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

Calgary’s City Centre: One Of North America’s Best?

Ever since the Calgary Herald published my column “Does Calgary Have The World’s Most Walkable City Centre?” in March, I have been criticized by some urbanists for being a “Calgary cheerleader” who sees my city with rose-coloured glasses. 

Link: Does Calgary have the most walkable City Centre in the world?

Brent Toderian, a former City of Calgary Planner for our City Centre, then Director of Planning for Vancouver and now an international planning consultant even asked his 49,000 Twitter followers “What in their opinion is the most walkable City Centre in the world?” As one would expect cities like Paris, Barcelona and Melbourne topped the list and Calgary wasn’t included. No surprise Calgary flies under the radar for national and international urbanists.

Rainbow underpass pathway

Rainbow underpass pathway

The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

Calgary’s City Centre is very cool

Over the past few months I have posted a number of blogs on my everydaytourist.ca website documenting why Calgary’s major City Centre communities, i.e. Beltline, Bridgeland, Downtown, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission, are all very cool places to live, play and visit. 

In each blog, I documented how over the past decade or two, our City Center with the addition of dozens of new condo complexes and thousands of new infill homes, improved public spaces, new festivals, as well as new shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs has evolved to be on par or better than what other North American cities.  These blogs were also dismissed by some national and international urbanists as simply “cheerleading.”

Here is why I think “Calgary’s City Centre is one of the best in North America” and perhaps the BEST for any city with a population under two million people.  The rationale is not based on stats and figures, but on decades of personal observation of various key elements of urban vitality in dozens of cities in North America and Europe.

Gotta love this life-size Victor Cicansky chair at the Glenbow Museum. I have a much smaller version with a potato! 

Gotta love this life-size Victor Cicansky chair at the Glenbow Museum. I have a much smaller version with a potato! 

Shopping 

Very few City Centers in North America under two million people still have major department stores and shopping centres. Calgary boasts three department stores – Hudson’s Bay, Holts and Simons and The Core, Bankers’ Hall and Scotia Center combine to create one of the largest indoor shopping malls of any City Centre in North America. 

Our City Centre is also blessed with six major pedestrian streets (Main Streets) – Stephen Avenue, 4th St SW, 10th St NW, Kensington Road, 9th Ave SE and 17th Ave SW, as well as, four secondary ones – First St SW, 11th St SW, 11th Ave SW (Design District) and 1st Ave NE (Bridgeland).  Most City Centres are lucky to have two or three.

It also has four major grocery stores – Safeway (Kensington, Connaught and Mission), as well as Midtown Co-op.  In addition, Sunterra (Victoria Park), Community Natural Foods (Beltline), Bite (Inglewood), Sunnyside Organic Market and Bridgeland Market, Luke’s Drug Mart and Blush Lane Organic Market (both in Bridgeland) serve as niche grocers. And, while Calgary doesn’t have a year-round central market, we do have weekly summer markets in Hillhurst and Bridgeland. 

The Core shopping centre's skylight is impressive as are the shops, if only they could get the public garden to stop leaking.  

The Core shopping centre's skylight is impressive as are the shops, if only they could get the public garden to stop leaking.  

Calgary's City Centre has lots of pedestrian oriented streets. 

Calgary's City Centre has lots of pedestrian oriented streets. 

17th Ave aka Red Mile is a mix of retail, restaurant and residential buildings of all sizes and shapes. 

17th Ave aka Red Mile is a mix of retail, restaurant and residential buildings of all sizes and shapes. 

It also has great places to browse. 

It also has great places to browse. 

Calgary's City Centre as several large grocery stores, as well as several boutique ones. 

Calgary's City Centre as several large grocery stores, as well as several boutique ones. 

Keynote combines a market, cafe, liquor store with an office tower and two residential towers.

Keynote combines a market, cafe, liquor store with an office tower and two residential towers.

Coffee Culture

Calgary has had a strong independent coffee culture long before Starbucks was even thought of.  Kensington has been home to two independent coffee houses - Higher Ground and the Roasterie since the ‘80s.  Café Beano has been a hipster hangout since before the term hipster was popularized in the 21st century.  Mission’s Purple Perk has also been around for decades.

Recently, a plethora of Calgary-based coffee houses have invaded the City Centre – Alforno, Analog, Gravity, Monogram, Phil & Sebastian, Rosso and Vendome to name a few.  Indeed, you are never far from a café in Calgary’s City Centre.

There are literally new coffee shops popping up ever month.  This one is in the a-mazing 20 km indoor +15 pedestrian system. 

There are literally new coffee shops popping up ever month.  This one is in the a-mazing 20 km indoor +15 pedestrian system. 

Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Restaurants

Like most North American cities, the restaurant scene has exploded in Calgary’s City Centre over the past 20+ years.  EnRoute Magazine’s list of top new Canadian restaurants list has routinely included one or more Calgary City Centre restaurants including Bar Von Der Fels (2017), while Pigeon Hole was ranked their “The Best New Restaurant” in Canada (2015).

