Building a Better City

Metro News Calgary recently featured a handful of articles discussing Calgary and its architecture. One of these articles invited local experts to share their thoughts in a three-question survey on the matter, and RK's Peter Schulz, Architectural Design Manager, was asked to participate.

To read the article in its entirety click here, and for Peter's complete responses to all three questions, continue reading below.

Describe Calgary's architecture.
Calgary is a relatively young city with architecture influenced by the character of various stages in its unique history, from its prairie heritage and pioneer spirit to the boom and bust dynamics of the black gold era.  The architecture is a mosaic of mid-century rural conservatism; urban modernity suited to a fast-growing city that hints at its metropolitan promise; and everything in between.  Obviously each period offers its share of good and not-so-good design, but this undeniable diversity has also been a driver for the city’s burgeoning vibrancy.  By preserving more and more historic buildings, Calgary’s humble heritage will always be present among the modern high-rises recently erected and currently being constructed in the downtown district.

What do you like about Calgary's architecture?
Calgary’s unique physiographic traits, featuring two purely recreational rivers and close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, add a lot of qualitative value to the city and its development.  The evolution of the city – for the better, to be sure – in only the past six years is amazing, as evidenced by the infusion of modern high-rises and advancement of projects such as River Walk and East Village.  The city’s gems have long been hidden, but its potential is now being realized through greater appreciation for architectural quality and sustainability, as well as the understanding of why they are needed and how they enhance the lives of the populace.  This trend, along with initiatives to improve public transportation, pedestrian-friendly amenities, and availability of bicycle lanes, is carving a path for Calgary to be recognized among the established Canadian centres in terms of both appearance and livability.

What needs improving?
The ever-expanding sprawl, widely acknowledged to be unsustainable, has been a long-standing issue for Calgary; more densification (including reclaiming large parking lots and underutilized space Downtown and in the Beltline) and redevelopment of abandoned former industrial areas within proximity to the inner city should be sought.  In addition, new communities should adhere to mixed-use models that promote “live-work-play” opportunities; encourage higher energy efficiency and building portfolio diversity; and strive for greater residential density.  While there are good global precedents in this regard, we need not look further than Quarry Park in southeast Calgary to witness a leading example of this approach.  Finally, more cultural spaces, which lend themselves nicely to contemporary design, should be added to the city fabric.  Examples would be a central modern library that connects to public life at street level; a new building for the Glenbow Museum; a new museum of contemporary art featuring international exhibits; and perhaps even a modern museum of energy that keys on history of Alberta Oil & Gas, innovations in exploration and operations, and sustainability and alternative energies.

In summary, the city would benefit from thinking that is more forward-looking and less conservative.  Oddly enough, it might help to delve deep into the past for the impetus – after all, wasn’t the origin and spirit of Calgary rooted in the courageous adventurism of the pioneer times?

PressRiddell Kurczaba