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Calgary’s Architectural Revolution

AS CALGARY CONTINUES BURSTING AT THE SEAMS with unsurpassed growth, dramatic new structures are being erected throughout Calgary’s core at breakneck speed. But it’s more than a building boom. These gleaming additions are transforming the very face of the city—by invoking dramatic, visually compelling designs.

“The structures are magnificent in nature,” says Maggie Schofield, the executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, adding that the new developments are a natural progression that will expand on Calgary’s identity. “We’ve always been a leader and we’re continuing to do so.”The most high-profile project is the Norman Foster & Partners designed Bow, commissioned by energy powerhouse EnCana. Piercing high into the sky at 58 stories and featuring three sky gardens, it will be the tallest office tower in Canada outside of Toronto. U.K.-based starchitect Foster has created a design akin to some of his notable works, including the Hearst building in New York City and the Swiss Re, a.k.a. The Gherkin in London.

Foster’s signature style is modern yet classic, with crystalline glass creating interiors awash in natural light—plus Foster has garnered a reputation for incorporating the surrounding areas into his designs. The Bow takes its name in part from the views of the Bow River, as well as the structure’s seductively curved shape.

With almost two million square feet of office space, EnCana will bring its staffers, currently scattered throughout downtown, together in one place. The influx of activity and the anticipated interest this unique building will generate is predicted to accelerate the evolution of the downtown core as a vibrant destination point. The Bow is slated for completion in 2011.

While the Bow is the biggest belle of the building boom ball, other exciting projects just completed or slated for the near future include a number of architecturally significant structures.

Soon to be located across from the Calgary Tower, Le Germain, crafted by LeMay Michaud Architects of Montreal at a price tag of $110 million, is being touted as an environmentally progressive building, with green roofs and energy saving windows. It merges three buildings in one: an office complex and an art hotel, joined by 40 penthouse residences spanning the tops of the two towers. The distinctive “n” shape of the building, terraced penthouses and a glass curtain wall will make this a visually striking addition to the city. In addition, $500,000 has been allotted for Canadian art for the cushy boutique hotel. Anticipation is running high and the luxury condos sold out in one day, even at the accompanying platinum prices of $840,000 to $3.5 million and their estimated completion date of fall 2009.Meanwhile, the Palliser Block that surrounds the iconic Calgary Tower is about to be revamped. Construction is under way on Palliser South, an 18-storey office tower at the corner of 10 Ave and 1 St SE, but more striking is a plan to flank the structure with two 26-floor office towers, designed to accentuate rather than compete with the signature Calgary landmark.

Residential downtown living will be enhanced by the first tower of the Arriva three-structure cluster to be completed this fall. Designed by BKDI Architects, the 34 floors of gleaming glass and steel cast a striking impression on the east portion of the skyline. Brick and sandstone finish at the base is intended to complement the surrounding architecture (it’s located in the historically-rich area east of the Stampede, at the corner of Olympic Way SE and 11th Ave). The second and third towers, at 44 stories, will be the tallest residential towers in Alberta.

Notes Schofield, “Projects like the Arriva are bringing even more people to live in the core. It changes the dynamic in a very positive way.”Two new buildings already visible on Calgary’s skyline are The Courts and Centrium Place. The Calgary Courts Centre brings together three departments of the Alberta justice system into one area, making it the largest consolidated judicial complex in North America. Superstar architect Carlos Ott collaborated with the architectural firm, Kasian, conceiving a distinctive building with impressive 26-storey atriums and glass bridges connecting the two towers. The Court of Queen’s Bench and five divisions of the Provincial Court will all be housed in 73 different courts in the buildings on 7th Ave and 5th St SW.

Meanwhile, driving or walking along 6th Ave by 3rd St SW, it’s impossible not to take notice of Centrium Place, as vibrant multicoloured glass juts out from the surrounding buildings. Gibbs Gage Architects has created a design evoking a Mondrian-inspired painting, using the canted south and west facades as an artistic canvas amid the urban landscape.

Other future major projects for Calgary include the struggling Eau Claire Market, which has been under the planning microscope for the last few years. It was recently purchased for $13.5 million and is slated for a massive rebuilding project. Beginning in spring 2008, Harvard Developments is planning six new residential towers to be built on the site and surrounding area.

Even more projects are in the works, evidenced by the dozens of construction cranes dotting the sky and the long lines at the city planning office. By 2011, Calgary’s skyline will be strikingly different from today, not only in terms of expanded office and retail space to address the current shortages, but with a forward-looking vision—artistic dreams embodied in glass, stone and steel that will redefine how we and others see this city.—Roberta McDonald

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