Calgary is quickly becoming one of North America’s design cities with new architecturally significant buildings being completed every year. What is particularly notable about Calgary’s 21st century architecture is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of being weird or wacky like so many cities.  For urban design junkies, here are five buildings to check out outside and in.

2888 Shaganappi Trail NW

The first thing that likely comes to mind when you set eyes on the Alberta Children’s Hospital is that it looks like something designed by children using Legos.  In fact, you’d not be far off, as the architects from Calgary’s Kasian office met with 38 different groups, including an advisory group of children to gather ideas o how to make the hospital a success for everyone.

It was the children who wanted extra large windows, so the architects took note, placing large coloured panels around several blocks of regular windows to make them visually larger and more inviting.  The children were influential in wanting bright, cheerful, toy box colours. Even the parkade has a Fisher Price toy sense of place.  Opening in 2006, the building has been a huge success with families and medical practitioners.

Alberta Childrens Hospital  

500 Centre St SE 

This Foster + Partners building, completed in 2012 is one of Canada’s premiere office buildings with its unique semi-circular shape that mirrors the curve in the Bow River as it passes through downtown. The building is in sharp contrast with Calgary’s predominately big-box office buildings. 

 From an engineering perspective, it is notable as Canada’s largest steel-framed building, as well as, the foundation was the largest single concrete pour in Canadian construction history (using 94 concrete trucks and taking 40 hours).  

Architecturally, the buildings’ southwest facing atrium wall is visually stunning with intersecting triangular sections that form the world’s largest diagrid of architecturally exposed structural steel in the world. The building’s unique sense of place is further enhanced by world-renowned, Spanish artist Jaune Plensa’s pure white, two-storey high steel grid sculpture “Wonderland” on the plaza. A second Plensa piece of a “tree hugger” with obvious political ramifications that nobody talks about sits on the opposite side of the building.  

The Bow

25th Ave and Spiller Rd. SE

On the edge of the Manchester Industrial district just southeast of the City Centre sits the bold Water Centre, home to Calgary’s Water Resources and Water Services departments. Designed by Edmonton’s Manasc Isaac Architects and Calgary’s Sturgess Architecture, and opened in 2007, the building’s bold curved galvanized aluminum roof resembles a huge culvert as you drive along 25th Avenue. The green-blue pattern of the glass façade on the other side appropriately suggests shimmering water.  

The building is oriented to capture the winter sun and provide views of the Rocky Mountains and downtown skyline.  The building’s four-storey atrium combined with a public garden and sculptures have converted this brown-field industrial site into a hidden oasis.  Backstory: Calgary’s water consumption has declined by 17%, while the population has grown by 30% since 2003.
water centre

513, 8th Avenue SW

Eighth Avenue Place (EAP) has the honour of being the first LEED Platinum complex in Canada. Pickard Chilton, a Connecticut architectural and Calgary’s Gibbs Gage architecture were inspired by the snow-covered peaks Rocky Mountains peaks to create this unusually shaped building.  In addition to creating two towers with their opposing sloping roofs, the reflective glass walls have subtle articulations that continuously change the colour and shape of the buldiings with the changing light.

EAP’s dramatic winter garden lobby is also worth checking out. For culture vultures, interested in Canadian painting, the elevator areas serve as grottos for some of the best Canadian art you will find anywhere including works by Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jack Bush and Jack Shadbolt.  For those into mid-century modern,  the Arne Jacobsen chairs, Florence Knoll benches and Eero Saarinen coffee tables are yours to enjoy.  

Bow River at 7th Street SW. 

Unquestionably, Calgary’s most controversial 21st century piece of architecture is the Santiago Calatrava designed Peace Bridge crossed by thousands of pedestrians and cyclists daily.  The controversy was cause by the price (over $20 million), the location (it doesn’t really connect to anything), the delays (it was over year late due to improper welding) and sole sourcing (the City just gave the project to Calatrava, the Spanish architect).

Today, most of the controversy has subsided and the bridge has become a postcard image for the City.  Completed in 2012, the bridge was ranked among the top 10 architectural projects (Azure Magazine) and public space (Design Boom) in the world.
It is a unique Calatrava design with its helical steel structure, glass roof and its bright red colour (which reflects the colour of the City’s two professional sport teams – NHL’s Calgary Flames and CFL’s Stampeders and the iconic Calgary Tower).
peace bridge

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