Sky’s the limit for stu­dents

Iconic build­ings imag­ined for city

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - RICHARD WHITE

In the ’70s, the Cal­gary Tower stood head and shoul­ders above all other build­ings down­town.

It was truly an icon — a bea­con that could be seen from all four quad­rants of the city.

Now it is hid­den in a maze of of­fice, condo and ho­tel tow­ers, with only glimpses of its red fly­ing saucer-like ob­ser­va­tion deck pok­ing out here and there.

Does Cal­gary need a new icon — a build­ing that truly stands out from all the rest?

With all due re­spect to the new Bow, 8th Av­enue Place and Cen­ten­nial tow­ers, none of these are vis­i­ble from all four quad­rants as you en­ter the heart of the city.

Have you ever won­dered what Cal­gary’s down­town sky­line might look like if some­one were to con­struct a re­ally tall build­ing of, say, more than 100 floors?

Where would you place it? What should it look like?

That is the chal­lenge that Prof. Brian Sin­clair of the Univer­sity of Cal­gary put to his stu­dents in the se­nior ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dio pro­gram this year.

The stu­dents were given the fol­low­ing guide­lines:

To cre­ate a mixed-use, highly in­no­va­tive, qual­ity de­sign build­ing that had the power of brand­ing for a ma­jor off­shore real es­tate in­vest­ment trust.

It had to be a min­i­mum of two full city blocks down­town — an area in­clud­ing Belt­line and East Vil­lage. While the site was at the dis­cre­tion of the stu­dents, they had to pro­vide a site anal­y­sis and an ex­pla­na­tion of why they chose it.

It had to have a min­i­mum gross area of de­vel­op­ment of 3.7 mil­lion square feet — about twice the size of the Bow Tower.

The pro­ject also re­quired a min­i­mum height of 1,640 feet high — 2.5 times taller than the Cal­gary Tower — with a min­i­mum of 100 floors.

The stu­dents had to pro­vide at least one main tower, with con­sid­er­a­tion of ad­di­tional build­ings as part of the over­all land de­vel­op­ment.

The pro­ject must con­tain res­i­den­tial (ho­tel and con­do­minium), com­mer­cial of­fice, re­tail, a min­i­mum of 30,000 square feet of cul­tural space, and park­ing.

The de­vel­op­ment had to be build­able in the real world and would be sub­ject to re­view by a pro­fes­sional en­gi­neer.

The build­ing should “be­long in Cal­gary.”

Sin­clair’s six stu­dents di­vided them­selves into three teams of two and ea­gerly took on the chal­lenge. And what a chal­lenge it was. Ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign is an amaz­ingly com­plex process, in­te­grat­ing es­thet­ics, econom- ics, en­gi­neer­ing, trans­porta­tion, safety and sus­tain­abil­ity, as well as so­cial and cul­tural fac­tors.

In­no­va­tion, re­source­ful­ness and ex­plo­ration are the pil­lars of ar­chi­tec­tural think­ing and prac­tice. The stu­dents were en­cour­aged to tackle emer­gent and ex­per­i­men­tal build­ing sys­tems, as shown by the fol­low­ing ex­am­ples:

Have you ever

won­dered what Cal­gary’s down­town sky­line might

look like if some­one were to con­struct a re­ally tall build­ing of, say, more than

100 floors? Where would you place it? What should

it look like?

Team 1: The


Cameron Ashe and Jill Jaber Akl chose a lo­ca­tion along the Bow River at the Eau Claire Mar­ket site.

Their inspiratio­n was the 1914 Mawson Plan for Cal­gary — a pro­posal by Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Thomas Mawson that was never im­ple­mented — that called for this site to be home to a sig­na­ture build­ing on the river bank.

An­other in­flu­ence was the City Beau­ti­ful, a re­form move­ment in North Amer­i­can ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban plan­ning that flour­ished in the 1890s and 1900s.

The in­tent was to use beau­ti­fi­ca­tion and mon­u­men­tal struc­tures in cities for the com­mon good, as well as to cre­ate civic virtue and pride among ur­ban pop­u­la­tions.

Ad­vo­cates of the move­ment be­lieved that such beau­ti­fi­ca­tion could pro­mote a har­mo­nious so­cial or­der that would im­prove the qual­ity of ur­ban life. For Ashe and Jaber Akl, their vi­sion was to cre­ate a de­vel­op­ment that had year­round vi­tal­ity, hy­bridiz­ing the man-made and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments into a re­fresh­ing new 21st cen­tury de­sign state­ment.

The first step was to adopt a sandstone-coloured facade in recog­ni­tion of Cal­gary’s his­tory as the Sandstone City (ves­tiges of which can still be found in the sandstone build­ings along Stephen Av­enue.)

The sculpted form of the re­gion’s sandstone hoodoos were the inspiratio­n for the over­all or­ganic shape of the build­ings.

The stu­dents’ use of fluid dy­namic com­puter mod­el­ling al­lowed them to cre­ate a sen­sual and fem­i­nine over­all build­ing shape, mak­ing it stand out from Cal­gary’s ex­ist­ing block-like build­ings — which give a more mas­cu­line im­pres­sion.

Sev­eral other fea­tures link the build­ing back to na­ture.

These in­clude a 60-foot wa­ter­fall or ver­ti­cal river (us­ing the build­ing’s grey wa­ter), sky gar­dens on the 8th, 10th and 20th floors, as well as two “parks” — one on the 80th floor, with the other on the roof of the parkade en­trance.

