New library adds to growing list of architectural hits in downtown Calgary

Calgary's East Village is fast becoming an architectural hotspot, thanks to a number of new buildings designed by award-winning international architects.

The architectural buzz builds about Calgary's East Village

The new central library in downtown Calgary is attracting international attention, joining other buildings and bridges designed by star architects that have turned the city into an architectural hotspot. (City of Calgary)

They might be having trouble finding tenants, but thanks to a spate of critically-acclaimed buildings designed by some of the world's leading star architects — or starchitects — Calgary is growing into a destination for design lovers.

That's the word from University of Calgary Associate Professor Jason Johnson, who appeared on The Calgary Eyeopener Wednesday to talk about the Calgary Public Library's new central branch being named by Architectural Digest as one of the 12 new buildings to watch for in 2018.

While Johnson had plenty to praise about the innovative design work of Norway's Snohetta and Calgary's DIALOG — the firms behind the new library — he also pointed out the library is just one of several new Calgary buildings to make an international splash over the past few years.

"Within the five block radius of where this building is going up, we've got buildings by three architects that are on this list," said Johnson.

The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation says the library’s Third Street Plaza is an example of innovative public space that will invite residents from the East Village and beyond to explore, relax, reflect and connect. (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

"We've got the new Telus Sky (Building) architects, which is by the Bjarke Ingles group (also in collaboration with DIALOG)," Johnson said. 

"They're also on this (Architectural Digest) list with another building (the ARC Power Plant project in Copenhagen, Denmark). And the recently completed Studio Bell, which I believe is on one of the lists (and is designed) by Allied Works out of Portland."

Studio Bell won the people's choice award for favourite building at the 2017 Mayor's Urban Design Awards. (City of Calgary)

Architects head for East Village

Throw in the Bow Building, designed by Norman Foster — and perhaps the controversial Peace Bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, if you want to extend the geographic boundaries a few additional blocks — and Calgary has become an architectural oasis, Johnson says.

"We host quite a few (visiting) architects on campus, and they're always interested in going down to the East Village to check out projects they've heard of," Johnson said.

"As we mature as a city, we'll be getting more people who are coming to visit here, as opposed to just a lot of us going to other places to see good architecture."

The Bow's Wonderland sculpture reflects the big city lights in downtown Calgary. (CBC)

Connecting to the community

Johnson said there were a number of reasons why the new library might attract the attention of the architectural elite.

"One of the things is it potentially does a really good job of is connecting people from the street into the building," Johnson said. "In order to do that, they've had to push the LRT (light rapid transit station) under the building."

"What that allowed them to do is create a nice sequence to enter the building from the street so you don't have to climb over the tracks or under them — but you can actually just enter into the building and (then) they've (also) created this wood surface that goes overhead as you enter into the building."

"Anytime you have a project that tries to engage the city in that way that draws people's attention."

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener