Shane Homes Rocky Ridge YMCA Gone Wild?

I promised myself that this summer I would be a tourist in my own city and explore beyond Calgary’s City Centre.  Having heard great things about the new recreation centre in Rocky Ridge and seeing the amazing computer rendering I decide to check it out one day after golf. 

It is literally at the edge of the City.  And it didn't disappoint!

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Futuristic?

It is nestled into the base of a hill, looking like some strange spaceship has landed or a slithering alien creature is about to invade the city.  Its curvaceous shape and rich bronze façade is in sharp contrast to the cheap big box stores facades and the hard edges of the houses, condos and other buildings in the surrounding communities.  

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New Kid On The Block

Move over National Music Centre and the new Central Library there is a new kid in town when it comes to iconic public building architecture.  And it was designed by Calgary’s own GEC architects, not by some international firm.

FYI: GEC also designed the Saddledome one of Calgary other iconic buildings.  

The 284,000 square foot building opened in January 2018 at a cost of $192 million.  The City of Calgary paid for the building and the YMCA is the operator.   Shane Homes paid $3.5 million for naming rights.  It is designed to server the 150,000 people living in the new communities at the northwest edge of the city.  

It is the largest Y in the world, at least for the rest of this year. The   new 333,000 square foot SETON Y is scheduled to open in January 2019. 

 

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  Flock by Team of Haddad/Design is one of two public artworks planned for the site.  

Flock by Team of Haddad/Design is one of two public artworks planned for the site.  

  Calgary's National Music Centre

Calgary's National Music Centre

  Calgary's new central library is the white building on the left. 

Calgary's new central library is the white building on the left. 

Amazing Amenities

  • 25-metre, 8 lane competition pool
  • Spectator viewing area
  • Leisure pool with a wave system and waterslide
  • Hot tubs and steam room
  • 1 multi-purpose ice rink
  • 1 leisure ice surface
  • 3 full gymnasiums with multi-purpose flooring
  • Fitness centre with cardio and strength training equipment
  • Fitness/aerobics studios
  • 160-metre running/walking track
  • Large and small rooms for use as studios, classrooms and meeting spaces
  • 3,000 sq. ft. library with access to print and digital materials, hold pick up, public seating and study space
  • Art making, studio and gallery space
  • 250-seat theatre
  • Childcare/child-minding
  • Food services
  • Physiotherapy/medical clinic
  • Outdoor basketball court
  • Pathways and nature trails/interpretative
  • Outdoor play structures
  • Skateboard park (completion in summer 2018)
  •  
  • Video: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-rocky-ridge-ymca-1.4517102
  The pool gets so busy some days they have to turn people away. 

The pool gets so busy some days they have to turn people away. 

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  This is the library which was unmanned when I was there? Interesting open concept and honour system? 

This is the library which was unmanned when I was there? Interesting open concept and honour system? 

Iconic Entrance

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  I love how these benches echo the colour and shape of the exterior.  

I love how these benches echo the colour and shape of the exterior.  

Last Word 

Calgary’s love their recreational activities. Shane Homes YMCA @ Rocky Ridge sold 9,700 memberships in its first two weeks.   I was there at about 3 pm on a Wednesday in the middle of Stampede and the place was busy.  I can only imagine how busy it will be in the winter, when there are fewer outdoor options.

This new YCWA is one of four new recreation centers built by the City of Calgary over the past few years, the others being Great Plans (designed by the Calgary’s MTA architecture and Toronto's MJMA), Remington YMCA @ Quarry Park (also designed by GEC) and the futuristic looking SETON YMCA (designed by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage architecture).  

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The total cost of all four recreation centres totalled $480 million. And, yes each came with a public art project, which could be the subject of a future blog.

While Calgarians living in the City Centre are getting a signature library and museum, the suburbs are getting signature recreation centres. All with iconic architecture, no cookie cutter boxes anymore. 

At $675 per square foot, some say it is easy to create an iconic building, the challenge should be to create great architecture with a more modest building. This too could be the subject of a future blog. Stay tuned!

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Urban Design: Does Anybody Really Care?

Calgary's Audacious New Central Library

National Music Museum: The Red Flag

"Trio" & "Fish" / A Missed Opportunity?

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) recently announced “Trio” and “Fish,” by German artist Christian Moeller as the newest additions to its growing public art collection. Both were met with unanimous approval by the 150 or so Calgarians at the unveiling held at the Dutton Theatre (soon be the old Calgary Central Library) and I saw only positive comments on Twitter. In chatting subsequently with several Calgarians everyone seems to like “Trio” and “Fish.”  

  Moeller's computer rendering of what the Trio creatures will look like. 

Moeller's computer rendering of what the Trio creatures will look like. 

Once a curator, always a curator!

Having spent 10 years the Executive Director/Curator of the Muttart Public Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) in another life, I look at art projects with perhaps a different eye than most.

