A Walk In The Park: Stanley & Nose Hill

Every city should have a “must see / must do” experience.  Vancouver’s “must do” experience is to visit the city’s signature park - Stanley Park.  Indeed, it is a unique urban experience to be in the middle of an old growth forest on the edge of a downtown.  It is a walk back in time, when trees dominated the skyline, before Europeans arrived to create a city of tall glass towers that now dominates Vancouver’s peninsula skyline.  

For many, a walk in Stanley Park is the quintessential Vancouver experience.

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Walk In The Park

While recently spending a month exploring Vancouver, we took two leisurely walks in Stanley Park - one through the more natural interior and the other along the man-made sea wall that looks out into the vast space where sea meets sky.  

Soon after arriving back home to Calgary, friends suggested we get together and go for a walk, so I suggested Nose Hill Park.  

Why?

Partly because I had never walked the park - shame on me.  Partly because I wanted to compare the experience with Stanley Park knowing the two parks were polar opposites. And partly to help answer my ongoing question, “What role do parks play in defining a city?”  

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Stanley Park

Stanley Park, unlike most urban parks, is not the creation of a landscape architect’s masterplan but has evolved organically with most of the structures built between 1911 and 1937 under the supervision of Park Superintendent, W.S. Rawlings.  Much of the park remains heavily forested with an estimated half a million trees. But it also includes several man-made attractions including Vancouver Aquarium, a huge outdoor swimming pool, numerous playgrounds, two restaurants in historical buildings, a pitch and putt golf course and a large tennis facility.  It also home to one of the largest urban blue heron colonies in North America.  

Opened in 1888, the park is named after Lord Stanley, Canada’s sixth Governor General (yes, the same guy the Stanley Cup is named after) and it was designated a National Historic Site in 1988.   

It is a 4 square kilometer park at the end of a peninsula that juts out into the Burrard Inlet, a busy cargo and cruise ship passageway, as well as a recreational boating playground.  I had forgotten there is busy and noisy road through the middle of the park that links the City Centre to Vancouver’s north shore communities. 

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Nose Hill Park

Calgary’s Nose Hill Park, which covers 11 square kilometers (almost 3 times the size of Stanley Park) of rolling hills and native grasslands, is the antithesis of Stanley Park. In many ways, it is more natural than Stanley Park, as there are no attractions, not even a children’s playground.  It is a place to walk and ponder man’s place in nature. 

Historically, Nose Hill was an important site for Blackfoot Confederacy for not only was it was a place to hunt buffalo, but also a sacred place for ceremonies, and a lookout for weather and other dangers.  A recent marker representing a Siksikaitsitapi Circle signifies the world of the four nations who visited the hill - Akainai, Siksika, Piikani and Amskapipikuni.  

Peter Fidler, a Hudson Bay Company trader was the first European to visit Nose Hill in 1779 and traders continued to visit the site for the next 100 years. It was a popular place for early explorers and pioneers to experience Calgary’s Chinook winds that can raise the temperature in winter by 20 degrees Celsius in a matter of hours.  The buffalo herds that visited Nose Hill were decimated by 1879.  During Calgary’s construction boom in early 20thcentury brothels thrived on the hill.  By the 1970s the city’s had grown to the point where the site was ripe for residential development. 

Yes, Nose Hill Park almost didn’t happen! In 1971, Hartel Holdings who owned the land, planned to create a new residential community with outstanding views of the City and mountains.  However, a grassroots group of locals, consisting mostly of residents from the neighbouring North Haven community and individuals from the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society lobbied to protect the land from development.  It wasn’t until 1984 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the City had the right to purchase the land, that Nose Hill Park was realized. 

Wandering the park today, you can still find evidence of the early residential development and even some of the old vehicle trails (there were no roads) as it was a popular place for Calgarians to drive to for picnics and views of the mountains in the middle of the 20thcentury.  

Nose Hill is a place to see the big picture - to ponder how man and nature have worked together over the past 100 years and wonder about the future co-existence of city’s and nature. 

I am not sure anyone would think of Nose Hill as a “must see / must do experience” but I am thinking perhaps it should be.   As one of my fellow walkers said “what I think is unique about Nose Hill Park is that it visually and spiritually brings you into contact with the essence of Alberta - grasslands, foothills, vast open space, big blue sky and grandeur of the mountains – at a glance.  

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Collective Psyche

While wandering both Stanley Park and Nose Hill Park, I could help but wonder - Is a city’s collective psyche partly shaped by its geography and climate? 

 What does the lush forest of Stanley Park (and most of Vancouver for that matter) say about Vancouver’s sense of place vs the barren beauty of Nose Hill say about Calgary’s? 

Vancouver is known for its liberal attitudes, it is the birthplace of Greenpeace and home to many environmentalists. It is an international urban playground for tourists, millennials and empty nesters.  

Calgary, on the other hand, is seen as a pragmatic, provincial, conservative corporate city full of engineers.  It is a place where young people and families come to work hard and get ahead. Calgary is home to warm Chinooks winds one day and cold blizzards winds the next, echoing the city’s boom and bust economy.  

Link: How urban parks are bringing nature closer to home?

Link: What makes a good urban park?

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Last Word 

Then again, as one of my fellow Nose Hill walkers said, “A better geographical comparison would have been Stanley Park and Calgary’s Fish Creek Park.” Guess where I will be walking soon?

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

Parks are a MUST for urban living

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary: A brief history of Bow River Islands

The Pandrol Clip: Art vs Engineering

I bet most people just walk, drive or cycle by this object at the corner of 9th St and 4th Ave SW thinking that is just another piece of contemporary art. In fact, it is a huge Pandrol Clip that I have enjoyed for years as I walk over the Louise Bridge that connects downtown to Kensington Village.

A What? You ask?

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A Pandrol Clip?

The information panel next to the object says it is “an important component in keeping Calgary’s CTrain system together. The Pandrol Clip is part of a railway fastening system developed in 1959 by Norwegian railway engineer Per Pande Rolfsen.

Physically the clip weights less than two pounds and has a diameter of approximately 20 mm. However, this unique system offers a lightweight, low-cost rail fastener where spring and torsion works together to provide a high clamping force - each clip exerts a force of approximately two tonnes on the foot of the rail. This holds the rail foot in place, keeping the rail fastened to the underlying base-plate.

The proven benefits of the Pandrol Clip include a very long and virtually maintenance free life. It is safe, secure, can be inserted and removed manually and will continue to grip the rail under vibration. It is now used by hundreds of railways systems around the world.

But, can it also be considered art….

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Clip vs Figure vs Gate vs Frozen River vs Blue Ring vs Bloom

It has all the ingredients of sculpture - shape, space, form, line, texture. In fact it reminds me of bit of a Henry Moore reclining figure, as well as Kosso Eloul’s “Nova Gate” at the entrance to the old Nova Building downtown.

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

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Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads,  “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads, “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Last Word

I wonder how many other engineering objects there are like the Pandrol Clip that blur the boundary between form and function, object and art. Calgary is often called “The City of Engineers” as it has one of the highest per capital number of engineers in Canada, maybe the world.

Perhaps it is fitting that our public art and engineering communities are linked.

Sometimes Calgary’s urban design and arts communities refer to Calgary as a “city built by engineers” when frustrated by the City’s inability to embrace the arts, creativity and experimentation. Indeed, Calgary has a reputation (nationally and perhaps internationally) of being a bastion for pragmatic prairie conservatism.

Perhaps instead, we should be embracing our engineering culture and working together to create something unique. The Beakerhead festival that combines art, engineering and science was a great first step. We need to take few more steps….

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

Beakerhead Festival

Confessions of a public art juror

Do we need all of this public art?

Calgary developers love public art!

It is amazing what you can learn about public art by simply accepting an invitation to tour a fabrication plant in Calgary’s Foothills Industrial Park.  

Recently, Heavy Industries’ President Ryan Bessant invited me to tour their facility where they are creating humongous public artworks for internationally renowned artists with commissions in Los Angles, Boston, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon.

And yes, Calgary too.  

I learned that Calgary developers love to include public art as part of the branding and creating a unique identity for their new communities or new condo developments. And, It was a real eye opener to learn Calgary is becoming a hub for public art fabrication.

Boney in SETON is just one of dozens of public artworks commissioned by Calgary housing developers as part of branding their new community or new condo development as fun and unique.

Boney in SETON is just one of dozens of public artworks commissioned by Calgary housing developers as part of branding their new community or new condo development as fun and unique.

East Village has numerous whimsical public artworks throughout the village to help create a more pedestrian friendly community.

East Village has numerous whimsical public artworks throughout the village to help create a more pedestrian friendly community.

I loved this “LIV” sculpture at the entrance to Brookfield’s new community called Livingston at the northern edge of the city. It is a fun piece that is a play on the community’s name, as well as a call to action ie. “live at Livingston.” It also allows the public to interact with the piece by adding their lock to the piece as a symbol of their love and connection to the community.

I loved this “LIV” sculpture at the entrance to Brookfield’s new community called Livingston at the northern edge of the city. It is a fun piece that is a play on the community’s name, as well as a call to action ie. “live at Livingston.” It also allows the public to interact with the piece by adding their lock to the piece as a symbol of their love and connection to the community.

You could easily miss this sculpture that is at the entrance to the Xenex condo. If you go up close the piece is full of miniature figures and elements that create an fun fairytale like narrative.

You could easily miss this sculpture that is at the entrance to the Xenex condo. If you go up close the piece is full of miniature figures and elements that create an fun fairytale like narrative.

Also in the Beltline are these two horses at the entrance to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo.

Also in the Beltline are these two horses at the entrance to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo.

Harmony vs Carrington vs SETON

For example, Bordeaux Development commissioned Heavy Industries to manufacture and install “Cultivate” by Seattle-based artist Dan Corson for Harmony, their new community west of Calgary.  “Cultivate,” is three large steel sculptures with a rusted patina which makes them look like abandoned pieces of farming equipment at first glance.  While inspired by the shape of an old plow, they are ambiguous enough to also be seen as a crown, a harlequin hat or depending on the viewing angle, the wings of a bird of prey. Walk up close to discover the steel has hundreds of intricate thistle-shaped cut outs, that remind me of Matisse’s playful cut outs.  It is a simple, yet sophisticated piece that creates a unique and welcoming entrance to the community.  

