Peace Bridge en­hances city

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Front Page - RICHARD WHITE

You have to ad­mit the Cala­trava Bridge — oops, I mean the Peace Bridge — has cap­tured the in­ter­est and imaginatio­n of Cal­gar­i­ans from all walks of life.

It’s the buzz around the work­place wa­ter cool­ers, lo­cal golf cour­ses, cafes, blogs and let­ters to the ed­i­tor.

When the de­sign was an­nounced, I was in­un­dated with e-mails from my col­leagues at Rid­dell Kur­cz­aba, as well as other ar­chi­tects, artists, in­te­rior de­sign­ers and de­vel­op­ersw telling me their opin­ions and ask­ing what I thought.

The Black­Berry was a-buzzin’ and the di­a­logue was in­tense.

The opin­ions of th­ese pro­fes- sion­als were as var­ied as those of the pub­lic-at-large — some loved it, some hated it and no­body seemed in­dif­fer­ent.

From my per­spec­tive, the de­sign has been very suc­cess­ful in that it has cap­tured the imaginatio­n of the pub­lic.

I’ve heard it de­scribed as a Chi­nese fin­ger trap, a bul­let train, a ham­ster tun­nel, a candy cane, blood ves­sel and a straw.

To me, good pub­lic art has some am­bi­gu­ity that al­lows peo­ple of all ages and back­grounds to see dif­fer­ent things and re­late to it in dif­fer­ent ways.

An­other cri­te­ria of suc­cess­ful pub­lic art and ar­chi­tec­ture is that it is con­tro­ver­sial and never uni­ver­sally loved.

Per­son­ally, I like the Chi­nese fin­ger trap anal­ogy.

To those not fa­mil­iar, it’s a child’s toy where two peo­ple each put a fin­ger into one end of a tube and then both try to get their fin­gers out.

The in­stinc­tive re­ac­tion is to pull away from each other, but if you do, the trap squeezes harder.

The only way out is if, at the same time, both peo­ple push their fin­gers to­wards each other, thus re­leas­ing them.

It teaches co-op­er­a­tion and pa­tience, some­thing many Cal­gar­i­ans need to learn.

I can’t help but won­der if, on some level, Cala­trava is mak­ing a state­ment about the need for Cal­gary’s bo­hemi­ans and the bour­geois to work to­gether, rather than fight each an­other.

On an­other level, I won­der if he is try­ing to tell us that we need to be pa­tient as we evolve from a prag­matic, agri­cul­tural con­ser­vatism to a more cos­mopoli­tan, cor­po­rate and en­tre­pre­neur­ial cul­ture.

Like any ado­les­cent city, Cal­gary is strug­gling to leave its past be­hind and evolve into a new ur­ban so­ci­ety. This will take decades — it doesn’t hap­pen overnight.

What sur­prises me most is all of the fuss over the bridge’s red colour.

Give Cala­trava a break! Any artist com­ing to Cal­gary and want­ing to link their work to the city’s cul­ture would choose red.

Think of the Stam­pede, Cal­gary Flames, Red Mile, Stam­ped­ers foot­ball club and the Cal­gary Tower, all of which in­clude red as a sig­na­ture colour.

Given that this project has gen­er­ated na­tional and in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion, a ref­er­ence to Cana­dian cul­ture is also war­ranted — in other words, the red maple leaf of the Cana­dian flag.

A quick les­son in Colour Psy­chol­ogy 101 also gen­er­ates sev­eral good rea­sons for choos­ing red.

Red is as­so­ci­ated with cel­e­bra­tion, con­fi­dence, power and pas­sion, all of which re­flect Cal­gary’s cor­po­rate and com­mu­nity spirit.

Red is also linked with ex­cite­ment and anger, both of which this project has gen­er­ated plenty of.

The colour also sym­bol­izes good luck in Chi­nese cul­ture, and pu­rity and in­tegrity in In­dia, both help­ing to re­flect our mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety.

As a long-term ad­vo­cate for more colour in our build­ings and pub­lic art, I say bravo, ar­chi­tect San­ti­ago Cala­trava, for choos­ing red. I also give him credit for cre­at­ing a tun­nel-like bridge be­cause it re­sem­bles our Plus-15 bridges.

Love them or hate them, the more than 60 down­town Plus-15 pedes­trian bridges are Cal­gary’s most unique ur­ban de­sign fea­ture. It makes per­fect sense for the new river bridge to build upon our ex­ist­ing bridge cul­ture.

Hope­fully, it will in­spire lo­cal de­vel­op­ers to be­come more am­bi­tious with our Plus-15 bridges, which all too of­ten are more func­tional than artis­tic.

As the old adage says, “beauty is in the eye of the be­holder.”

The beauty of Cala­trava’s Peace Bridge should not be judged by a few im­ages on a web­site, in the news­pa­per or on TV.

The true test of the bridge’s beauty will come in 10 or 20 years when we will see how it has weath­ered.

It is only then will we truly know if Cal­gar­i­ans love it or hate it and if it has served as a cat­a­lyst to make our down­town a more in­ter­est­ing place to work, live and play.

It is way too early to tell if this project has been a suc­cess or not. Now is the time to ex­er­cise some pa­tience and work to­gether to make our city bet­ter — as per the lessons of the Chi­nese fin­ger trap.

Cal­gary Her­ald Archive

The pedes­trian Peace Bridge has cap­tured the pub­lic’s imaginatio­n.

Pho­tos, Cal­gary Her­ald Archive

Span­ish ar­chi­tect San­ti­ago Cala­trava in Venice, Italy. He is the de­signer of Cal­gary’s pedes­trian Peace Bridge.

An artist’s ren­der­ing of the night-time in­te­rior of the bridge.

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