John Gilchrist, Calgary Herald food and restaurant writer and author of “My Favourite Restaurants Calgary and Banff,” had 49 favourite restaurants in downtown alone and over 150 in the City Center in his last book.  He points out Calgary’s City Centre offers both upscale dining -Teatro, Blink and Charcut – as well as many ethnic dining spots – Falafel King, Pure and Jonas. Gilchrist also notes Calgary’s Chinatown is small, but has some great dim sum spots, and Stephen Avenue has an abundance of pubs and restaurant patios. 

It doesn't get much better than al fresco dining on Stephen Avenue under the Bay's colonnade. 

It doesn't get much better than al fresco dining on Stephen Avenue under the Bay's colonnade. 

If you are into funky places Re:Grub where you can dine in a barrel...how appropriate is that. 

If you are into funky places Re:Grub where you can dine in a barrel...how appropriate is that. 

Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Art & Architecture

Over the past two decades, Calgary has upped its game when it comes to urban design. Calgary’s City Centre boasts a major office tower by Norman Foster (The Bow), a mixed office/residential tower by Bjarke Ingles (Telus Sky), a bridge by Santiago Calatrava that is unlike any other he has designed (Peace Bridge) and an iconic new Central Library by Sinohetta. There is also Pickard Chilton’s two tower Eighth Avenue Place and London’s Arney Fender Katsalidis Brookfield Place office tower, both featuring cathedral-like public lobbies. 

BIG's Telus Sky but it is quickly becoming known as The Twist. Can't wait to see Douglas Coupland's light show on the side of the building.  

BIG's Telus Sky but it is quickly becoming known as The Twist. Can't wait to see Douglas Coupland's light show on the side of the building. 

Stephen Avenue an eclectic mix of shops, office towers, pubic art and architecture (both old and new).

Stephen Avenue an eclectic mix of shops, office towers, pubic art and architecture (both old and new).

Calgary also has an early SOM architects residential tower (Eau Claire 500 built in 1979) and a new SOM office tower (707 Fifth Street, built in 2017). SOM, one of the largest and most influential architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world designed the iconic Birj in Dubai, the tallest building in the world.

When it comes to public art, Calgary boasts 100+ artworks in its City Centre including “Wonderland” by internationally acclaimed artist Jaume Plensa. Some of Calgary’s best public art is by local artists like Ron Moppett’s huge mosaic “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER” made up of 956,321 tiny glass tiles and Joe Fafard’s stampeding horses titled “Do Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do.”  

New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

Giving Wings to the Dream, Doug Driediger, east wall of old CUPS building on 100 block of 7th Ave SE. This mural has held up well given it is 20+ years old.  Again I like the fact the piece relates to the site, which was home to Calgary Urban Projects Society (helping people in need) when it was first commissioned. I think it talks nicely about Calgary as a caring city. 

Giving Wings to the Dream, Doug Driediger, east wall of old CUPS building on 100 block of 7th Ave SE. This mural has held up well given it is 20+ years old.  Again I like the fact the piece relates to the site, which was home to Calgary Urban Projects Society (helping people in need) when it was first commissioned. I think it talks nicely about Calgary as a caring city. 

Calgary also has a budding street art culture. This piece "Eyes on the Street" was done by a teenager who lives in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. 

Calgary also has a budding street art culture. This piece "Eyes on the Street" was done by a teenager who lives in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. 

Calgary’s City Center is also home to many historical buildings including dozens of early 20th Century sandstone buildings. Stephen Avenue is a designated National Historic Site with its collection of early 20th century buildings.  Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Avenue SE - Calgary’s original main street - also has an important collection of early 20th century brick buildings. Other important historical sites include the Lougheed House with the Beaulieu Garden, Reader Rock Gardens and Senator Burns Rock Gardens.

When it comes to the arts, Arts Commons is one of the larger performing arts centres in North America (3,200 seats in 5 performance spaces), Glenbow is one of Canada’s largest museums and Lunchbox Theatre is longest running noon-hour theatre in North America.  There is also Theatre Junction Grand and Decidedly Jazz dance studio offering diverse programming while two arthouse cinemas – The Globe and Plaza offer alternative and main stream films. Yes, I know we don’t have a major contemporary art gallery -  you can’t have everything!

The Glenbow has developed a very insightful curatorial program linking past and present. 

The Glenbow has developed a very insightful curatorial program linking past and present. 

Public Spaces

Calgary’s City Centre boast an impressive best collection of parks - from the 100+ year old Memorial Park to the new St. Patrick’s Island park complete with pebble beach. Few City Centres can boast a park with an active cricket pitch (Riley Park) or one with a family toboggan hill (Murdoch Park).  Prince’s Island has been called one of the best music festival sites by many Calgary International Folk Festival performers.  