I also liked the pieces at first glance, but as Moeller was presenting the background on his two pieces of art, I began to think they are cute more than clever, more playful than provocative.  

I started to ask myself some questions.

  • Doesn’t Calgary already have enough cute, playful public art?
  • Do we need more thought-provoking pieces? 
  • Do we need more interactive and engaging public art?
  Does Calgary have too much cute public art? Boney is a nine-foot high purple pooch.  This whimsical piece of art located in SETON, was designed by Inges Idee and has become a welcomed addition to SETON's urban streetscape.  Inge Idee also create the Blue Ring (aka Travelling Light) lamppost that is not well liked. You win some, you lose some?

Does Calgary have too much cute public art? Boney is a nine-foot high purple pooch.  This whimsical piece of art located in SETON, was designed by Inges Idee and has become a welcomed addition to SETON's urban streetscape.  Inge Idee also create the Blue Ring (aka Travelling Light) lamppost that is not well liked. You win some, you lose some?

Best Library In The World?

Then Bill Ptacek, Calgary Public Library’s CEO gave a passionate speech saying his vision is to “create the greatest public library in the world” and how public art is critical to that vision. He was emphatic the new library will have a strong indigenous presence as part of its placemaking.  (Councillor Druh Farrell, in her welcoming comments also made a point of referencing the role of the indigenous people in Calgary’s history.)

The light bulb went on! 

Why instead of an international competition for a public artwork, didn’t CMLC commission one or more indigenous artists to create art for the new library?

I am not aware of any major public artwork in Calgary by an indigenous artist.  A missed opportunity?

In chatting with a few visual art professionals, they wondered why Moeller was commissioned to create art for both the outdoor and indoor sites.  CMCL could have easily conducted an international competition for one of the sites and conducted an invitation competition to Canadian artists with an indigenous background for the other. 

But I digress.

  Brian Jungen is an Canadian artist with an indigenous heritage who exhibits internationally. This piece is from an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. His work is very thought provoking and visually stunning.

Brian Jungen is an Canadian artist with an indigenous heritage who exhibits internationally. This piece is from an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. His work is very thought provoking and visually stunning.

CMLC / Library Update

After posting this, CMLC contacted me to say that Brian Jungen was actually one of the five finalists for the new Central Library commission. Calgary Public Library also commented on Twitter that they have three artists in residences (one dedicated to indigenous art) and Indigenous placemaking within the new library. 

Just by chance I also visited the new Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.  I was very impressed by its design and the funky studying and learning spaces provided.  But what really caught my attention was that some of the signage was in English and Blackfoot.  I am wondering if Calgary Public Library is thinking that they might do that also.  

  Just one of many examples of the use of Blackfoot words at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.

Just one of many examples of the use of Blackfoot words at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mount Royal University.

 

What is "Trio?"

Moeller told the audience “Trio” is three, 10-meter tall cartoonish, alien-like characters inspired by the plastic Dunking Birds (aka Drinking Bird) that bob up and down to mimic the motion of a bird drinking. FYI: The heads and necks of Trio will oscillate back and forth by 25 degrees (20 degrees forward and 5 degrees back). Two of the sculptures will be located at the new Central Library’s west entrance and the other at the east entrance.

CMLC’s news release describes “Trio” as “a band of sisters engaged in an endless back and forth motion. Reminiscent of a cross between a hockey player and a ‘drinking bird,’ they perform a visual dialogue or choreography, rocking their tall upper bodies like an upside-down pendulum swinging through the open sky.”

 The science behind the drinking bird dates back to Germany in the 1760s. More info:    Drinking Bird

The science behind the drinking bird dates back to Germany in the 1760s. More info: Drinking Bird

  Street view of Trio (duo) at the west entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

Street view of Trio (duo) at the west entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

  Street view of Trio (solo) at the east entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

Street view of Trio (solo) at the east entrance to the new Central Library. (Photo credit: CMLC)

What is “Fish?”

Moeller’s second commissioned a huge artwork (45 ft. by 10 ft.) is made up of approximately 10,000 “books.” Well they are not actual books, as they don’t have titles, authors or writing in them.  The artist had the blank looks custom manufactured in 12 different coloured spines. Each quasi-book is strategically placed to create a pixelated close-up of the head of a huge reddish-orange fish staring back at you.   

I wonder if this work is a comment on the meaninglessness of books in our digital world and the changing role of libraries.  I also wondered if the artist considered adding an interactive element – for example, allowing people to take out the books, write in them and return them.

  The Fish, located on the far wall in the cafe area of the Calgary's new Central Library.

The Fish, located on the far wall in the cafe area of the Calgary's new Central Library.

The Selection Process

CMLC went to great effort to explain the comprehensive process involved in selecting Moeller for this commission – one that began with a “Request for Qualifications” from local, national and international artists, back in 2014.  This created a list of 239 artists, which was narrowed to 35 by a Volunteer Art Committee comprising of representatives from the community-at-large, ACAD, Glenbow, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Arts Development and an artist. 