The com­plex also has an enor­mous atrium that con­nects the two build­ings, al­low­ing nat­u­ral light to shine into all in­te­rior spaces.

At ground level, re­tail and cul­tural spaces com­bine to cre­ate a more pedes­tri­an­friendly streetscap­e.

In a bold move, Ashe and Jaber Akl also cre­ated a five­floor re­tail mall from the 65th to 70th floor — talk about el­e­vat­ing the Cal­gary shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence to new heights.

I am not aware of this fea­ture in any other build­ing in North Amer­ica; maybe the world.

Team 2: The Apasstaan

Nooshin Es­maeili and Branica Jo­vanovic chose to lo­cate their de­vel­op­ment in East Vil­lage, also near the Bow River at the LRT tracks.

Apasstaan is Black­foot for “bridge.” Nooshin and Branka’s de­vel­op­ment is meant to act like a bridge, link­ing East Vil­lage to the down­town core ex­tend­ing all the way to Fort Cal­gary.

The inspiratio­n for the crys­tal-like build­ing is Al­berta’s long-stand­ing re­source-based min­ing his­tory — from coal min­ing to oil­sands.

This his­tory led Es­maeili and Jo­vanovic to con­duct some crys­tal-mak­ing ex­per­i­ments to gen­er­ate ideas for an in­no­va­tive struc­ture for their build­ing. Us­ing the Mil­ner-In­dices Crys­tal Plane, they were able to study twists and turns associated with the up­ward forces that cre­ated the moun­tain rock for­ma­tions thrust­ing out of the flat prairie.

To fur­ther this metaphor, the base of the build­ing is a Frank Gh­ery-like, multi-plane glass crys­tal struc­ture that reads like the foothills ris­ing out of the flat, prairie-like streetscap­e of East Vil­lage.

The cul­ture cen­tre and re­tail are all placed at ground level, while of­fices oc­cupy the bot­tom third of the tower.

An ho­tel is in the mid­dle third, with con­dos fill­ing the top third. Sky gar­dens are placed on ev­ery 10 floors, al­low­ing ten­ants to have their own pub­lic space.

From an in­no­va­tion per­spec­tive, mini-wind plates and so­lar pan­els are in­te­grated into the build­ing’s facade.

This means there will lit­er­ally be more than 100,000 of these plates mov­ing with the wind and sun dur­ing the day, giv­ing the tower an ever-chang­ing ki­netic shape.

Team 3: Pas de Deux

So­mayeh Mousazadeh and Ghaz­a­leh Sa­farzadeh chose a site in West Vil­lage (the area west of the Me­wata Ar­mouries and the Science Cen­tre, be­tween the rail­way tracks and river) right next to the Bow River.

The inspiratio­n for their de­sign was the prairie grass­lands and it con­sists of two build­ings that are de­signed to in­ter­act with each other like two pieces of grass. To ac­com­plish this, each build­ing ro­tates 30 de­grees ev­ery 20 floors and is ta­pered at the top to cre­ate a sense of move­ment to the eye.

The very fu­tur­is­tic, Jet­son­look­ing base of the build­ing has bridges con­nect­ing the de­vel­op­ment to the river’s north and south river banks, as well as to the LRT sta­tion to the south.

This two-tower pro­ject would con­sist of a 120-floor of­fice tower and a 100-floor res­i­den­tial tower, with the cul­tural space sus­pended be­tween the two.

The top of the build­ings are in­tended to move with the breezes like a wind sock, gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity for the com­plex.

To min­i­mize the space needed for a park­ing garage, a crane sys­tem would lift and move cars into their spots, rather than driv­ing up ramps to your park­ing spot.


It was in­ter­est­ing that all three teams in­de­pen­dently chose sites near the Bow River (rather than along the rail­way tracks or Belt­line blocks), where their mas­sive projects would cast sig­nif­i­cant shad­ows on the ad­ja­cent river path­way, as well as across the river to the north side path­way.

An­other com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of the three pro­pos­als was how the build­ings were in­spired by na­ture and place, rather than ex­ist­ing Cal­gary ar­chi­tec­ture.

Per­haps the next gen­er­a­tion of Cal­gary ar­chi­tects well help our city evolve from its prag­matic, prairie and pi­o­neer es­thetic to a more in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic, iconic and imag­i­na­tive one that re­flects a new and unique sense of place.

From Sin­clair’s per­spec­tive, “the most im­por­tant as­pects of the stu­dio is the di­verse, re­mark­able and rich learn­ing that hap­pened as clever stu­dents tack­led the well-con­sid­ered, sen­si­tive and imag­i­na­tive de­sign of their tall build­ings.

“The stu­dents were charged to seek that mag­i­cal place of bal­ance be­tween the prag­matic and the po­etic, that line be­tween what is build­able and what is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. All teams suc­ceeded with skill and grace.”

Cour­tesy, Brian Sin­clair

An artist’s ren­der­ing of what the Sky­s­tone would look like if it was con­structed.

Cal­gary Her­ald Archive

Brian Sin­clair, pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­ture and en­vi­ron­men­tal de­sign at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary.

Pho­tos cour­tesy, Brian Sin­clair

Prairie grass­lands in­spired the de­sign of Pas De Deux con­cept.

More than 100,000 mov­able plates are part of the Apasstaan de­sign.

An artist’s ren­der­ing of the in­te­rior of the Sky­s­tone.

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