And then there is Stampede Park. It hosts not only “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” but also is home to a major arena (hockey, lacrosse, ice shows and concerts), a major trade and convention facility as well as numerous other buildings that host hundreds of events year-round.

When it comes to pathways, Calgary’s Bow River promenade from 14th Street Bridge to Fort Calgary is truly in a class of its own.  The enhancement of the West Eau Claire section of the promenade this year will make it truly one of the great urban strolls in North America. 

The +15 system with its 60+ bridges connecting 100+ buildings helps make our City Centre one of the most walkable in the world.  Not only does it make walking more attractive in poor weather, but it also means you can walk without worrying about crazy drivers and cyclists.

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Calgary's Olympic Plaza is a colourful oasis in the summer.  

Calgary's Olympic Plaza is a colourful oasis in the summer.  

Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

containR Park in Hillhurst Sunnyside is home to numerous planned and unplanned events. 

containR Park in Hillhurst Sunnyside is home to numerous planned and unplanned events. 

Fitness/Recreational Opportunities

The Repsol Sports Centre, opened in 1983, is one of the busiest recreation centers in North America today. It is interesting to note its pure white translucent Teflon roof – shaped like a turtle - predates the current obsession for creating strange-shaped public buildings by 20 years. 

Shaw Millennium Skateboard Park is not only one of the largest free public skate parks in the world, but also offers beach volleyball and basketball courts.  Haultain Park has a tennis courts, a playing field and popular children’s playground. 

The Bow River pathway system is a very popular running route morning, noon and night, evenings and weekends year round. 

The City Centre is also home to dozens of private fitness centers and yoga studios including the busy Eau Claire Y.

Calgarians are good at improvising when it comes to recreational infrastructure. 

Calgarians are good at improvising when it comes to recreational infrastructure. 

Family fun in downtown.

Family fun in downtown.

Pubs & Clubs 

Calgary, has a budding music scene with Mikey’s, Ironwood, Palomino and Blues Can offering live music seven days a week.  The new National Music Centre with the King Eddy enhances Calgary claim to be North America’s next music city.

Every Calgary City Centre community has its signature pub, from James Joyce on Stephen Avenue to Kensington Pub in Kensington, as well as the Ship & Anchor to Trolley Five on 17th Ave SW. 

The Ironwood Stage & Grill is just one of several music venues in the City Centre. 

The Ironwood Stage & Grill is just one of several music venues in the City Centre. 

There is a sense of authenticity at the Blues Can in Inglewood.

There is a sense of authenticity at the Blues Can in Inglewood.

17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

Festivals

Another defining element of a good City Centre is its signature festivals. Here is a list of Calgary’s major festivals that take place in our City Centre with a national or international component.

  • High Performance Rodeo (January)
  • Big Taste (March)
  • Calgary Expo (April)
  • Calgary International Children’s Festival (May)
  • Lilac Festival (May/June)
  • SLED Island (June)
  • Calgary Stampede (July)
  • Calgary International Folk Festival (July)
  • Beakerhead (September)
  • Calgary International Film Festival (September)
  • Wordfest (October)
The Calgary Stampede is the mother of all Calgary festivals. It is more than just a rodeo, it is an agricultural fair, chuckwagon races, a midway, a music festival, a grandstand show and mega fireworks show. 

The Calgary Stampede is the mother of all Calgary festivals. It is more than just a rodeo, it is an agricultural fair, chuckwagon races, a midway, a music festival, a grandstand show and mega fireworks show. 

Prince's Island and the Calgary International Folk Festival is a magical experience.

Prince's Island and the Calgary International Folk Festival is a magical experience.

Calgary hosts one of the biggest and best cosplay festivals in Canada.

Calgary hosts one of the biggest and best cosplay festivals in Canada.

FFQ Elements

Great City Centers have fun, funky and quirky things to see and do.  Calgary’s offers Friday Night Drumming Circles in Inglewood, to Sunday afternoon cricket matches in Riley Park, to three Saturday afternoon blues jams Calgary’s City Centre. Family fun can be had at Canada’s second largest Zoo on an island in the middle of the Bow River and next door is the quirky looking TELUS Spark science center.  Wander the lobbies of downtown’s office buildings and you will find a real bush plane hanging from the ceiling of an office building (Suncor Centre), or a bison skeleton in the Sun Life Plaza or lobby full of masterpieces of Canadian Art by the likes of Shadbolt and Riopelle (Eighth Avenue Place).  Need I go on?

Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Last Word

I am not alone in thinking Calgary has a great City Centre.  In 2014 the Canadian Institute of Planners chose Inglewood as “Canada’s Best Neighbourhood,” with Kensington being one of the runner-ups.  Both have gotten better since then with exciting new condo projects.

While I recognize our City Centre isn’t perfect, I stand by my observation that it is one of the best in North America. In fact, based on the City of Calgary community profiles, over 75,000 Calgarians (6% of overall city population) live in our City Centre and 5,600 (7.5%) are children under the age of 14 (based on 2014 Census). These are healthy numbers on a per capita basis and are on par with Vancouver, considered by many urbanists to be one of the world’s best places for urban living.

