Arriva: Missed Opportunities

When conceived back in the early ‘00s, by John Torode and the late Peter Burgener of Calgary’s ZeidlerBKDI architects, the Arriva condo project was truly a pioneer project.

Located in the heart of Calgary’s historic Victoria Park community; it would become, three statuesque contemporary sister condo towers, one 34 floors and two 42 floors amongst a sea of warehouses, surface parking lots and dilapidated tiny cottage homes. 

It was envisioned as the catalyst for the renaissance of a down-on-its-luck community.  The vision to transform an entire block into an urban oasis was ambitious, including the integration of the historic sandstone Victoria Park School and the creation of a million dollar public artwork.

When first built Arriva was all by itself in a sea of red brick warehouses and parking lots.

When first built Arriva was all by itself in a sea of red brick warehouses and parking lots.


Unique Design

The podium of the condo included a two-floor commercial base that extended to the sidewalk, with pedestrian-oriented shops at street level to make it pedestrian friendly. The three condo towers were to be set back from the street so as not to create a 34 and two 42-floor walls from sidewalk to sky that would dwarf pedestrians creating an intimidating pedestrian environment.  Though the podium tower design had been very popular for decades in Vancouver; this was a first for Calgary.

Its design was unique in many other ways as well.  The combination of red brick and stone at the street level mirrored the façade materials of the sandstone school and brick warehouses created a nice sense of continuity.  The tower was tall and slender, unlike Calgary’s preponderance of stubby towers (both office and condos).  The blue and green façade colour of the tower, gives it a marine or beach-like appearance, something one might expect in Dubai or South Beach in Miami.

In fact, having been to Dubai in 2006, my first impression of Arriva was that it could easily compete with that city’s ultra contemporary architecture, especially the rooftop. Again, unlike most of Calgary’s flat-topped towers, Arriva’s rooftop was an intriguing work of art, combining a horizontal wedge element with a vertical leaf or tip of a feather-like segment. 


I recall someone telling me the rooftop was inspired by the feather headdresses of the Plains Indians - perhaps it was Burgener.  Others have told me it reminds them of the little hats women used to wear in the early to mid 20th century.  Regardless, it makes the tower unique.



For me, the slender shape, the colour and the rooftop design combine to evoke a feminine sensibility to Arriva, in contrast to most of the other broader and brawnier Beltline towers which are more masculine in nature.

The rounded balconies give Arriva a softer shape compared to the angular hard-edge of most condos in Calgary's Beltline community.

Missed Opportunity 

Unfortunately, after the first tower was completed and fully occupied, the second tower went into receivership in 2009 as a result of the world financial crisis now Arriva’s two sister towers will never get built.

Instead, two cool rectangular white towers on the western edge of the block called The Guardian will surround it; perhaps they will be Arriva’s big brothers.

It is also a shame that Micah Lexier’s Half K sculpture will never get built. Part of the Arriva master plan, was a playful 500-meter long metal pipe-like form that looked like someone took a pencil and scribbled a continuous curvilinear line from ground level on 11th to 12th Avenues, up over the top of the Victoria Park School.  It would have been a very cool addition to the block and to Calgary’s growing collection of public art.


Conceptual image of Lexier's Half K sculpture. 

Last Word

Arriva will go down in history as both an ambitious and innovative pioneer condo project and a missed opportunity.

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