the duck pond, but it really wasn’t anything special in our view.  The Anthropology and Art Museums looked interesting but both were closed on Monday (we should have done our homework).

The Meteorite Museum is unique and could be a hidden gem, except it is open by appointment only.  It has over 600 meteorites and is part of the UNM's Institute of Meteoritic, the premier institution for study of early solar system and planetary evolution in the world.

The UNM campus is an "A-MAZING" two-hour walk in amongst historic and contemporary pueblo buildings.  Unique and authentic to Albuquerque and New Mexico, it is definitely worth a visit.

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