Every time I visit another North American city, I develop a better appreciation for Calgary’s City Centre as a clean, safe and interesting place to live. While it is hard for Calgary to compete with larger and older cities like Montreal, Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, I would put Calgary’s City Centre communities up against those of Vancouver, Portland, Austin, Nashville or Denver anytime. 

Oh, and if you still want to call me a “Calgary cheerleader,” I am OK with that.

If you want to learn more about Calgary City Centre checkout these links:

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

Mission is marvellous

Beltline: Calgary's Hipster/Nester Community

Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

Kensington: Calgary's Left Bank is cool!

Downtown Living is cooler than you think!

Saskatoon Stories: Picasso Birdhouses & Gory Puppets 

Everywhere we go, it’s “eyes wide open!”  We are always on the lookout for something different, something off-the-beaten path, something you won’t find (at least not easily) online. Saskatoon didn’t disappoint. 

You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise.  

The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise. 

Picasso Birdhouses

On our first evening, we were invited to a friends’ house for dinner where we enjoyed a great evening, highlighted by their quirky art collection and great backyard.  Yes, the one with the amazing pavilion! But what impressed us most were the Picasso-inspired birdhouses.  We had to have one. Well, maybe two.

Turns out we could – and did. And so can you!

They are made by John Remai (if the surname sounds familiar, it could be because his brother’s wife donated big bucks for Saskatoon’s controversial new Remai Art Museum, but that is another story) and he makes them in his parking garage studio in the downtown Saskatoon riverside residential tower where he lives.  

John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

Once a builder always a builder?

Remai, now in his ‘80s, was one Saskatoon’s biggest developers before retiring a few years ago. As a philanthropist, Remai has been a big supporter of various Saskatoon charities, as well as the local Children’s Hospital.  However, he wanted to not only make personal donations but help encourage others to also give back to their community.  As a result, he decided in retirement to design and build birdhouses to sell to the public with all proceeds going to the Saskatoon’s Children’s Hospital.  Who could resist buying one or perhaps four (our host now has four) birdhouses, three at home and one at work?   

The public can buy a Remai birdhouse Monday through Thursday in the basement of the office building at the corner of Spadina and 20thStreet.  Depending on design, the birdhouses sell for $75 to $100, which is great value given the craftsmanship and complexity of designs.  

Given we were in town on a weekend, we were fortunate our host knew Remai and was able to arrange a downtown studio visit to see the birdhouses actually being built and meet Mr. Remai, a very cordial host and unassuming gentleman.

Indeed, the Remai’s huge workshop (probably the size of quadruple car garage) is located in the underground parkade of a residential tower.  It is neatly divided up into three spaces, one with all the While we were there, two volunteers from the building were painting pieces of his latest design, a “parrot birdhouse” in preparation for assembly.

A lovely sense of order and calmness filled this windowless, grotto-like studio.  Here are some photos, which I hope will convey the scale of the operations and the diversity of the birdhouses being produced.  

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

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Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

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The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

For more information: JR's Designer Birdhouses 

U of S: Timeless

The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

Whenever we are in a new city we make a point of exploring the postsecondary campuses.  They are often full of interesting, under-the-radar places.

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is no exception as it is home to an Antiquities Museum, a Natural History Museum and three art galleries.  

The campus is an architectural gem as the facades of almost all of the buildings have been built with sandstone or Tyndall stone facades giving it a timeless quality I have not experienced anywhere else. 

From a design perspective, it may well be the best campus in Canada! 

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

A-Mazing Campus

The U of S, like most campuses, is a maze of seemingly randomly placed buildings.  Note: I often wonder why postsecondary campuses never used the grid street system, which is so much easier to navigate. The grid street design has been around since before Christ for heaven’s sake, you’d think one or more universities would have used it. However, the good thing about the maze system is you often get lost and in doing so, you see things you might not have if you knew where you were going.  For us, getting lost lead to finding artisans making puppets for this summer’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (River). 

The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

Gory Puppets 

While trying to find our bearings, we noticed some quirky-looking objects in the basement windows of a building we had no intention of going into. However, they became the impetus for us to head in. Once inside, we immediately peeked into a large studio with three people working away making puppets. We were invited in come in dozens of puppets at various stages of completion.  Turns out they were making all of the 44 puppets for this summer’s production of TITUS A. Puppet Revenge, July 12 to August 19th.

Backstory: TITUS A. Puppet Revenge will tell the story of the most violent and bloody tragedy ever performed at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival.  Dismemberment, disembowelment and cannibalism will all play out with an amazing set of carefully crafted rod puppets in a small tent tucked into a corner of the site.  It is billed as a delightfully disturbing romp for mature audiences. Due to the detailed nature of puppets, I recommend attendees bring opera glasses or binoculars. 

