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