Link: Cultivate: Making An Entrance

Cultivate glows at night like a campfire.

Cultivate glows at night like a campfire.

During the day Cultivate creates an inviting entrance to the Harmony a new estate community just west of Calgary.

During the day Cultivate creates an inviting entrance to the Harmony a new estate community just west of Calgary.

A second example is in Carrington, Mattamy Homes’ new community in Calgary’s northeast.  Mattamy partnered with NAK design who created and Heavy Industries who fabricated and installed an aspen tree-inspired sculpture that provides a fun canopy over the community’s skate park and playground, a popular community gathering place.  At night, its special lighting creates a warm welcoming entrance to the community.

Entrance artwork for Carrington a new community in NE Calgary. photo credit: Heavy Industries

Entrance artwork for Carrington a new community in NE Calgary. photo credit: Heavy Industries

At the base of one of the Carrington's public art pieces is a skatepark. credit: codaworx

At the base of one of the Carrington's public art pieces is a skatepark. credit: codaworx

Thirdly, Brookfield Residential has made a huge commitment to enhanced urban design as part of branding, their new master-planned community at the southeast edge of Calgary - SETON.  The striking white pavilion-like structure at the entrance to the community from Seton Boulevard at Seton Way shout out to everyone that this community is different. It is futuristic! There are several other public art works completed or in the works for SETON. “Boney,” a whimsical purple nine-foot dog that looks like a balloon animal kids get at festivals welcomes everyone walking through the small plaza at the entrance to the EFW Radiology building.  And, if you look up to the roof-top, you’ll see Boney’s bone. 

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SETON Entrance pavilion

SETON Entrance pavilion

SETON Entrance

SETON Entrance

Calgary: A Public Art Fabrication Hub

Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring is a street lamp installed in the middle of a bridge on a busy highway away from any pedestrian traffic.

Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring is a street lamp installed in the middle of a bridge on a busy highway away from any pedestrian traffic.

Heavy Industries are the guys responsible for fabricating the controversial “Travelling Light” (aka Giant Blue Ring) by Berlin, Germany-based art collective Inges Idee, as well as “Wonderland” (aka Giant White Head) by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. As a result of working with these famous international artists on Calgary projects, Heavy Industries have become their “go to” guys for building their artworks for other cities. 

Over the past 15 years, Bessant and his team have become more than just public art fabricators, they have become turn-key public art managers, working with clients from early concept development, to choosing the artist through to final installation. From a two-person business in 2003, they’re now at 70 full-time employees, and growing.

Currently, Heavy Industries is working with the artists and city administrators in Calgary, Edmonton and East Chicago to create new artworks as part of their public art programs. In addition, they are working with developers like Westbank Corp. (two pieces, one in Vancouver and one in Calgary), Mattamy Homes (new piece for the new Yorkville community in Calgary’s deep southwest) and Bordeaux Development (another piece for Harmony) and two pieces for Halifax developer Amour Group. 

Heavy Industries, along with Calgary’s two other public art fabricators - F&D Scene Changes and Studio Y – they are making Calgary a North American public art production centre.  This means public art is generating tax dollars, not just spending them.

One of the many huge work spaces at Heavy Industries.

One of the many huge work spaces at Heavy Industries.

Works in progress at Heavy Industries

Works in progress at Heavy Industries

Working on Wonderland at Heavy Industries

Working on Wonderland at Heavy Industries

Another work in progress Heavy Industries

Another work in progress Heavy Industries

Vancouver Condo Art

It is not just Calgary condo developers who love to use public art to enhance the curb appeal of their buildings. While flaneuring in Vancouver, I discovered many condos with interesting public art at their entrances including one of the most ambitious pieces of public art I have ever encountered.

On the side to the 43 floor The Charleston condo is a 416 foot tall and 30 foot wide painting by Vancouver artist Elizabeth McIntosh by developer Onni Group. The colourful artwork looks like a huge abstract lightening bolt. Titled “Finger Paint” the piece does have the innocence and playfulness of a child’s painting which is kinda ironic as their is a childcare facility in the building.

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Last Word

With almost every city around the world actively trying to become the next great design city with spectacular architecture, urban design and public art, the potential for Calgary to become a growing centre for public art design and manufacturing is huge.  Creating public art has become a high tech industry.  Long gone are the days of starving artists hand-crafting sculptures in their loft studios.  

While some might think Calgary’s public art program adopted back in 2004 has been a huge failure due to a couple of controversial pieces, overall it has been a huge success.  Today, public art is attached to almost every major new project in Calgary – public and private, inner-city or new community in the burbs. 

Be it Harmony, Carrington, SETON or East Village, Calgary developers are integrating public art into their master-planned communities as a means of creating a more welcoming, unique and attractive sense of place. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condo section on Saturday April 27th 2019.

The latest piece of condo developer commissioned public art is located at Anthem’s Waterfront condo project along a pedestrian pathway that links the project to Sien Lok Park where there are several other public artworks.

The latest piece of condo developer commissioned public art is located at Anthem’s Waterfront condo project along a pedestrian pathway that links the project to Sien Lok Park where there are several other public artworks.

Avenida Village - Calgary’s Next Urban Village?

I have been visiting Avenida Village regularly over the past few years as it is home to Golf Traders and I still believe you can “buy” a golf game.  And, every time I visit, I think what a great place for an urban village as it already has an eclectic mix of shops and medical offices and is within walking distance to Canyon Meadows LRT Station and Southcentre Mall. 

Now it has a “Food Hall” it is ripe (pun intended) for a couple of mid-rise residential developments with restaurants and shops at street level to transform it into a 21st century urban village. And could the Food Hall concept help to revitalize other sites in Calgary like Eau Claire Market.

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A Little History

Avenida Village, built in the early 80s, was one of Calgary’s first big box developments.  Located next to Mcleod Trail just east of the Canyon Meadows LRT station, sits its five single storey white stucco buildings each with arched colonnades, creating a faux Mediterranean-village look (albeit without the signature red roofs).  Originally, each building had its own parking and was home to one major tenant (e.g. Sport Chek) or a few smaller tenants.  Now, it is a tired looking with most of the original tenants having left for new power centres decades ago. 

 But, fortunately, over the past few years, Avenida Village has become home to some trendy places like Pies Plus, YYC Cycle, Breathe Hot Yoga and Spectacular Eyewear, as well as an expanded Golf Traders. It has also become a bit of a medical hub with numerous health-related offices.  

And then, in Fall 2018, the Avenida Food Hall opened.  It could be the catalyst for a mega-makeover.  

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What is a Food Hall, you ask? 

It’s a hybrid between a farmers’ market, food court and restaurant.  Food Halls are designed to serve people as quickly as possible, but rather than franchised outlets serving bland food, the vendors are experienced, local food producers and chefs.  Don’t be surprised if Calgary superstar chef Duncan Ly of Foreign Concept himself serves up your order from Takori, his new Asian taco shop.  And yes, Food Halls also have vendors where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables to take away.  

Link: A World Of Food Awaits At Avenida Food Hall

The Food Hall could well be the game changer for Avenida Village’s future. Its 40 vendors are attracting thousands of people every weekend creating an urban buzz that is sure to bring more trendy shops. Think craft brewery, maybe a distillery, a major restaurant - perhaps a bike shop. 

I recently checked in with Strategic Group, the owners of Avenida Village to see if they had any plans to transform the site into a true mixed-use urban village.  Though Daorcey Le Bray, Strategic’s Director, Brand and Community was unable to provide details about plans for the site, I noticed they are removing the gas station at the south end and replacing it with a new building designed to become home for four new tenants.   

Given Strategic’s bullish approach to urban residential development in Calgary’s City Centre, it won’t take long for them to realize (if they haven’t already) Avenida Village is ripe for residential development.  

FYI: Strategic is currently building 1,000 new homes in multi-family buildings - including the conversion of the iconic Barron Building downtown into 94 residences.  They are quickly positioning themselves as a leader in urban multi-family residential development in Calgary.

Link: Avenida Food Hall

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Food Hall Madness

I couldn’t help but wonder where else in Calgary the Food Hall concept might work? Maybe Eau Claire Market? I know the concept didn’t work in the early ‘90s when it first opened, but it isn’t the ‘90s anymore. 

Today, Calgarians are much more into unique local food experiences. Also, there are many more people living and working near Eau Claire Market today 20 years ago. Case in point: Anthem’s mega Riverside project immediately east of Eau Claire Market alone provides 1,000+ homes that didn’t exist in the ‘90s. 

Yes, I know there are plans for a mega makeover of the site, but I am betting it is 5+ years before we see any new construction there.  Creating a Food Hall could be a wise move to add some much needed life into the building and surrounding community in the interim.  

Another possible site for a Food Hall might be the old Central Library downtown. Or, what about the old SEARS building at North Hill Shopping Centre?  It offers lots of parking and LRT access, as well as lots of new multi-family development nearby.  Future plans call for upscale residential development on the site, which could easily incorporate a food hall into its design. Why not experiment now?

What about Northland Mall? It was suppose to be home to Calgary’s first Whole Foods store. Perhaps a Food Hall with local producers, chefs and restauranteurs would be an even better way to revitalize the mall.

Ken Aylesworth, the master mind behind the Avenida Food Hall, was instrumental in the development of the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Symons Valley Ranch Market. Rumour has it he is close to announcing another new project soon.

FYI: The Calgary Farmer’s market will be opening a second location in 2020 in the new community of Greenwich across from Canada Olympic Park. It will have many of the elements of a Food Hall. 

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Last Word

Avenida Village could well become a shining example of how Calgary’s big box retail sites can and will evolve into mixed-use urban villages in the future.   

It will be interesting to see how - or even if - Strategic Group capitalizes on the success of their new Food Hall. What would be really exciting is if a master plan was developed which integrates the redevelopment of the four neighbouring car dealerships, Nutrien’s head office building and the Canyon Meadows Cinema into a model 21st century mixed-use urban development.  

Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan envisions the addition of hundreds of thousands of more people into established communities like Lake Bonavista and Canyon Meadows.  Avenida Village’s redevelopment provides a perfect opportunity to create a transit-oriented village in the middle of these two communities.    

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on March 30, 2019.  

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Juxtapositions

I have always loved the word juxtaposition. Not because of the meaning but just way it sounds. To me, it just sounds and looks like a fun word.

Juxtaposition is when two things are placed (or seen) close together with contrasting effect. When I was an art gallery curator I used the word a lot as in many cases contemporary art is about comparing and contrasting different things - reality vs imagination, good vs evil, man vs nature, rational vs irrational…

Rather than play games on my phone, I often use the Union app to experiment with the juxtaposition of two photos to create an fun or intriguing narrative.

This blog is a exhibition of some of my recent juxtaposition experiments. It is like a free exhibition that you can view anywhere you like, as often as you like.

Hope you enjoy…..

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

Everyday Fun With Photos

Everyday Collage Fun

Double Exposure

 Glenbow’s Fabulous Free First Thursday Nights

I am guilty as anyone when it comes to only visiting the Glenbow when it’s free. I can’t remember the last time I paid admission to go to the Glenbow.  I even used to be part of the Calgary’s visual arts community! And I am pretty sure I am not alone as I can’t recall when a friend or colleague last said, “We were at the Glenbow and saw this amazing exhibition. You must go.” 

Meryl McMaster’s “Dream Catcher” welcomes you to her provocative exhibition “Confluence” one of several worth seeing exhibitions on at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

Meryl McMaster’s “Dream Catcher” welcomes you to her provocative exhibition “Confluence” one of several worth seeing exhibitions on at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

First Thursday Fun

A visit to the Glenbow on March 7 for their “FREE First Thursday” (i.e. 5 to 9 pm the first Thursday of each month - thanks to sponsor Servus Credit Union) was very enlightening. The place was packed by 6:30 pm with over 700 people already having been through the Christian Dior feature exhibition (a fact direct from the security woman with the clicker in her hand). I’d guess there probably were a couple of hundred people in the gallery looking at the exhibition (not sure how you could see much as it was shoulder-to-shoulder people) and another couple of hundred in a line-up that snaked its way past three other exhibitions.  

It was so crowded, I almost thought I was in Disneyland. 

And, it wasn’t just the Dior exhibition that was busy. The entire museum was buzzing with hundreds of people of all ages, enjoying the other exhibits be it the Mavericks exhibitions on the third floor (that’s been there for 12 years), the exhibition of new works by Chris Cran, one of Calgary’s most respected visual artists or the historical art exhibitions.  I wonder how many, like me, came for the Dior exhibition like me, but weren’t going to wait in line.  No matter, they were looking at the art and seemed to be enjoying it.  

In fact, as it turned out, Zoltan Varadi, Glenbow’s Communication Specialist reports that over, 3,000 people visited the Glenbow after 5 pm that day, exceeding the average First Thursday attendance by 1,000 people.  

The Christian Dior exhibition is in the background the people in the foreground are the beginning of a long line-up of people waiting to get into the exhibition.

The Christian Dior exhibition is in the background the people in the foreground are the beginning of a long line-up of people waiting to get into the exhibition.

There is obviously a pent up demand to visit the Glenbow.  

I am pretty sure the Glenbow doesn’t look like this on the other Thursday nights, unless there is a free members and guest opening reception for a new blockbuster exhibition. In fact, if my math is correct (based on their 2018 Annual Report), the Glenbow’s average daily attendance is about 350 people (excluding school programs). 

Question: How do you go from 350 a day to 500 an hour?

Answer: Offer free admission. 

At any given time the Glenbow’s second floor art gallery offers several exhibitions on different aspect of the visual arts, from historical to contemporary.

At any given time the Glenbow’s second floor art gallery offers several exhibitions on different aspect of the visual arts, from historical to contemporary.

Kent Monkman’s installation titled, “The Rise and Fall of Civilization” with its three figures at the edge of a cliff makes multiple references to civilizations past and present.

Kent Monkman’s installation titled, “The Rise and Fall of Civilization” with its three figures at the edge of a cliff makes multiple references to civilizations past and present.

The exhibition of Blackfoot traditional clothing is a clever juxtaposition to the Christian Dior exhibition.

The exhibition of Blackfoot traditional clothing is a clever juxtaposition to the Christian Dior exhibition.

Obviously, people want to visit the Glenbow, just not pay for it, or at least not pay the current admission fees. 

Are admission fees too high?  Why won’t we pay $18 (adult), $12 (senior - 65+), $11 (youth - 7 to 17) or $45 (family – 2 adults and 4 kids)?  (Note: children under 6 are free.) Why don’t more Calgarians buy a Glenbow Membership $55 (adult), $75 (couple), $20 (student), $40 (senior), $65 (senior dual) and $90 (family).  Currently, only 2,700 of Calgary’s 559,000 households have Glenbow Memberships. That’s less than 1%. 

FYI: I think this schedule is unfair to single Calgarians.  If a couple can buy at membership for $75 then a single should get one for half that price - same for seniors. 

We don’t seem as price adverse for other recreational and entertainment activities. For example, most Calgarians willingly pay $14 for a 2 hour movie at the theatre? We don’t blink an eye to pay $20 for brunch or lunch at a restaurant. Heck, a good glass of wine at diner these days is $12. A round of golf is $50+ for four hours.  A drop in class at a good yoga studio is about $20 for 90 minutes. 

But $18 to visit the Glenbow? No way. 

Couple enjoying Chris Cran’s fun new works.

Couple enjoying Chris Cran’s fun new works.

Let’s get creative…

The Glenbow’s admission prices are slightly higher than those at Edmonton’s Art Gallery of Alberta and the Winnipeg Art Gallery but lower than those at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  It should be noted to that the Glenbow is both a public gallery AND history museum so visitors get two experiences for the price of one.  Perhaps there should be one price for the gallery, one for the museum and then a discounted combined price? 

  • I wonder what would happen if the Glenbow was free every day. Would that break the bank?  Would that create opportunities for more corporate sponsorships to make up for the loss admission revenue? 

  • What about experimenting with having every Thursday evening FREE? Would Servus Credit Union sponsor all of them? Or their could there be a different sponsor each week or each month?   

  • What about a free Family Sunday once a month. Yes, adults would have to bring a child under 18 to both get in free. What about free for all children under 18 all the time?  Don’t we want our children to be exposed to the visual arts and know about our local culture?

  • Maybe a couple of free teen days during the year.  Parents could drop them off at the Glenbow and then go do some shopping or have lunch downtown.  Win-win for downtown businesses! Perhaps the Calgary Downtown Association and the Chamber of Commerce might want to sponsor this one. 

  • What about 2-for-1 days?  Maybe a “pay what you want” day in the middle of the week - or one weekend a month.  Theatre Calgary offers a limited number of Pay-What-You-Can tickets on the first Saturday matinee during the run of each the five Mainstage productions.

  • What about a $2 lunch admission for downtown office workers? They aren’t going to pay $18 when they only have 50 minutes or so. 

  • What about $3 after 3 pm?  Happy hour pricing at an art gallery? Given the Gallery closes every day at 5pm (except Friday), this would give people 2 hours to view the exhibits – probably plenty of time for most people.  

  • What about using social media to announce fun special admission rates?  Maybe something like “Show this Glenbow tweet and get in for half price today or tomorrow.” 

  • Perhaps a monthly “Bring a Friend to the Glenbow” day for members.  It would be an added benefit for buying a membership and introduce more Calgarians to the Glenbow’s excellent exhibition and gift shop.  


On Location: Artists Explore A Sense of Place, curated by Sarah Todd provides a past and present overview of life in Canada.

On Location: Artists Explore A Sense of Place, curated by Sarah Todd provides a past and present overview of life in Canada.

Glenbow’s Conundrum

The Glenbow’s attendance has grown over the past five years, from 117,379 to 150,736 (Glenbow’s 2018 Annual Report). However, it begs the question: Has most of the growth been due to Free First Thursdays (2,000/mth X 12 = 24,000) since its introduction in 2016? 

The Glenbow also reports that 50,000+ of the 150,000 attendance is due to the Glenbow’s great school programs. Do the math and the actual paid museum admissions turn out to be about 75,000 (150,000 – 50,000 school tours and 24,000 Free Thursdays). In other words, just three times what is achieved in four hours on Thursday nights once a month.   

Here’s the conundrum. The Glenbow invests millions of dollars each year curating and presenting entertaining and enlightening exhibitions for which there is obviously a huge interest, but there is a huge barrier for people to see them – the price of admission.  At the same time, the Glenbow struggles to generate revenue as government grants have been frozen for many years and corporate donations are not easy to come by. So, they desperately need more admission revenue.  

This flies in the face of more free or discounted admission - or does it? Experimenting with a more creative admission schedule could result in more corporate sponsorship opportunities like the one with Servus Credit Union. Some of the above ideas could actually attract more paid visitors to the gallery (at a discounted price) who would never come at $18, so it means increased admission revenue. 

When Donna Livingstone was first appointed to the position of President and CEO of the Glenbow in May 2013, she said wanted to create “a new kind of art museum.”   In many ways she has done that when it comes to the exhibition, education, event programming and gift shop. 

But little has changed when it comes to admission fees.  Significant research has been done on the pros and cons of free and discounted admission, without any definitive conclusions as every gallery and museum has a different funding model and a different audience. Perhaps now is the time for the Glenbow to experiment with a creative admission fee schedule that would entice more Calgarians and tourists to visit our city’s largest and oldest cultural institution. 

An added benefit of having discounted admission more frequently – it would reduce the number of visitors on the Free First Thursdays, thereby making for a better experience as they have become too crowded. 

Just a suggestion!

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

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

Glenbow: Stroke of Genius

Postcards: Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum

Beltline Embraces Density 

Calgary’s Beltline has been growing in leaps and bounds since the community took the rather unusual step to develop its own vision document, “Blueprint for the Beltline” in 2003.