Five artists were then chosen by the Committee to meet with the New Calgary Library (NCL) project team; Library staff and a local historian so they could better understand the NCL vision and Calgary’s sense of place. The five artists then developed their concepts and presented to the Committee. Moeller was ultimately chosen for the $2 million public art commission, a sum which is inclusive of all fees, expenses, fabrication, delivery and installation costs. 

CMLC is an arms length organization of the City and as such, is not bound by the City of Calgary’s Public Art Policy. However, they have always conducted a very professional and fair selection process for their public art, with the result being artworks enjoyed by the majority of Calgarians.

Cute? Clever? Captivating?

Susan Veres, senior vice president of strategy & business development describes the new public art as “a colourful, captivating concept that brings a playfulness to the library experience – a delightful sense of arrival and wonder for all visitors to enjoy, especially children.”

Moeller’s playful pieces will compliment CMLC’s existing permanent public art in East Village, which are also colourful and playful.

  • Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,” a colourful and delightful mosaic of 956,321 (no I didn’t count them) colourful tiny glass tiles (made in Germany) reflecting Calgary’s history. 
  • Julian Opie’s “Promenade,” which features several cartoon figures on an LED screen representing everyday Calgarians, as they stroll in endless circles around what looks like a mini downtown office tower. Ironically the piece is more accessible to those driving over the 5th Avenue flyover than to pedestrians on the street.
  • Michel de Broin’s “Bloom” which is made up of retro streetlights arranged to look like a giant flower located in St. Patrick’s Island on the banks of the Bow River.
  Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,”in East Village.

Ron Moppett’s “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER,”in East Village.

As well, “Trio” and “Fish” will also fit nicely with Calgary’s other fun, funky and quirky downtown public art – Plensa’s “Wonderland,” a big white wire mesh head, the tall skinny naked dancing figures titled “Brotherhood of Man” by Mario Armengol, Sorel Etrog’s aliens, Sadko and Kabuki, as well as the folk art cows in the Centennial Parkade’s +15 Udderly Art Pasture.

  Sadko and Kabuki on the street on the southwest corner of Bow Valley Square. 

Sadko and Kabuki on the street on the southwest corner of Bow Valley Square. 

Backstory

This is not the first time Moeller has been short-listed for a public art commission in Calgary.  Back in 2014, I was a juror for a public art piece to be commission for the Crowfoot LRT Station. One of the submissions was Moeller’s.  Ironically, his proposal was my choice for the site, but all the other jurors voted for Bill Pechet’s tree-like lampposts with yellow warning lights “leaves.” Not a bad choice, I just liked Moeller’s better.

I was surprised to see a version of Moeller’s Calgary’s proposal installed in the middle of a traffic circle in downtown Nashville this past October. I loved the piece, but the location wasn’t appropriate - the public couldn’t get up close to the 35 cedar poles, each 85 feet tall, that looks like a game of pick-up sticks with references to First Nation tent poles.  What I liked about Moeller “Stix” piece was I imagined kids at the LRT Station running around the poles playing tag and hide-and-seek. This could not happen at the Nashville traffic circle!

  Moeller's "Stix" installation in Nashville. Public art needs to be in public spaces!

Moeller's "Stix" installation in Nashville. Public art needs to be in public spaces!

 "Roger That" artwork at Crowfoot LRT Station by Bill Pichet. 

"Roger That" artwork at Crowfoot LRT Station by Bill Pichet. 

Chicago Envy

I am still envious of Chicago’s Millennium Park and its two iconic public artworks – Cloud Gate (by Anish Kapoor ) and Crown Fountain (by Jaume Plensa).  Both attract thousands of people daily to come, stay and interact with them. They are destinations in themselves, not just something to glance at and move on. 

However with a price tag of $23 million for Cloud Gate and $17 million for Crown Fountain, I expect I won’t see a work of art on this scale and scope in Calgary in my lifetime.  But we do have two special pedestrian bridges with similar price tags - the Peace Bridge at Prince’s Island and George King Bridge at St. Patricks’ Island.

Link: Putting the PUBLIC back into PUBLICart!

  Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park attracts thousands of people of all ages to sit, play and splash. 

Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park attracts thousands of people of all ages to sit, play and splash. 

  George King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island and Memorial Drive is like a work of art.

George King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island and Memorial Drive is like a work of art.

Last Word

I expect Moeller’s “Trio” and “Fish” will be loved by Calgarians.  While some will complain about the $2 million budget and some will complain “why wasn’t a Calgary or Canadian artist selected?” I think that will always happen.  You can’t make everyone happy and than includes me!

However, I do think we missed an opportunity to do something special by not working with Canada’s indigenous visual arts community to create a monumental work of art. 

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