Turns out we were welcomed by Kristi Friday of Stumped Productions who along with some hired hands were building all of the puppets. After looking around and chatting a bit, she asked if we wanted to come with her to the basement where they had set up a small rehearsal stage to test out the puppets and we could see the finished puppets.  We said “Hell Yes!” It was fun to get a behind the scene tour and an up close and personal look at the puppets.  

Puppets in various stages of completion.  

Puppets in various stages of completion. 

An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

Taking a break....

Taking a break....

Hanging out....

Hanging out....

The rehearsal stage...

The rehearsal stage...

Secret UofS Museum

Next door to the rehearsal stage, was the basement room that attracted us to go inside the building in the first place. Here we were rewarded with the opportunity to see some of the fun stage costumes other production from bubble wrap dresses to vintage hat boxes.

It was like finding a buried treasure or an unknown museum. 

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Lessons Learned

#1 Always travel with your eyes and mind wide open.  

#2 Always leave extra time to explore unexpected opportunities. 

#3 Don't be shy!

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

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Footnotes: University of Arizona 

University of New Mexico: A-Mazing 

Staircases As Art

I will let the staircases speak for themselves.....

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Post Office, Mexico City

Post Office, Mexico City

Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

Colourful Staircases

Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

The Twist, Palm Springs, California

The Twist, Palm Springs, California

Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

Central Library, Seattle, Washington

Central Library, Seattle, Washington

Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

Lions Park Station, Calgary

Lions Park Station, Calgary

Zion Park, Utah

Zion Park, Utah

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Emergency Staircases

Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, California

Backstairs, Montreal 

Backstairs, Montreal 

Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

Black & White 

Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexico City

Plateau, Montreal, 

Plateau, Montreal, 

West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

A Place To Sit

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Last Word

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay. If you have a favourite staircases photo you'd like to share send it to me at rwhiteyyc@gmail.com and I will add it to the blog. Thanks for reading! 

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

The curse of minimalism

Chicago: Gold Coast Staircases

Calgary: Best Places To Sit

 

Kensington: Calgary's "Left Bank" is trés cool.

When it comes to cool communities in North America, Calgary’s Kensington Village has to be near the top.  It truly is a village in the middle of the city with its two main streets 10th St NW and Kensington Road NW (most communities are lucky to have one) surrounded, until recently, by mostly single-family homes in the historic communities of Hillhurst and Sunnyside.

10th Street NW has a great mix of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.  It even has two grocery stores. 

10th Street NW has a great mix of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.  It even has two grocery stores. 

Kensington Road also has a great mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, patios and pubs.

Kensington Road also has a great mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, patios and pubs.

Sunnyside's residential streets still have the look of   an early 20th century prairie town. 

Sunnyside's residential streets still have the look of an early 20th century prairie town. 

Mega Makeover

Today, Kensington’s mega-makeover means it is evolving from a quaint, early 20th century village to a bustling 21st century urban village with the addition of several low and mid-rise condos, as well as numerous infill houses. 

Kensington is where professionals, empty nesters and students (ACAD, SAIT and University of Calgary) mingle.  From coffee to curling, from cricket to cupcakes, from flea market to farmers’ market, Kensington is trés cool.  

It is Calgary’s Left Bank!

(FYI: The term “left bank” references Paris’ bohemian district on the left side of the Seine River as it flows through that city).

Two new condo developments by Battisella Developments have dramatically changed the look of 10th St. NW.

Two new condo developments by Battisella Developments have dramatically changed the look of 10th St. NW.

Small, older homes are being replaced by mid-rise condos like Ezra on Riley Park, along all major corridors in Kensington.

Small, older homes are being replaced by mid-rise condos like Ezra on Riley Park, along all major corridors in Kensington.

Hundreds of new infill homes are attracting families to live Kensington. 

Hundreds of new infill homes are attracting families to live Kensington. 

Festivals/Events

Each year, volunteers transform an unused grassy knoll next to Memorial Drive just west of the Centre Street Bridge into a field of crosses to celebrate Remembrance Day.  Even when driving by the Field of Crosses is truly a sobering and thought-provoking experience.

Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre is home to numerous events year-round from rummage sales to a long-standing Sunday Flea Market. 

Recently, it hosted Calgary’s Seedy Saturday event - a huge hit with gardeners across the city.   It is also home to a weekly farmers’ market in the summer.

Each year, Kensington hosts the Field of Crosses.

Each year, Kensington hosts the Field of Crosses.

The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association building is used for a variety of events year round including the popular Sunday Flea Market . 

The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association building is used for a variety of events year round including the popular Sunday Flea Market

Shops

One of the most attractive things about Kensington is its abundance of independent boutique shops like Livingston Cavill Extraordinary Toys.

Owned and operated by two experienced museum professionals, it is part toy museum / part toy store. Definitely one-of-a-kind.