The vision - to create a vibrant community of 40,000 people by 2035. 

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

Blueprint for success

Yes, the community produced its own vision, at its own cost and then presented it to the City.  And, while the “Blueprint for the Beltline” had no official status with the City, it served as the catalyst to get the City to approve a new Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan in 2006. Ultimately, it resulted in the amalgamation of Connaught and Victoria Park, two of Calgary’s oldest communities with a population base of 17,500.  

While the Blueprint identified the need for more amenities like green spaces, public realm improvements and character districts, it also embraced the idea that the community needed more density.  

Yes, you read right. They wanted more high-rises and mid-rises as a means of creating a vibrant community with lots of urban amenities - grocery stores, shops, pubs, clubs, lounges, galleries, festivals, bike lanes and great streets. 

So, while other communities protest new residential towers in their community, Beltliners have been embracing them for over a decade.  

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

Beltline is a walkable community….

Beltline is a walkable community….

Blueprint for success

Indeed, the Beltline’s evolution as Calgary’s premier urban neighbourhood has been outstanding.  It was Avenue Magazine’s Best Neighbourhood in 2015, 2016 and 2018 (slipping into second place in 2017). Last year, it was also Calgary’s fastest growing community with a population increase of 1,668, just edging out Saddleridge’s 1,656 newcomers.

This is definitely not a one year blip given the Beltline’s population has steadily increased by a healthy 3,530 since 2014 to 24,887.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

Beautifying the Beltline

And yes, with the increased density has come a variety of improvements – including the new Barb Scott Park and Thomson Family, a lovely renovation to Memorial Park, a dedicated bike lane along 12thAve SW, infrastructure and sidewalk improvements to 17thAvenue SW and the 13thAvenue Greenway. As well, over the past two summers, the Beltline has been transformed into an intriguing outdoor art gallery with 11 major murals.  

Link: Beltline Urban Mural Project

In addition, all of the underpasses linking the Beltline with downtown are getting mega makeovers to make them more pedestrian-friendly, benefitting the many Beltliners who work downtown.  To date, the 8th and 2nd St SW and 4th St SE underpasses have been completed. 

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street Underpass before

8th Street Underpass before


Condo vs Rental 

In the early years of the Beltline renaissance, almost all of the new residential development were condominiums, of which some units were rentals.  However, over the past few years, most of the residential development has been purpose-built rental towers.  

And there are good reasons for the rise in rentals. 

Probably the major reason is that 74% of Calgary’s rental properties are pre 1979, meaning they lack the amenities today’s urban dwellers, be that an empty nester or young professional, are looking for. Things like an ensuite bathroom, larger closets, washer and dryer in the unit, high ceilings and an open concept layout.   Also, the new rental towers offer other desirable amenities like rooftop patios, BBQs and fire pits, games rooms, demonstration kitchens and even dog runs.

There are currently seven new purpose-built Beltline residential towers at various stages of development, representing about 1,500 new homes coming on stream over the next few years.

I toured the recently completed SODO tower (10thAve just west of 5th Street SW) and it is more like a hotel than an apartment.  Next up is One, Strategic Group’s 37-storey One tower with 379 new homes (201 - 10th Ave SE) including two luxury penthouse suites.  Also, under construction is phase one of Hines’ 500 Block two tower project (461 homes) at the corner of 4th St and 12th Ave SW and The Underwood, 192 homes at 202 - 14th Ave SW. 

Strategic Group is also finishing up the conversion of an older 7-storey office building across from the Midtown Co-op into a 65 funky residences, with rooftop amenities.  

All of these new purpose-built rental buildings are designed to meet the growing demand for urban rentals in Calgary’s fastest growing community.  

In addition, there are seven new condo towers, representing about 1,000 new homes, at various stages of development. This includes the recently completed Park Point, by Qualex Landmark (which has a second tower in the works) and the soon-to-be-occupied The Royal by Bosa Developments which includes a Canadian Tire urban format store and Urban Fare (opening soon).  The “new kid” under construction is Intergulf’s 11th+ 11thproject which, at 44-storeys will be the tallest building in the Beltline. 

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Last Word 

The addition of purpose-built rental towers in the Beltline should be good news for condo developers and owners, as today’s renter is probably tomorrow’s buyer.  In fact, the Canadian Home Builder’s Association’s Earncliffe National Poll documented that 79% of Canadian renters would like to own their own home (April 2018).  And, BILD Calgary Region’s survey (June 2018) found 75% of Calgarians think owning a home provides greater financial security.  

Great communities provide a diversity of housing options (rental and ownership) for people of all ages and backgrounds. It would remiss not to acknowledge the Beltline’s vision as Calgary’s premier urban community includes its fair share of social housing and services including the expansion of the Mustard Seed, the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre and the relocation of CUPS to the Beltline. 

The addition of 2,500 new homes (for about 4,000 new residents) over the next few years will keep the Beltline on track to achieving its path to a population of 40,000 by 2035.

Note: This blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos feature on March 9th, 2019.

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

Beltline: Calgary’s Hipster/Nester Community

BUMP: Beltline Urban Murals Project

Beautifying the Beltline




Condo Living: The Missing Middle

Being a sucker for a good alliteration I love the new urban planning term the “missing middle.” What is “missing middle” you ask?  

The term coined by Dan Parolek (President, Opticos Design, in San Francisco) includes duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, backyard suites, courtyard apartments, town/row houses, small multiplexes with five to ten homes and work live spaces. In Calgary’s established communities duplexes, triplexes etc have been common place for years. Backyard suites and small town/row and multiplexes are beginning to be seen more and more often these days.

photo credit Optics Design

photo credit Optics Design

What is missing in Calgary are mid-rise residential buildings, those between 6 storeys (low-rise) and 12+ storeys.  There are lots of wood-frame four storey condos (mostly in the suburbs) and lots of concrete high-rises in the City Centre, but not a lot of mid-rises which offer benefits both aesthetically and financially. One of the reasons they don’t get built is that those living in the single family houses nearby don’t want the extra height and traffic.

Let’s have a look at some the benefits….

The six storey recently approved Courtyard 33 in Marda Loop is a good example of how Calgary has evolved from cookie cutter 4 storey infill condos, to innovative mid-rise developments that offer a unique urban living experience with its interior courtyard where residence and neighbours will mix and mingle. Link:  Courtyard 33

The six storey recently approved Courtyard 33 in Marda Loop is a good example of how Calgary has evolved from cookie cutter 4 storey infill condos, to innovative mid-rise developments that offer a unique urban living experience with its interior courtyard where residence and neighbours will mix and mingle. Link: Courtyard 33

Affordability

Why is the “missing middle” important? Because these buildings provide inner city housing at a more affordable prices than row housing or low-rise buildings. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, that if you add two or three more floors to a 4-storey building to allow for say 25 more homes you can spread the land and development cost to more buyers and thereby charge less per home.  

Mid-rise buildings also don’t create the same problems high-rise buildings. For example, they don’t stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of single family homes.  They are what urbanists like to call “human scale” buildings as they also don’t over-power the pedestrians walking by.  

As well, they are large enough to allow for retail at the street level which in turn enhances the pedestrian experience.  

European City Centers are full of them. It is what makes those cities so pleasant to explore on foot. 

Berlin mid-rise residential street.

Berlin mid-rise residential street.

In Berlin the river is lined with mid-rise residential development and the river becomes their front yard.

In Berlin the river is lined with mid-rise residential development and the river becomes their front yard.

Calgary Examples

In Calgary, we are beginning to see more “missing middle” projects like the AVLI condos in Inglewood and Pixel, LIDO and Ezra on Riley Park in Kensington. 

Perhaps one of the best and first examples of a new “missing middle” project on a high profile inner city site was St. John’s Tenth St. completed in 2014.  The 9-story Annex will be the next mid-rise in Kensington, with other mid-rise projects in the works for Bridgeland/Riverside, Winston Heights and West Hillhurst. 

Outside the inner city, Truman’s West District is almost entirely a “missing middle” community. While there will be a few townhouses on the edge of the community, the rest will be mid-rise residential, office and institutional buildings.  Truman is currently completing construction of Gateway the first two buildings of their ambitious project in the community of Wellington, on Calgary’s west side. Their Kensington Legion site condo is good example of a “missing middle” development in the inner city.

Bottom line - the “missing middle” is all about trying to create more diverse housing options in our inner city communities, at a lower price point.

The eight storey Gateway condo currently under construction in the new community of West District include one, two and three bedroom homes starting at $299,000.

The eight storey Gateway condo currently under construction in the new community of West District include one, two and three bedroom homes starting at $299,000.

Pixel in Kensington is a good examples of mid-rise residential development next to lots of urban amenities including an LRT station.

Pixel in Kensington is a good examples of mid-rise residential development next to lots of urban amenities including an LRT station.

Good News / Bad News

The good news is there are currently about 25 construction cranes scattered throughout the city building new multi-family residential buildings, ranging from 4 to 40 storeys.  This is a healthy sign.

The bad news is that BOSA Development has taken down the cranes that were supposed to build the two-tower ARRIS project above the retail podium that will include the long awaited City Market by Loblaws.  

The good news is the retail is still going ahead and is scheduled to open in early 2020.  The fact Truman hasn’t moved forward with the development of the Kensington Legion site is also bad news.  Is this a sign Calgary’s City Centre condo market is saturated at the moment? 

The good news is four new condo projects are being marketed south of the tracks. In the Beltline, Battistella Developments is marketing Nude and TAK Developments is selling Fifth. In Mission, Matrix is being actively marketed by Mission 19 Ltd. and a new developer Bowman Development needs to sell a few more condos and he will be able to proceed with The Nest on the Elbow River.

University District continues to share good news as they have signed up new tenants like Analog Café, J. Webb Market Wines, Cineplex VIP Cinemas, OEB Breakfast, Orangetheory and YYC Cycle for their main street.

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the March 2019 issue of Condo Living Magazine.

The Nest in Mission is offering new homes on the Elbow river starting in the low $200,000.

The Nest in Mission is offering new homes on the Elbow river starting in the low $200,000.

