'It feels like a changed city': International architect reviews Calgary's attractions during visit

Major and impressive projects — like the Bow skyscraper, Studio Bell and the new Central Library — have garnered international attention. Now a California architect is suggesting we put the same design rigour into smaller developments in Calgary.

Calgary's beautiful buildings may inspire cleverly designed future, architect says

An artist's rendition of the new central library, as seen from from Third Street and Ninth Avenue S.E. (@calgarylibrary/Twitter)

Calgary's recent architectural successes should encourage designers to aim small and build well-designed density in the core, a California architecture professor says.

Major and impressive projects — like the Bow skyscraper, Studio Bell in the East Village and the new downtown Calgary Central Library — have garnered international attention. Most recently, Architectural Digest lauded the library as one of the 12 most anticipated buildings of 2018.

"It's a pretty big deal. It's a really nice project," Andrew Kudless, a designer and architecture professor with the California College of Arts, told the CBC's Homestretch this week.

Beyond the $245-million library's visual esthetic, it's unique how it's built over a C-Train line, he said. The C-Train goes through the building, "which I think is really important to have in this city," Kudless said.

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

​This and other Calgary projects are inspiring, he said, for the architects who are collaborating this week with University of Calgary students on ideas for new urban design techniques as part of the the Taylor X Symposium at the St. Louis Hotel.

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Andrew Kudless, a designer and architecture professor at the California College of Arts,says that Calgary 'feels like a changed city'. (Stephen Hunt/CBC)

Kudless explored downtown Calgary this week on his first visit in about seven years.

"It feels like a changed city," he said. "I think the work that Calgary has done to densify the urban core is great, and continues to do that with all these upcoming projects like the library and others."

Studio Bell, for instance, is now an attraction for music lovers as it houses the National Music Centre of Canada. Its facade, which twists from the outside to the inside of the building, is excellent design, according to Kudless.

"The way it reflects the kind of beautiful skies you have here in Calgary is really phenomenal," he said.

Kudless worked for Studio Bell's design firm, Allied Works Architecture, about 15 years ago, before it took on the project.

Studio Bell in the East Village is home to the National Music Centre and features an enclosed walkway over Fourth Street S.E. to the renovated St. Louis Hotel. (Dave Rae/CBC)

As Calgary tackles common city issues, such as building density in the core, he says local designers are uniquely positioned to take inspiration from the big projects to insert good design into smaller ones and renovations.

Any old buildings known for poor design should be renovated, he said, arguing it's "always cheaper in the long run" to fix than to completely start over.

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

"Along with these buildings, there needs to be attention to everything from public housing to parks, public art. It can't just be about these big name architects coming in and doing celebrated project," Kudless said.

"It's important to give access to good design at every level."

If Kudless is right, Calgary's architectural success with big beautiful buildings could trickle into cleverly designed solutions to the city's current struggles with empty office towers and urban sprawl.

Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at

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