The Art of Architecture and Colour

For the past 35 years, I have observed - with interest - the evolution of Calgary’s urban design culture from its pragmatic prairie conservatism to today’s more liberal contemporary designs. Perhaps the biggest change has been the use and abuse of colour.  I was reminded of this when recently exploring the Beltline and seeing Lake Placid Group’s The Park - the new condo next to Memorial Park with its dark blue glass facade. 

I was a bit shocked as it was, to my eyes, so strikingly different from the promotional renderings which showed a more transparent, light green building, like a huge green house and more synergistic with the greens of the park.  My first impression of the deep blue was it was too dark, too heavy and too gloomy.  I have the same reaction to the dark glassed Keynote Towers just further east.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my eyes are always attracted to buildings with bright, bold, cheerful colours like the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  Guess I am a kid a heart!

Original computer rendering of The Park condo from Memorial Park.

  Actual photo of The Park condo from Memorial Park.

Actual photo of The Park condo from Memorial Park.

Does anyone care?

I decided to ask Rob Taylor, President of the Beltline Community Association to see what he and his group thought of the change of the design. He informed me many people didn’t even notice the change and some that responded negatively at first, later changed their minds. He reminded me “that not everyone has to like every building.” How true!

I then thought I would get some other insights into Calgary’s new culture of colour. Joe Starkman, Partner at Knightsbridge Homes is the guy responsible for those bright orange and yellow University City condos on Crowchild Trail at the Brentwood LRT Station.  He indicated the public response has been a 50/50 split between those who like the colours and those who don’t.  The colours by the way were inspired by colours of grasses, bushes, flowers and trees at different seasons in Nose Hill, Blakiston Park, Strathcona Hill and Canada Olympic Park - all of which can be seen from the condo’s picture windows.

The multi-coloured University City condos at the Brentwood LRT Station.

Mid '90s green glass condos in Calgary West End.

Arriva condo in Victoria Park -  subtle use of colour. 

Beige/Brown City

Bruce McKenzie, VP at NORR architects, who designed the striking AURA I and II across the street from the Beltline’s Barb Scott Park shared with me that when he and his family arrived back in Calgary in 1991 after four years in Bermuda (where architecture celebrates the vitality of the island with vibrant colours), they were astonished at the “brownness” of the city.  He is a big fan of integrating colour into architecture and looking to nature for colour inspiration. At the same time, he cautions the use of bold colours in large scale as they create a “look at me architecture without any meaning or relevance to sense of place.”

New Pixel condo in Kensington.

Paul Battistella, General Manager at Battistella Developments has championed the idea of colour and condo design for several decades now. For him “colour is very personal and is reflective of a person’s personality.”  His design team uses colour both literally (bright yellow balcony highlights in Pixel) and psychologically. “We try and tap into the psychological appeal of colour and how it connects to a person’s self image.” Orange was chosen as the name for their ‘90s East Village condo (when East Village was only a dream) because the colour matched the “eclectic creative” people that live there.  Their new East Village project named “Ink” will have multiple colours on its exterior, reflecting the diversity of psychological profiles of purchasers.

A not-to-be-named architect once confided in me, saying, “many architects do not understand colour. Many are afraid of colour as it adds a complexity to the form, rhythm and light of the architecture which confuses them.”

AURA condo from Barb Scott Park.

Last Word 

Starkman, an architect by training, thinks “the new architecture we are seeing being built in Calgary today is quite refreshing and spectacular in many circumstances…all contributing to a dynamic rebirth of downtown Calgary.”  I think most Calgarians would agree with this statement.

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtown Calgary: Paint it black

Tale of three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Chicago: Architecture River Cruise

Everyday Tourist follower Sonny Tomic sent in this photo of a colourful new boutique office building in downtown Calgary.