The Hat on 7th is mid-rise rental development in downtown’s West End is currently under construction right on the LRT.

The Hat on 7th is mid-rise rental development in downtown’s West End is currently under construction right on the LRT.

Calgary Buildings Designed By Calgarians 

Calgary, like most cities around the world, has become obsessed with the need to attract internationally renowned architects to make a name for itself. This got me wondering what role Calgary-based architects have played in shaping our city’s sense of place.  

Fred Valentine’s Nova/Nexen office tower is as edgy today as it was when it opened in 1982.

Fred Valentine’s Nova/Nexen office tower is as edgy today as it was when it opened in 1982.

Mike Power’s Bankers Hall twin towers have a storied history.

Mike Power’s Bankers Hall twin towers have a storied history.

Outsiders

While the City of Calgary and Calgary developers have engaged out of town architects for over 100 years, the recent obsession with international “starchitects” began in 2006 when London, UK’s Foster + Partners were engaged to design The Bow office. 

It continued with the hiring of Spanish architect Santiago Calitrava to design the Peace bridge, then Portland’s Allied Works Architecture for the National Music Centre and the American firm SOM architects to design the 707 Fifth office building.  

The list goes on. Brookfield Place - now Calgary’s tallest building - is the work of London, UK and Toronto-based architecture firm Arney Fender Katsalidis while the new Central Library is, the work of Norway’s architectural firm, Snohetta. The next star architect building is Telus Sky, designed by the current international young gun architect, Bjark Ingles and his colleagues at BIG architecture with offices in Copenhagen and New York City. 

No doubt these projects have helped put Calgary on the map of international design cities.  All have received international attention and won international awards. Calgary’s new central library was recently flagged by Architectural Digest as one of the “Nine Most Futuristic Libraries in the World.”   

Indeed, having internationally recognized, futuristic architecture comes in handy when trying to recruit leading edge firms to locate in Calgary. While it won’t close the deal, it sends a message to the world that Calgary is a fun, funky, forward thinking place to live, work and play.  

From right to left - Brookfield Place, TELUS Sky, Suncor Energy Centre and The Bow.

From right to left - Brookfield Place, TELUS Sky, Suncor Energy Centre and The Bow.

Back to local architects 

In each case above, the international architectural firm had to partner up with a local architectural firm (it is a City of Calgary requirement) to assist with the design, manage the logistics of meeting local building codes and approval processes, as well as provide local design knowledge relating to Calgary’s unique climate and history.   

All of these projects provided an opportunity for local architects (young and old) to learn more about what is happening in leading edge firms and benchmark their skills against some of the world’s most visionary designers.  And love it or hate it, it not only helps our design community evolve but stretches the public’s understanding of contemporary urban design too.  

That being said, I thought it would be interesting to profile some of the top buildings designed by Calgarians over the past 50 or so years.  To qualify the lead architect had to be Calgary-based when the building’s design was created.  Here are ten outstanding buildings designed by Calgarians in chronological order. 

Planetarium, 1967, Jack Long 

The late Jack Long is admired universally by Calgary’s architectural community for his championing of contemporary architecture.  His signature building is Calgary’s Centennial Planetarium, one of Canada’s best examples of “brutalism” architecture.  The term Brutalism is derived from the French term “beton brut” which means raw concrete.  Its heyday was in the ‘60s.   

Long, who passed away in 2001, was not only an architect, but also an activist and former City Councillor.  Born in Johnston, Pennsylvania, he set up his architectural practice in 1961 after working on many urban renewal projects in the U.S. including a stint with I.M. Pei, one of the most important architectural practices at that time. 

If you stand back and look at the Planetarium from the southeast, you can see how Long playfully integrated numerous flat rectangular planes that jut out at different angles with the dome in the background.  Long’s juxtaposition of shapes has all the design elements of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum built 30 years later in Bilboa, Spain, a building considered to be one of the iconic buildings of the 20th Century. 

I am not sure the average Calgarian or visitor would think of the old Calgary Planetarium as one of Calgary’s most architecturally significant buildings, but it is with almost every architect I have chatted with over the years.

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Calgary Tower, 1968, Albert Dale

I expect that for many Calgarians, the Calgary Tower is one of their favourite pieces of architecture.  For a half century, it was not only the iconic symbol of Calgary’s futuristic thinking but arguably the most memorable image for tourists. It was (still is) one of our postcard buildings.  

It preceded North America’s most famous tower Toronto’s CN Tower (1976), and is taller than Seattle’s Space Needle.  It was Calgary’s tallest building until 1983 when the Petro Canada building (now Suncor Energy Centre) was completed. 

The column of the tower was built as an unprecedented continual pour of concrete that lasted 24 days at a rate of 25 ft per day. An amazing technical feat at that time.  

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I love the interplay of the Calgary Tower with neighbouring urban design elements.

I love the interplay of the Calgary Tower with neighbouring urban design elements.

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Nexen/Nova, office building, 1982, Fredrick Valentine 

The 37-storey Nexen Building, which opened in 1982, was designed by Valentine while he was with CPV Architects and Engineers.  Its unique, triangular-shape doesn’t comply with the downtown’s rectangular grid street pattern as it faces the corner on a diagonal, rather than flat with the street and avenue.  

When the chinook winds blow, the wind literally (and audibly) whistles as it passes by the building.  I have personally heard the whistle several times.  Its minimalist modernist design creates a sleek, razor-like edge that is amplified by its stainless steel façade.  Modern minimalist skyscraper design doesn’t get much edgier than this. 

After 40 years, the building still serves as the gateway into the downtown core from the west and looks as if it is brand new. 

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Nova Gate is by Toronto artist Kosso Eloul, guards the entrance to the building from 7th Avenue SW.

Nova Gate is by Toronto artist Kosso Eloul, guards the entrance to the building from 7th Avenue SW.

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Calgary Saddledome, 1983, Barry Graham

The Saddledome’s distinctive roof is an inverted hyperbolic paraboloid constructed of lightweight precast concrete panels suspended by a cable network grouted and post-tensioned to form a monolithic structure. Now that’s a mouthful! And yes, this is the same roof that gets blamed for why Calgary can’t host some major rock concerts as the roof won’t support some of the heavy equipment.

The building with its unique roof has become a postcard image of Calgary for Hockey Night In Canada and many other major events covered by the media as it perfectly frames the downtown skyline when viewing the city from Scotsman Hill.  The saddle-shaped roof is a powerful and very fitting expression of Calgary’s ranching history and western hospitality.

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Fish Creek Library, 1985, Ian McDougall & Ken Hutchinson

Somewhat hidden away at 11161 Bonaventure Drive sits the pyramidal Fish Creek Library, one of the city’s first contemporary suburban buildings. The pyramid is of two sections bridged by a massive skylight that allows Calgary’s brilliant sunshine to flood into the library in the winter.  The building references Calgary unique sense of place as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, the two elements of the pyramid suggesting the peaks of a mountain top, or perhaps shifting tectonic plates.  

It should be noted Calgary’s contemporary pyramid, while not identical to the famous Louvre Pyramid (designed by famous American architect firm I.M. Pei), preceded it by four years.  

The library was renovated by Calgary architect Jeremy Sturgess in 1990s.

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Bankers Hall, 1989, The Cohos Evamy Partnership

While Bankers Hall had numerous architects involved in its design, only Michael Powers was there from beginning to end.  Calgary architect Ric Singelton was very influential in determining the final design of the buildings and the “skeletons” on Stephen Avenue.

Look carefully, and you will notice the two postmodern twin towers are not identical but have subtle differences in window patterns, façade and the obvious different colour of their roof tops.  Gold and silver where chosen as these two precious metals have historically been associated with banking.  

Originally, the two towers were to look very different - the east tower was originally all silver and the west tower all gold. As well, originally the east tower was called the CIBC tower and the west tower the RBC tower.  While downtown has many two-tower projects, Bankers Hall is the only one where the two towers are the same height, a requirement insisted upon by the two banks.  

The controversial “white trees” sculptures on Stephen Avenue in front of Bankers Hall are in fact the “skeletons” of the original glass galleria that was to have enclosed the middle part of the block a part of the bonus density scheme that allowed two 50 storey office towers to be built on the block. Unfortunately, issues with firefighting eventually put a kibosh on the concept so it had to be adapted to what we see today.  The “skeletons” will have to come down if the City ever puts the LRT underground along 8th Avenue as originally planned.  

Fun Facts: 

If you look at the towers from afar, the shape of the roofs look like stylized cowboy hats.  

The east tower opened in 1989 the west tower didn’t open until 2000 – a result of downtown’s last major economic downturn.  In fact, some thought Bankers Halls’ East Tower would be the last office tower ever built in downtown Calgary.  For many years, Bankers Hall and the 300 west block of Stephen Avenue was known in commercial real estate circles as downtown’s “centre ice.” 

The original plans for Bankers Hall development with CIBC and RBC towers.

The original plans for Bankers Hall development with CIBC and RBC towers.

Original plans for Stephen Avenue called for two +15 bridges, one to Dome and one to Home towers on the other side of the street.

Original plans for Stephen Avenue called for two +15 bridges, one to Dome and one to Home towers on the other side of the street.

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The historic Canada Life Assurance Building, also know at the Hollingsworth Building built in 1913 was incorporated into the Bankers Hall project.

The historic Canada Life Assurance Building, also know at the Hollingsworth Building built in 1913 was incorporated into the Bankers Hall project.

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+15 and +30 pedestrian bridge links Bankers Hall to what was then called TD Square (another mixed-use two office tower, shopping complex). The bridge provides great views of Stephen Avenue.

+15 and +30 pedestrian bridge links Bankers Hall to what was then called TD Square (another mixed-use two office tower, shopping complex). The bridge provides great views of Stephen Avenue.

The white trees on Stephen Avenue create a unique sense of place. The larger white boots at the based were not part of the original design. The City of Calgary asked for them to added as a protection from being hit by cars.

The white trees on Stephen Avenue create a unique sense of place. The larger white boots at the based were not part of the original design. The City of Calgary asked for them to added as a protection from being hit by cars.

