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Modern Architecture in Calgary

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 43-06

Elveden House under construction, 1960

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 43-06

We were at the Heritage Roundtable last week where the subject was Calgary’s architectural history. I learned a lot from the presenters, about historic building styles, the amazing resources available at the Canadian Architectural Archives at the U of C and about historic building research. But the talk that really opened my eyes was David Down’s presentation about Calgary’s Modernist architecture. In the course of my research I often see that magnificent old buildings were torn down, especially in the urban renewal schemes of the 1960s and I wonder what could have possessed the planners of the day to allow the destruction of such historic properties. However, I sometimes look at buildings like the Calgary Board of Education across the street from us or the Centennial Planetarium and wonder “how could the planners of the day have allowed those concrete bunkers to be built?” I should really be ashamed of myself, I guess. We often don’t appreciate the things of our day. It is only when we look back, with the advantage of hindsight, that we can see the elegance and beauty of contemporary architecture.

I was exercising my newfound eyes as I rode to work through the West LRT construction. I have watched as the overpass for the train was built, using that very cool mobile crane and the process certainly fascinated me. But looking at the structure itself, I see a kind of elegance and lightness in the fluted pillars and the sculpted concrete of the overpass itself. The pillars, with their delicate reeding, remind me a little of some columns seen in Egypt (like these at Edfu - or maybe I’m just dreaming?) Edfu pillars from iStock

The question was raised about what we will consider “heritage” in the next century. Will we look at the new City Water Services building or the Bow building and see a historic site worth saving or will we ask ourselves: “What on earth were they thinking?” In any case, I am going to find out more about Calgary’s modern architecture by having a look at some of the books we have here on the subject. I think I’ll start with Calgary Modern, 1947-1967 by Geoffrey Simmins and Calgary Architecture: the Boom Years, 1972-1982 by Pierre Guimond. Both are available in the CHFH collection on the 4th floor at the Central Library as well as in the regular collection.

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