Livingston Cavill Toys is packed with replica vintage toys and games, as well as modern ones. It is definite "must see, must buy" place.

Livingston Cavill Toys is packed with replica vintage toys and games, as well as modern ones. It is definite "must see, must buy" place.

As is Hillhurst Hardware whose motto is “building Calgary since 1945.” This tiny hardware store at 134 - 10th St NW packs a lot of tools and hardware into a tiny space.  Speaking of tiny spaces, Sunnyside Art Supplies next door stocks everything needed to become the next Picasso or Rembrandt.  Kensington is also home to Pages Books on Kensington, Calgary’s best independent bookstore. 

Sunnyside Art Supply is a quaint shop full of art supplies for budding and established artists. It has been serving Calgary's art community for over 50 years.

Sunnyside Art Supply is a quaint shop full of art supplies for budding and established artists. It has been serving Calgary's art community for over 50 years.

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Hillhurst Hardware is packed with all the toys a serious handyman might need.  

Hillhurst Hardware is packed with all the toys a serious handyman might need.  

Kensington’s hippy past lives on at the corner of Kensington Road and 14th St SW where you will find Birkenstock Sandals and Futons for Less shops, located in two old houses.

Today, Kensington is home to two bike shops - Ridley’s Cycle and Lifesport (located in an old church) – keeping the bikesters happy.

Framed on Fifth is a hidden gem with exhibitions showcasing local artists, as well as a profession frame shop all packed into a tiny house. Yes, it is on 5th Ave NW (between 11A and 12th Streets NW).  Next door is Pushing Petals, a funky neighbourhood florist. Sit on the bench outside these two shops and enjoy free Wi-Fi.

The Lifesport located in a 100+ year old church is not only a great bike shop, but it also carries disc golf and cross-country ski equipment.

The Lifesport located in a 100+ year old church is not only a great bike shop, but it also carries disc golf and cross-country ski equipment.

Healthy urban villages always have a few older houses that have been converted to retail and restaurants.

Healthy urban villages always have a few older houses that have been converted to retail and restaurants.

I love the shop windows along Kensington Road and 10th St NW.  How cool is this window?

I love the shop windows along Kensington Road and 10th St NW.  How cool is this window?

Coffeehouses

Kensington had a vibrant coffee culture long before the Starbucks invasion in the 90s.  Higher Ground have been around forever as has The Roasterie (which, as you might imagine, still roasts its own beans on site.)

There are several new kids on the block with Vendome perhaps providing the coolest experience given its turn-of-the-century building in the middle of quaint Sunnyside and across the street from Container Park.

The Roasterie's walls are full of fun coffee artifacts.  You can often smell the Roasterie before you see it.

The Roasterie's walls are full of fun coffee artifacts.  You can often smell the Roasterie before you see it.

Higher Ground is popular with the artsy crowd is directly across the street from The Plaza theatre. 

Higher Ground is popular with the artsy crowd is directly across the street from The Plaza theatre. 

Vendome offers a bit of the Parisan coffee house/bakery experience.

Vendome offers a bit of the Parisan coffee house/bakery experience.

Restaurants

Kensington is blessed with a plethora of restaurants - from the iconic Chicken on the Way to the newcomers like Cotto Italian Comfort Food and Oxbow in the uber cool Kensington Riverside Inn.  For Sunday brunch Vero Bistro Moderne is very popular and for Alberta beef, you can’t beat Modern Steak.

Kensington has one of Calgary’s signature pizza parlours too – Pulcinella’s. A member of the exclusive Associazione Pizzaioli Napolitani, it is almost like having the Pope bless your pizza!

Kennsington Inn home to the Oxbow restaurant is just across the street from the Bow River and a block from the intersection of Kensington Road and 10th St. SW. It is a popular tourist spot, sometimes even celebrities when they are in town.

Kennsington Inn home to the Oxbow restaurant is just across the street from the Bow River and a block from the intersection of Kensington Road and 10th St. SW. It is a popular tourist spot, sometimes even celebrities when they are in town.

You can't miss Chicken on the Way!

You can't miss Chicken on the Way!

Pulcinella 's  custom pizza oven is designed especially for their Napolitana pizza.

Pulcinella's custom pizza oven is designed especially for their Napolitana pizza.

How cool is   Flipp'n Burgers   back alley picnic area? 

How cool is Flipp'n Burgers back alley picnic area? 

Sunnyside Natural Market   and   Sidewalk Citizen Bakery   share space in a very synergistic manner. 

Sunnyside Natural Market and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery share space in a very synergistic manner. 

Art/Architecture

This is the cool entrance to Pixel condo.  

This is the cool entrance to Pixel condo.  

Kensington is home to Calgary’s fledgling street art culture.  Wander the alley behind the shops on the east side of 10th Avenue NW to find a street art gallery. 

The Pixel condo with its funky bright yellow cube balconies and neon-coloured entrance has the village’s most contemporary architecture. 

Kensington is also home to several historical buildings including the Hillhurst United Church (1907), St. Barnabas Anglican Church (1906) and the lovely St. John’s elementary school (1916) and the majestic sandstone Hillhurst School (1912).

Wander Kensington’s residential streets and you are sure to find some of the many “Free Little Libraries,” that are often fun folk art pieces.

On the side of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association Building is a mural that has this young girl giving the "finger' to Pierre Trudeau.  Backstory: Back in 1982, then Prime Minister of Canada, Trudeau flipped the finger to protesters in Salmon Arm BC. It soon became known as the "Trudeau Salute." I am thinking many Calgarians would love to flip the finger these days to his son, Justin, who is now the Prime Minister. 

On the side of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association Building is a mural that has this young girl giving the "finger' to Pierre Trudeau.  Backstory: Back in 1982, then Prime Minister of Canada, Trudeau flipped the finger to protesters in Salmon Arm BC. It soon became known as the "Trudeau Salute." I am thinking many Calgarians would love to flip the finger these days to his son, Justin, who is now the Prime Minister. 

Kensington's Street Art Gallery is located on the east side of 10th Street NW. 

Kensington's Street Art Gallery is located on the east side of 10th Street NW. 

Pixel is an example of the contemporary architecture that is changing ambience of Kensington. 

Pixel is an example of the contemporary architecture that is changing ambience of Kensington. 

Ezra on Riley Park is also helping to create a new sense of place for Kensington Village.

Ezra on Riley Park is also helping to create a new sense of place for Kensington Village.

Pointe takes advantage of its triangular site to create a flatiron building. 

Pointe takes advantage of its triangular site to create a flatiron building. 

Rumour has it the Hillhurst United Church pastor is considering converting their under-utlized gym into a micro-brewery. 

Rumour has it the Hillhurst United Church pastor is considering converting their under-utlized gym into a micro-brewery. 

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

In 1904, the Riley Family donated 8 hectares from their 146,000-hectare Cochrane Ranch to create Riley Park (north of 5th Avenue from 10th to 13th Streets NW).  It boasts one of the oldest cricket grounds in North America, a lovely children’s wading pool and the Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Garden.  (FYI: The rock garden was created using 20,000 pieces of flagstone from Senator Patrick Burns’ mansion.)

Poppy Plaza, located at the corner of 10th St and Memorial Drive pays homage to Calgary and Canada’s war and peacekeeping efforts. It is a great place to enjoy the vista of the downtown skyline, the shimmering water of the Bow River and people walking, cycling, skateboarding and roller blading along the Bow River pathway.  You may even spot a fisherman.

How cool is this fisherman, dressed up in a suit fishing on the shore of the Bow River at the Louise Bridge, that connects Kensington to downtown

How cool is this fisherman, dressed up in a suit fishing on the shore of the Bow River at the Louise Bridge, that connects Kensington to downtown

Poppy Plaza provides interesting perspectives of the downtown skyline.

Poppy Plaza provides interesting perspectives of the downtown skyline.

Kensington's Riley Park wading pool is a fun place for young families to hang out.  

Kensington's Riley Park wading pool is a fun place for young families to hang out.  

containR Park is a multi-use space, that is popular with locals as a place to meet and popular with photographers wanting to do fashion shoots. 

containR Park is a multi-use space, that is popular with locals as a place to meet and popular with photographers wanting to do fashion shoots. 

Fitness/Recreation

In addition to the Riley Park cricket matches, Kensington is also home to the historic Calgary Curling Club (established in 1888, it moved to its current location 1953) and Bow Valley Lawn Bowling Club (1932). 

It is also home to several modern fitness clubs - Bodhi Tree Yoga Studio, 10th Street Boxing Gym, Orangetheory Fitness Studio, and Urban Fitness Studio to name a few.

Practicing for a Sunday cricket match in Riley Park. 

Practicing for a Sunday cricket match in Riley Park. 

Lawn bowling is more recreational fun than a sport. 

Lawn bowling is more recreational fun than a sport. 

Culture/Nightlife

The Plaza Theatre has been curating and showing indie films for over 40 years.  No reclining cushy seats here, just thought-provoking movies and respectful audiences.  There are lots of places to go before or after to eat, drink and debate current issues and the meaning of life. 

Jubilee Theatre may not technically be within Kensington boundaries but it is on the border and offers Kensingtonians easy access to everything from Broadway shows to ballet performances.  

The Plaza is the "King" of Kensington.

The Plaza is the "King" of Kensington.

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

During Calgary’s pre-World War 1 boom, Kensington developed as a working-class, largely Anglo-Saxon suburb - hence the British street names. It is home to one of Calgary’s best neighbourhood pub appropriately named “The Kensington Pub.”  In 1983, the pub was created by combining the 1911 brick veneer residence of developer John Smith with the 62-year old duplex next door.