Stephen Avenue viewed from the +15 bridge

Stephen Avenue viewed from the +15 bridge

The trees at night.

The trees at night.

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Alberta Children’s Hospital, 2006, Jim Ebbels

The Alberta Children’s Hospital is Calgary’s most unique contemporary architectural story in that the design was a collaboration between Kasian’s design team lead by Jim Ebbels and an advisory group made up of children and their parents from the hospital.  

It was the children’s idea that the hospital have big windows and bright colours and ultimately resulted in its unique, Lego-like façade.  The vision was to create a child/family-friendly building inside and out - a place that was inviting rather than institutional; friendly rather than foreboding.  The result: a fun, playful design of not only the hospital but its parkade and surrounding landscape.  

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Even the parkade has a playful child-like sense of design.

Even the parkade has a playful child-like sense of design.

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The grounds around the hospital have huge picnic tables as part of a large creative playground.

The grounds around the hospital have huge picnic tables as part of a large creative playground.

Johnson – Cobbe Engineering Building, SAIT, 2012, Chito Pabustan and Vince Dods

For anyone interested in futuristic-looking architecture, one of the best places to visit in Calgary is the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) campus. Here you will find the Johnson – Cobbe Engineering Centre with its four-storey, shiny, spheroid-shaped element that looks like a spaceship is landing at the front door.  In reality, it is the Career Exploration Centre where Grade 9 and 10 students come to explore career options through different experiments.  

Its design serves as a bold statement of SAIT’s innovative, future-looking direction amongst the timeless, brick buildings of this century old campus. Be sure to give yourself lot of time to tour SAIT many other architecturally significant buildings, both old and new.

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Photo credit: Spectrum Marketing

Photo credit: Spectrum Marketing

3rd/4th Street LRT Station +15 Bridge, 2013, Jeremy Sturgess

The 3rd/4th St LRT Station is the most dramatic downtown station.  It not only serves as an LRT station but is a link between the Harley Hotchkiss Gardens and the +15 system.  Redesigned as part of a major upgrade of the 7th Avenue Transit Corridor LRT stations, to accommodate 4-cars trains, but make the entire transit corridor more pedestrian friendly. 

 The station includes a canopy that juts out over the +15 bridge with a grand pedestrian staircase that connects directly to the platform below. The curved shape of the glass roof of the bridge and canopy was inspired by the arches on the façade of the nearby Holt Renfrew building. The canopy then culminates in a large arch that shelters a balcony overlooking the lovely Hotchkiss Gardens with its galloping horses (aka Joe Fafard sculpture).  

Collectively, the station and the garden create a popular urban park in the middle of the downtown core - especially in the summer.

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Atlantic Avenue Art Block, 2014, Frank Kaspar

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block’s timeless design respects the historic brick façades of the early 20thcentury buildings along 9thAvenue while adding a contemporary twist with its wavy roof and glass corner.  The façade incorporates vertical design elements that makes it look as it is several different buildings rather than one massive building, creating a more human scale.  The continuous storefronts along 9thAvenue also enhance the pedestrian experience.  

Its name also pays homage to the history of Inglewood - 9thAve SE originally was called Atlantic Avenue. And “Art Block” not only relates to the fact the building is home to the Esker Foundation Art Gallery, but also to the fact that the building’s lobby is home to numerous artworks (even the staircase was designed by artists). The building is a fitting gateway to Inglewood, a community which has become a funky arts district with its art galleries, designer shops and live music venues.  

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Escalator is a collaboration between Calgary artists Chris Cran and Gord Ferguson. It consists of nine stainless steel structural elements that not only serve as supports for the staircase, but also sense of play in the lobby of the building that is full of other artworks.

Escalator is a collaboration between Calgary artists Chris Cran and Gord Ferguson. It consists of nine stainless steel structural elements that not only serve as supports for the staircase, but also sense of play in the lobby of the building that is full of other artworks.

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The Nest is a meeting room created by Calgary’s Heavy Industries in the middle of the Esker Art Gallery.

The Nest is a meeting room created by Calgary’s Heavy Industries in the middle of the Esker Art Gallery.

Even the lighting fixtures contribute to making the Atlantic Avenue Art Block a work of art.

Even the lighting fixtures contribute to making the Atlantic Avenue Art Block a work of art.

 Last Word

This is in no way a complete list of Calgary’s best buildings designed by Calgarians, but rather the 10 most often mentioned by the many architects spoke to while researching this piece.  As well, most of them are in very visible locations, so likely better known by most Calgarians.  

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

Capturing the art in Calgary’s ARchiTecture!

2015 Everyday Architectural Photos

Calgary is NOT on the cusp of becoming a Design City?

 

 

Calgary City Centre: Residential Development is blooming!

If you are like me, you may well have been asking yourself, “Why are developers still building more City Center residential towers when downtown employment is in decline. Doesn’t that mean the demand for living near downtown is also in decline?” 

Cidex’s West Village Towers project will set a new benchmark for urban living in Calgary’s Downtown West community.

Cidex’s West Village Towers project will set a new benchmark for urban living in Calgary’s Downtown West community.

Currently the first tower is under construction.

Currently the first tower is under construction.

The project will include space for commercial developments like an urban grocery store.

The project will include space for commercial developments like an urban grocery store.

Also next to the railway tracks is One by Strategic Group at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st St SE. It too will provide hotel-like accommodation for renters.

Also next to the railway tracks is One by Strategic Group at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st St SE. It too will provide hotel-like accommodation for renters.

Expert Advice

I thought it best to consult with someone who understands the dynamics of residential development in Calgary better than I. This led me to Urban Analytics (UA), a company specializing in maintaining data on current multi-family development projects in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver (available to industry stakeholders on a subscription basis).

Kimberly Poffenroth, VP Business Development and Andie Daggett, Market & Rental Data Analyst (Alberta) both shared some of their data on the 186 actively selling multi-family projects they track across the city. 

I was surprised to learn, “Calgary’s rental market has remained strong throughout 2018 with 95% occupancy in the third quarter of the year.”  Poffenroth added, “the new mortgage rules that came into play at the beginning of 2018 helped drive some success in the rental market, as many potential purchasers failed to qualify for a mortgage. This, in combination with the increasing number of amenities offered at new rental products, plus rental incentives offered at a majority of rental projects, helped maintain a strong new rental market across the city throughout 2018.” 

Daggett add, “as a result, new rental product in Calgary has been able to increase the average net rent per square foot while maintaining low vacancy rates.”  

Poffenroth, chimed in with “I don’t believe the end goal for most Calgarians is to rent forever. They want to buy a condo or a home. However, the new mortgage rules may push potential purchasers to rent for longer than they originally anticipated. Condo developers have responded appropriately to the changes in the current market conditions through launching price-sensitive product that allows purchasers to obtain home ownership at a more affordable price. There have also been a number of successful higher-end projects, appealing largely to a downsizer crowd, which have continued to show signs of success.” 

Indeed, the 2018 Calgary survey “Calgary Growth Perspectives Tracking Study” by ThinkHQ Public Affairs found 79% of Calgary renters say that if it were feasible, they would like to own their own home.  

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Rental vs Condo

It is important understand the condo and rental markets are closely linked when it comes to multi-family residential development.  The “waters are muddied” when you add in the fact that over the past few years, some condo developers have converted their unsold units into rental units for the time being.  

In addition, many condo buyers are investors who rent their units. It is not uncommon for a new condo building to have as many as 25% of their units for rent. 

Another factor linking rental and condo developments is that today’s renter could well become tomorrow’s buyer.  I often say “empty nesters and young professionals should rent before they buy to determine how much space they really need and if they like the urban lifestyle.” 

Renting also allows you to test drive the community to determine if it has what you want i.e. Inglewood is not the Beltline; Bridgeland is not Kensington.  

The first of two rental residential towers by Hines at 12th Ave near Memorial Park is currently under construction.

The first of two rental residential towers by Hines at 12th Ave near Memorial Park is currently under construction.

Hat on 7th is Cidex’s other project in Downtown West. It will be Calgary’s second residential development without any resident parking.

Hat on 7th is Cidex’s other project in Downtown West. It will be Calgary’s second residential development without any resident parking.

New Condos, Good News

For the first time in three years, new condo projects have been announced in the City Centre. 

Nude by Battisella is a 177-unit development in the end of the Beltline. They began selling units in September and have sold 35 units in the first three months.  Their funky condo INK in East Village is now complete and purchasers have moved in.  It has only 10 units left to sell.  

TAK Developments started to market “The Fifth,” their 48-unit boutique condo at the corner of 17th Ave and 5th St. SW in the Fall of 2018. This is the beginning of CEO Frank Lonardelli’s vision of converting 17th Avenue into a vibrant high street with a mix of new retail, restaurant and residential developments.  And just a few blocks away in Mission, Mission 19 Ltd. has launched sales of their 67-unit Matrix condo. Also, in Mission, Bowman Developments has sold 20% of the units in their recently announced 82-unit condo, The Nest.

Intergulf’s 45-story 11th & 11th project is under construction and will add a new dimension to urban living in the west end of the Beltline.

Intergulf’s 45-story 11th & 11th project is under construction and will add a new dimension to urban living in the west end of the Beltline.

Nude by Batisella is the first new condo start in Calgary’s City Centre in a few years.

Nude by Batisella is the first new condo start in Calgary’s City Centre in a few years.

The Nest in Mission will offer waterfront living (Elbow River) at very attractive prices, partly because there are no parking stalls for tenants. This is truly urban living.

The Nest in Mission will offer waterfront living (Elbow River) at very attractive prices, partly because there are no parking stalls for tenants. This is truly urban living.

The first of the three tower Curtis Block project is under construction on the east side of the Beltline.

The first of the three tower Curtis Block project is under construction on the east side of the Beltline.

