Friday, May 10, 2013


The Bow draws attention to a city’s evolution
By Valerie Fortney
Calgary Herald May 10, 2013

Whenever he needs a dose of inspiration, Michael Brown needs only to glimpse outside his office window.

“I can see the top part of it,” he says of the 58-storey downtown skyscraper known as The Bow. “It’s a reminder for Calgarians to think big — we can do some very creative things in this city.”

For Brown, the presence of the towering structure a few blocks west provides a daily affirmation of his own endeavours of the past two years.

As president and CEO of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, it’s his job to oversee the transformation of the East Village from a former derelict area to a vibrant inner-city community.

While the East Village development promises to emerge as a diverse and dense neighbourhood offering everything from a national music centre and hotel to residential living and urban parks, it doesn’t boast a single skyscraper.

Still, Brown sees his project and that of the newly-opened Bow as being inextricably connected — and not because prior to joining the team at CMLC, he was employed by Matthews Southwest, the developer responsible for The Bow’s construction.

“The two projects have changed the way we see the east side of our downtown,” says the native Calgarian, whose grandfather, Fred Brown, was an East Village street cop back in the late 1940s. “They have helped to alter perceptions of our entire city.”

While Brown’s comments might sound hyperbolic to the casual listener, his views regarding the $1.4-billion building, Canada’s first trussed-tube skyscraper and the tallest structure west of Toronto, are gathering an increasing number of converts both here and internationally.

In 2011, the building designed by renowned U.K. firm Foster + Partners won an Alberta Steel Design Award of Excellence, given out by the Canadian Institute of Steel Constructors, which noted that its innovative external structure system helped to make it the country’s second-largest building in floor space.

In January, Azure Magazine — one of North America’s top architectural publications — counted The Bow, along with Calgary’s Peace Bridge, among its Top 10 Projects of 2012.

The two local structures were the only Canadian inclusions on a list that included the London Olympic Park and the iconic CCTV Tower in Beijing. Azure’s judging panel cited The Bow as an important symbol for an “oil-rich city that’s just beginning to pay attention to the look of its downtown core and the quality of its buildings.”

In April, The Bow added the biggest feather in its cap when it joined the likes of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers and New York City’s Hearst Tower by being named one of the world’s 16 most impressive corporate buildings.

According to a jury of experts gathered by Emporis, a German-based, global provider of building data, the crescent-shaped building located at Centre Street and Sixth Avenue S.E. meets all the criteria for inclusion on this prestigious list: design, visual impact and functionality of “significant corporate architecture.”

Earlier this week, I was taken on a tour by Encana’s MaryAnn Blackman to see if the interior of the gleaming, architectural wonder lived up to its outside billing. As any of the lucky 4,000 or so Calgarians owning a security pass for entry — most of them employees of energy companies Cenovus and Encana — will attest, it succeeds from the get-go.

The steel exoskeleton design allows for a city-within-a-city feel of spaciousness; the glass-filled, south-facing atriums on three higher floors create nothing less than spectacular meeting places; as well, panoramic city and mountain views are available from close to 80 per cent of the building’s offices.

It is, says Jeremy Sturgess, an iconic building that Calgary deserves at this moment in its relatively young life as an urban centre.

“The building of The Bow has helped in the recognition of Calgary as an international city,” says the prominent local architect, hired by Fosters and Matthews Southwest as The Bow’s urban design master planner. “It is one step in a process of steps for Calgary.”

Sturgess feels that having such an internationally recognized skyscraper in the heart of the city’s downtown east core will have lasting impacts in a wide variety of areas.

“I think it raises the bar for the City of Calgary and it sets a new tone for what is expected of developers,” he says, adding it will also inspire both established architects and graduates of design. “The Bow and the Peace Bridge are examples of Calgarians wanting to do something remarkable for Calgary.”

For Bruce Graham, The Bow’s rise on the Calgary skyline, a process 10 years in the making, mirrors that of the city’s ascent on the world scene over that same period.

Back in 2003, says Graham, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, Calgary was positioning itself as a centre for Western Canada, “an affordable, low-cost place to do business.”

What a difference a decade makes. Recent accolades, such as the city being named 17th overall on Z/Yen’s Global Financial Centre Index, show how those regional aspirations have evolved into global ones.

The bold statement that The Bow makes to our landscape and our skyline, says Graham, is “a reflection that our city makes to our country and the global marketplace.”

In time, The Bow’s impressive stature will be narrowly eclipsed by a new building at the site of the old Calgary Herald building on Sixth Avenue and First Street S.W. Upon completion within the next five or so years, Brookfield Properties’ 56-storey, 247-metre tower will become the tallest building in Western Canada.

For Calgarians like Michael Brown, though, it won’t replace The Bow as the symbol of what’s possible for the city of his birth.

“This building marks a realization that we don’t have limitations on what’s possible anymore,” he says.

“Twenty years from now, we’ll look back and say that the opening of The Bow was the moment when Calgary changed.”

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