The Oak Tree Tavern, popular with the younger crowd, offers up “All You Can Eat Hot Dog Tuesdays,” as well as, comedy nights and live music.

For 26 years, Kensington Wine Market has offered a great selection of curated wines, beers and scotches.  Their popular Saturday afternoon samplings make browsing the shelves too much fun. They also have one of the best seminar and tasting programs in the city.

Kensington Pub (upper right) fits right into the Kensington streetscape.

Kensington Pub (upper right) fits right into the Kensington streetscape.

Kensington Wine Market block oozes bohemian charm. 

Kensington Wine Market block oozes bohemian charm. 

The Oak Tree Tavern welcomes thirty pedestrians to drop in for a beverage. The patio offers great views of the downtown skyline.

The Oak Tree Tavern welcomes thirty pedestrians to drop in for a beverage. The patio offers great views of the downtown skyline.

The Container Bar (summer only) is literally a container placed in a side alley along Kensington Road that serves as a bar with a few tables.

The Container Bar (summer only) is literally a container placed in a side alley along Kensington Road that serves as a bar with a few tables.

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

It doesn’t get much quirkier than The Plaza Theatre, originally built in the 1920s as an automobile garage, then in 1935, converted into a neighbourhood theatre, before evolving in 1970s into Calgary’s first arthouse cinema.  

Alpine Shoe Service is a walk back in time, when people fixed things rather than throwing out anything broken or worn out.  It’s small, easy-to-miss display case next to the entrance has ever-changing, thought-provoking quotes.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison.

How quirky is an outdoor shoe-shine station?

How quirky is an outdoor shoe-shine station?

Kensington is also home to a cat cafe. How fun is that?

Kensington is also home to a cat cafe. How fun is that?

Funky art can pop-up anywhere, anytime in Kensington - those crazy art students!

Funky art can pop-up anywhere, anytime in Kensington - those crazy art students!

If you walk a block west of 14th St NW along Kensington Road you might stumble upon these solar panels designed to look like a funky flower. 

If you walk a block west of 14th St NW along Kensington Road you might stumble upon these solar panels designed to look like a funky flower. 

The "rainbow" underpass epitomizes the essence of Kensington's sense of place.

The "rainbow" underpass epitomizes the essence of Kensington's sense of place.

Gated Community?

While people in Hillhurst don’t think of themselves as living in a gated community, in fact there are several streets with decorative gates that not only keep cars from cutting through the residential streets, but also evoke a sense of being a private street.   The gates serve as historical reference as they have the original names of the streets, before Calgary converted to numerical street names in 1904.

While some might see these gates as charming, others might see them as pretentious.

While some might see these gates as charming, others might see them as pretentious.

Jane loves Kensington

I can’t help but think the late great urban guru Jane Jacobs would approve of how Calgary’s Left Bank (aka Hillhurst/Sunnyside, aka Kensington) is evolving with its mixture of old, new and middle age; human-scale commercial buildings housing mostly independent enterprises.

She would also approve of the diversity of housing stock – everything from cottage homes to co-op housing, to low and mid-rise condo buildings. 

NO high-rises along Calgary’s “Left Bank.”

Note: This is the fourth in a series of blogs examining what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods so cool.  The others are Inglewood, Beltline and Downtown. 

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

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Calgary: Field of Crosses

A Sunday Walkabout In Hillhurst

Mid-Century Urban Ornamentation

I love walking in mid-century neighbourhoods - where the trees are taller than the homes and multiple owners have had a chance to add some ornamentation to personalize the homes.

While many complain about the suburban cookie cutter homes of today, it really isn’t any different from the cookie cutter homes built in the 40s, 50s and 60s. However, over time these mid-century homes have been repainted (probably more than once), physically altered and landscaped to personalize them.

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Charming

Recently, I have become fascinated by the iron railings on the front steps of these middle-age homes. The more I look at them, the more variations I discover. 

I particularly love the abstract shadows they cast on a bright sunny day – winter or summer. 

There is a charm to them that is missing from our modern minimalist homes with their clean, simple lines.  A maple leaf here, a tulip there, a curly-cue in one, an art deco reference in another adds a subtle folksy charm. 

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Backstory

While we don’t have an ornamental iron railing on our front porch steps, we do have a piece of mid century railing in our garden - rescued from the house across the street when it was being demolished making way for a modern new house.

It goes great with our mid-century playground toys, now garden ornaments we have collected over the years. 

They all make for a great conversation starter for people walking by and for kids being dropped off at the daycare across the street.

Garden ornamentation.

Garden ornamentation.

Last Word

Perhaps, part of the sterility of our modern suburban streets is simply they haven’t had time to age.  Thoughts?

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Railing Art

Just for fun, I thought I'd use the Union app to create some fun artworks using the above photos. Hope you enjoy!

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Poster Anyone?

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

Front Yard Fun!

Sitting On The Porch

Garden Flaneuring: Try It You Might Like It!

 

"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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