Curtis Block rendering

Curtis Block rendering

Other City-wide hot spots

The new northwest inner city community, University District (by The University of Calgary’s West Campus Development Trust) has been a huge success to date. As of the end of November 2018, 128 residents have moved into Brookfield Residential’s Ivy and Truman’s Noble projects.  It was also a busy year for new starts – Maple by Truman (independent living for seniors), Rhapsody by Gracorp (rentals with Sav-On Foods + 10 retail units), August by Avi Urban (just broke ground) and The Brenda Strafford Foundation’s assisted and long-term care building.  As well, University District has a call for proposals for two mixed-use blocks across from the Cineplex complex.   

In all, a whopping 800 multi-family homes are currently at various stages of construction in University District.

Westman Village in Mahogany has also been very well received. This unique, resort-style community that opened its first phase this year already has 230+ residents. This number will grow to 1,200+ people when all 860+ residences are completed.  

Construction at University District is going like gang busters. (photo University District).

Construction at University District is going like gang busters. (photo University District).

Construction view of Westman Village. (photo Jayman website)

Construction view of Westman Village. (photo Jayman website)

Last Word

It would appear there is a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to living near downtown.  The 2018 census showed the Beltline was Calgary’s fastest growing community with 1,668 new residents over the past year.  Downtown West and Eau Claire also showed healthy growth, with all communities surrounding downtown experiencing some growth.  

So, while downtown is struggling as a place to work, its surrounding communities are continuing to bloom (not boom) as places to live!  

Many of the communities surrounding the downtown core are experiencing population growth.

Many of the communities surrounding the downtown core are experiencing population growth.

SAIT: Fun in the Chocolate Lab

We decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day a few days early this year. Why? Because earlier this month we received a mailer from SAIT’s The Highwood restaurant for 25% off.  We couldn’t pass up such a good deal.

It was too late to book for Valentine’s Day, so we picked another day.  

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Myth Busting

We often think about going to the Highwood but never do. Partly because we think it is always booked months ahead (more about that myth later) and partly because who plans that far ahead. 

Who says mail drops don’t work? Social media – bah humbug!

We timed our visit to SAIT so we would arrive about 45 minutes early, enabling us to flaneur a bit beforehand and maybe have a bit of an adventure. We weren’t disappointed.   

FYI: We love exploring post-secondary campuses wherever we travel, as we often find unexpected hidden gems. 

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Monkey Bread 

First, we checked out The Market Place where they sell pastries, breads, prepared soups, jams, sauces and other condiments, as well there is a butcher’s counter with fresh meats.  Everything was super fresh as students in the hospitality program prepare it daily.  

We couldn’t resist so we picked up a loaf of Coconut Curry bread, two Raspberry Monkey Bread tarts, some braised short ribs and stewing beef.  

Hearing we were headed for lunch at the Highwood, the very helpful student (no name tag) serving us was kind enough to offer to store our purchases so we could pick them up after lunch.  

That’s customer service.  

It was a good thing we decided to buy before lunch, as both the breads we bought were gone when we returned to pick up our treasures an hour later. 

But wait that is not the best part of the story… 

With still had time to wander, but thought we should head in the direction of The Highwood. Once at the building, instead of going straight up to the second floor restaurant, we took the stairs to the basement to see what we could find.  

Who wouldn’t be intrigued to explore…

Who wouldn’t be intrigued to explore…

OH My!

In the stairwell was a strange, intriguing wall mural that led us to believe there might be something downstairs.  When we turned the corner, we were face-to-face with a big window into the Chocolate Lab where a dozen or so students, were making some funky-looking candy sculptures. We looked in for a while (being the voyeurs that we are) getting some smiles from those within and then moved on.  

 We proceeded along the dingy, albeit very clean, hallway that looked almost abandoned.  It reminded Brenda of her University of Manitoba days, travelling through the dark and dingy tunnels from building to building to get from class to class.  

Soon we found The Butchery – no baker and no candlestick maker - but it was closed. We will be back on a Thursday – it’s the only day it is open.  We understand you can get some good deals on freshly butchered meats and some different cuts than you find at the grocery store. 

We continued down the hall lined with old, grey mid-century lockers and found the uniform room complete with an attendant to hand out clean uniforms.  I didn’t ask if I could try anything on.  

Moving on, we found a huge, well-lit but barren concrete tunnel leading to the next building - we think.  Or, was it a bomb shelter we joked. But alas, it was time to turn back.

Through the looking glass…

Through the looking glass…

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We did find some old artifacts and were tempted to take this clock home as it looked like it was headed to the landfill.

We did find some old artifacts and were tempted to take this clock home as it looked like it was headed to the landfill.

Eventually we arrived at the tunnel…wouldn’t this make a unique dining room?

Eventually we arrived at the tunnel…wouldn’t this make a unique dining room?

Now, the REAL fun begins! 

As we headed back, the door was open into Chocolate Lab so we decided to take a quick peek in as it looked like all the students were gone. We were quickly greeted and welcomed by Guy Vaugeois, SAIT’s pastry instructor.  

He immediately invited us to come in and have a look around.  He didn’t have to ask me twice.  I was on it like a dog on a bone, snapping pictures with my camera and iPhone like a mad tourist. 

Guy was most helpful spending time telling us all about the students’ current project and how the pastry program worked. And not only did he invite us to try some handmade chocolates, he quickly got us a container and filled it with chocolates insisting we take some home.  He even went so far as to invite us to come back again.  

You can bet we will take him up on his offer!  Free chocolates – we aren’t idiots!

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Found this guy hiding in the corner…

Found this guy hiding in the corner…

Each of these sculptures is slightly different…

Each of these sculptures is slightly different…

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Sweet….

Sweet….

Sweet Lunch & Hot Tips!

Realizing it was 12:10 (our lunch reservation was for noon), we quickly thanked Guy and dashed upstairs to the Highwood for what was a lovely lunch, served by the charming Jose, who couldn’t do enough to please us. He also works at River Cafe (another great Calgary restaurant) so you might see him there.

Of course, the highlight for us were the desserts – the wonderful bread pudding and double lemon meringue. Works of art and very tasty too! 

FYI: I also couldn’t resist ordering a Singapore Sling in honour of Harry Hiller’s guest blog about Singapore last week.   

Here again, staff proved there is no shortage of hospitality in SAIT’s Hospitality Program.  Darwin Ens, Food and Beverage Instructor was most helpful when we asked a few questions.  

One of the biggest myths, we learned, is that you need to book a table weeks or months ahead. Turns out if you call the day of, you can probably get a table, maybe not if there are 8 or 10 of you, but two to four people can almost always be accommodated (best to call between 9 and 10 am). 

Darin also gave us a hot tip!  There is a special buffet that is only served on Thursdays, but not every Thursday due to special events, but if you have a chance, he says it is spectacular – just call ahead to make sure it is “Buffet Thursday.”

Reminder, The Highwood is only open September to April (school terms, so closed over the Christmas holidays and reading week and best to always phone first) and only Monday to Thursday (for dinner) and Monday to Friday (for lunch).  There are two set seating times the a la carte lunch (11:30 or noon) and three for the five course fixe menu dinner 6:00 pm, 6:30 or 7:00 pm.

Welcoming entrance to The Highwood - upscale casual.

Welcoming entrance to The Highwood - upscale casual.

What to choose…it all looks so good!

What to choose…it all looks so good!

My Double Lemon Meringue….

My Double Lemon Meringue….

Brenda’s Campfire aka date sticky pudding

Brenda’s Campfire aka date sticky pudding

Mine was good to the last three drops…

Mine was good to the last three drops…

Last Word

We made a commitment to explore the SAIT campus more often this year to see what other hidden gems await. And of course, to pick up some decadent treats and check out The Highwood’s “Buffet Thursday.”   

If you are visiting Calgary and looking for an off-the-beaten path experiences, we recommend you book yourself lunch or dinner at The Highwood and explore SAIT’s century old campus. 

Link: The Highwood

SAIT’s campus is a delightful mix of old and new architecture.

SAIT’s campus is a delightful mix of old and new architecture.

Edmonton is NOT kicking Calgary’s butt when it comes to urban revival? 

“It’s hard to say how Calgary fell so far behind Edmonton in downtown revival and major amenities. The trend just sort of crept up on us over the past half-dozen years, as Edmonton got a provincial art gallery, the Royal Alberta Museum, Rogers Place, massive additions to downtown MacEwan University, and much else. Not nearly as much was happening here,” wrote Don Braid in his December 19, 2018, Calgary Herald column.

Link: Braid: Calgary’s downtown is set to relaunch and maybe catch Edmonton

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Bigger Picture

I was surprised by Braid’s observation. Where is this negativity coming from? Was I that out of touch with what is happening in Edmonton? I recently spent four days exploring downtown Edmonton to see for myself.

A new arena and a few other developments should not be the measure downtown renewal.   If we look at the bigger picture when it comes to urban living amenities, Calgary has projects that match or exceed those of Edmonton’s.

Let’s have a look at Edmonton and Calgary’s urban revival projects since 2010, when Edmonton adopted a new Downtown Plan – the catalyst for its revival. 

Link: Capital City Downtown Plan 

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

Stantec Tower vs Telus Sky 

 Edmonton’s Stantec Tower and Calgary’s Telus Sky are both mixed-use buildings. Stantec’s first 29 floors are office space with its 30th to 66th floors being residential (454 homes) giving it a height of 251 meters. Coincidentally, Telus Sky also has 29 floors of offices, but only 29 floors of residential (326 homes) for a height of 221 meters.  Architecturally, they are polar opposites.  And while the rectangular, translucent glass Stantec Tower may be taller, Telus Sky, with its bold cubist twisting shape that narrows as it reaches skyward will be an architectural gem.  But wait, Calgary’s new sleek modernist Brookfield Place glass tower, is perhaps a better match for Stantec Tower both architecturally and is just 4 meters shorter.  

Bigger is not always better!

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

ICE District vs East Village

Edmonton’s ICE District, with its glittery new arena, two office towers, hotel/condo and public plaza (under construction), along with a new LRT station hopes to have 1,300 new homes completed by 2021.  

East Village’s The Bow, (twice the size of the Stantec Tower in square footage), two hotels, award-winning Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island Park, a beautiful community garden and playground, six new condo buildings (1,264 new homes and more to come) blows away the ICE district.  And that doesn’t even include the stunning Calgary’s stunning new central library and music museum! 

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Edmonton Centre vs The Core

There is simply no comparison between Edmonton’s tired indoor shopping centre and Calgary’s sunny, four-storey, The Core (redeveloped in 2011) which boast a dazzling, two-block long skylight and renovated Devonian Gardens.  The Core is home to a new Simons department store, while Edmonton’s two Simons stores are in the burbs. 

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

Quarters vs Bridgeland/Riverside 

Edmonton’s plans for the revival of The Quarters was more or less “put on ice” while the City focused on the ICE District.  One project was abandoned for 4 years, before Calgary-based Cidex Group recently came to the rescue and will build a 24-storey residential tower.

Calgary’s equivalent might be the master-planned redevelopment of Bridgeland, the result of the closing of the Calgary General Hospital.  Twelve new condos buildings will have been complete for a total of about 1,500 new homes that will accommodate 2,500 new residents, by the end of 2019.  Bridgeland/Riverside, with its revived main street, has evolved into one of Calgary’s most popular family communities over the past 10 years. Yes, families!

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

Churchill Square vs Olympic Plaza 

Both Edmonton’s Churchill Square and Calgary’s Olympic Plaza are the hearts of their respective city’s cultural district, as they are surrounded by a concert hall, theatres, museum, and City Halls.  

And while Edmonton has its funky new Art Gallery of Alberta building, I was not impressed by their exhibitions as I have been by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum’s recent exhibition programming.  The new $375 million Royal Alberta Museum was nice but didn’t impress me as much as I thought it might. Touring the lobby, I didn’t get the feeling this was a “must see” place.  For my money, the Glenbow offers the same art and history experience Edmonton has to offer. Programming trumps architecture. 

Similarly, Edmonton’s Win spear Concert Hall and Citadel Theatre and Calgary’s Art Commons offer pretty much the same experiences for those interested in the performing arts. When it comes to the literary arts, Edmonton is renovating its old library for $85 million into a shiny new building while Calgary spent $245 million on a new library building that has received international acclaim. 

Churchill Square is currently undergoing a mega makeover. Calgary is a few years behind with its cultural makeover, but a $400+ million makeover of Art Commons complex and Olympic Plaza is in the works.  There are also plans for a new public art gallery in Calgary’s old Science Centre/Planetarium at the west end of downtown. 

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Northlands Park vs Stampede Park 

While, the future of Edmonton’s Northlands Park is uncertain, Calgary’s Stampede Park flourishes - not only as home to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” but to numerous major events like Calgary Expo, one of Canada’s largest cosplay showcases.  

Quietly, Stampede Park has been evolving with new buildings like the Agrium Western Events Centre and its new Youth Campus that includes the TransAlta Performing Arts Studios, Calgary Arts Academy, BMO Amphitheatre and ENMAX Park.  

The construction of three major condo towers is also evidence of the district’s quiet revival. Next step a major expansion of the BMO Centre. 

Plans for the revival of Stampede Park and Victoria Park Calgary over the next 20 years are WAY ahead of those for Northlands Park district. 

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

Urban Parks

While Edmonton undoubtedly has the most dramatic river valley, it is not easily accessible from its City Centre communities.  

In contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow rivers are both intimately linked to the everyday lives of those living in our City Centre thanks to constant improvement to the river pathways.  Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s Riverwalk, West Eau Claire Park and two spectacular pedestrian bridges.

Kudos to Edmonton’s City Council who boldly approved the expropriation of 18 lots in the middle of downtown to create a much-needed, 3-acre park, the equivalent of Calgary’s Harley Hotchkiss Gardens that opened a few years ago.  

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Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

Urban Living 

In addition to the above comparisons, Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s funky Inglewood community with its historic main street, Esker Gallery and new condo developments.  Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s Mission district or how Calgary’s Zoo and Telus Spark easily connect to our City Centre by LRT and pathways.  

Yes, I was impressed with how Edmonton has implemented its 2010 Downtown Plan which includes adding 12,200 new residential units by 2045.  To date an impressive 1500 new units have been completed and 858 are under construction with more proposed.

In Calgary one developer, Qualex Landmark alone has built 1300 units in the Beltline. Today, Calgary has a whopping 9,000+ residential units (75% of Edmonton’s goal) at various stages of development in its City Centre. 

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

Calgary & Edmonton both on the rise!

I am surprise at how a new arena can blind people into thinking Edmonton is booming and Calgary is declining because it doesn’t have one. For too long Calgary has measured the success of its downtown by the number of new office buildings and the number of people working downtown.  

A better measure of downtown revival is the number of new residential developments and the number of people choosing to live near the downtown core.  The fact the Beltline was the fastest growing community in Calgary last year and that there are several major residential developments under construction in our City Centre is testament to the fact Calgary’s downtown revival is on the rise, not decline. 

And, I am happy to report Edmonton’s downtown is also on the rise. In some cases Edmonton is ahead of Calgary when it comes to urban revival and in other cases Calgary is ahead of Edmonton.

Every city evolves in its own way.

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

Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best river?

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

Calgary: Recreation Centre the new cathedral? 

With the opening of the 330,000 square foot Brookfield Residential YMCA at SETON Calgary now boasts the largest and second largest YMCAs in the world. Yes, the world!  The second largest is also in Calgary - Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge which opened in January 2018.   

 Both are more than just a YMCA, they serve as a mega community centers. 

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Recreation: The new religion?

In my opinion, recreation amenities are the key to creating successful communities today. More so than a grocery store, retail or restaurants. Why? Because in Calgary, recreation plays the biggest role in our everyday lives.  Most families have their kids in two or three recreational activities at any given time and weekends are spent at one or more recreation centres. Singles and young couples love to go to the gym, swim or participate in a yoga or spin class several times a week.  

It is almost like fitness is the new religion. 

My parents and grandparent’s generation never went to a gym, but nearly all of my friends 55+ years of age are actively engaged in recreational activities several times a week.  As for grocery shopping, we fit that in once or twice a week often on the way to or from recreational activities. 

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Recreation Centre: The New Cathedral

It is isn’t no coincidence the naming sponsor for many of Calgary’s new suburban YMCAs are real estate developers or home builders, as they realize the recreation center is to Calgary’s suburban communities, what the cathedral and historic town square is to European city centres. It is the gathering place for almost everyone living in the surrounding communities.  And like the European cathedral, the new centres are also architectural wonders. 

When I chat with suburban developers about urban development issues and trends they often remind me “they are not in the business of building homes, but developing communities.”  While having a park, playground and pathways used to be sufficient for creating new communities, today having a mega multi-use recreation centre is a must. 

In fact, I am surprised Calgary’s new inner-city communities - Currie, East Village and University District - don’t have a boutique recreation centre as part of their master plans. To be fair, both are very close to post-secondary campuses with large recreational facilities that might be used by residents.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Not A New Idea

Indeed, Calgary’s home builders have a long history with sponsoring community recreation centres.  The Trico Centre opened in 1983 as the Family Leisure Centre (they were called leisure centres back then), and was called that until 2008 when Trico Homes purchased the naming rights for $1.5 million.  Today, the 150,000 square feet building attracts over 1 million visitors per year. 

Backstory: The original building cost only $9.4 million dollars (there are single family homes that cost more today), but the 2010 addition of a new arena and other renovations cost $17.2 million.  While the Trico Centre doesn’t have a library inside, the Fish Creek Park Library sits next door and Southcentre Mall is across the street, creating a community hub. 

The South Fish Creek Complex, which opened in phases beginning in 2001, combines the Bishop O’Byrne High School, Shawnessy YMCA, Shawnessy Library, Chinook Learning Centre and South Fish Creek Recreation Association.  Then in 2015, the Association entered into a 10-year naming rights partnership with Cardel Homes, becoming Cardel Rec South.  

Cardel Place opened in 2004 in north-central Calgary and quickly become the heart and soul of Calgarians living in the city’s north central suburbs.  After the ten year naming relationship with Cardel Homes expired, both parties amicably agreed it was time for a new name. As a not-for-profit community facility, it was decided the new name needed to reflect its new vision of “raising healthier generations.” “VIVO” a Latin word meaning “with life and vigour,” was chosen with the subtext “for Healthier Generations.” 

In the northeast, the Genesis Centre opened in 2012 and quickly became the “living room” for over one million visitors each year from Calgary’s northeast communities. Genesis Land Corporation contributed five million dollars for the naming rights as part of the community’s $40 million dollar fundraising campaign for the $120 million, 250,000 square foot building. 

Another slightly more modest 94,000 square foot, Remington YMCA in Quarry Park opened in September 2016.  FYI: Remington Development is responsible for the ambitious vision of converting a gravel pit into a new master-planned, mixed-use urban community that integrates a major employment district (Imperial Oil moved its head office there in 2014) with a retail/recreational district and a residential district with a mix of single-family and multi-family homes.  

I am surprised a home builder hasn’t attached its name to the Westside Recreation Centre which opened in 2000 and ten years later completed a major renovation. 

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

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Last Word 

In the mid 20thcentury, separate buildings for arenas, indoor pools and other recreational activities were scattered around the city, rather than centralized. And, developers were busy building lakes and golf courses as the recreational amenities to attract home buyers. 

Today, there has been a paradigm shift to creating mega, integrated multi-user community centres that include not only an indoor arena with a couple of sheets of ice, but perhaps a curling rink, a couple of gyms, a pool, with separate areas for families and lane pool swimmers, as well as public library, art, dance, martial arts and yoga studios and meeting rooms.  

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

As one friend said to me recently, “we’ve come a long way from the neighbourhood outdoor skating rinks and pools with perhaps a small building as a change room.”  

Others have asked, “Is this a good thing?”

Today, the City and developers are thinking about community not as individual neighbourhoods based on subdivisions or even quadrants, but rather as districts based on logical boundaries like major roads, transit routes and geographic features.  

As Bob Dylan said in 1964, “For the times they are a-changin’.”  

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

Is Calgary the recreational capital of Canada?

Shane Homes Rocky Ridge YMCA: Architecture Gone Wild?

Calgary: Playgrounds gone wild