Landscape Integrated Architecture
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Unless you have been living under a rock or have only recently moved to Calgary, you know by now that Calgary is getting a new library! The New Central Library has already commandeered its integral location adjacent to City Hall and within easy proximity of Calgary’s exciting new talk-of-the-town district: East Village. Steel is up and the building is taking shape (you can even check their live-every-ten-minutes webcam online). The CMLC website boasts that the NCL is “setting the stage for what promises to be one of the world’s most dynamic and inspired public libraries”. Naturally, we in the design and architecture industry are excited for the new addition to our city’s architectural landscape.
So how did we get so lucky to be the home of such an internationally acclaimed project, and who is responsible for it? Well, I cannot answer the first question, but I would like to add a little insight to the latter, and share why I am so excited about it.
I was the first to be up in arms over the Peace River Bridge when it was announced that Santiago Calatrava had won the project. As much as I admire and respect the work of Calatrava, I was disappointed that the opportunity for a local designer to be featured had been handed out overseas. (Side note: I have since fallen pretty hard for our new iconic bridge.) On the other hand, I was also the first to convince friends and family that Steven Norman Foster’s The Bow would not be an eye-sore against our (previously rather bland) skyline, but rather it would set a precedent for pushing the boundaries of how skyscrapers had looked for decades, especially in Calgary. Our new library is the perfect fusion of my admittedly confused opinions. Not only is it a uniquely crafted vision set in the heart of my hometown, likely to blow the top off of Calgarians’ standards for new buildings, but it is the work of a well-known Norwegian firm: Snøhetta.
Aside from being an international project, the new library is being built in effortless parallel with our bustling city. It integrates municipal transportation, existing heritage, landmark-worthy presence and, well, a lot of books. And I love books.
The landing page of Snøhetta’s website enthusiastically proclaims: “We are Snøhetta. We create architecture, landscapes, interiors and brand design”. I would argue that those are not individual categories in which they work, but rather an integrated frame of mind with which they approach each project. Some of my favorite Snøhetta projects are ones that are so immediately responsive to their environment. So much so, that they essentially become it.
The Norweigan Wild Reindeer Centre Pavilion might as well be Snøhetta’s namesake project (and is one of my all-time favorite projects). Overlooking the mountain Snøhetta, it is an observation pavilion set into the remarkable landscape of the Dovrefjell mountain range. It serves as ground zero for visitors hoping to admire the environment and catch a glimpse of Europe’s last wild reindeer herd.
Being on the perimeter of the Dovrefjell National Park and part of such a culturally respected and revered landscape, the building is an exceptionally appropriate response to its landscape. It is contrasted in just enough detail to achieve architectural identity, while still greatly respecting the ground that frames and supports it. Its container is solid, bound by geometry, and clad in faceted, reflective material. Its face reflects the colors and hard, eroded topography of the mountains and landscape that envelopes it. But its interior is undulating and smooth like the snow, sky and hills it is nested into. The marriage of these contrasting elements provide flawless functionality – views are uninterrupted, users are sheltered, and the impact on the surrounding environment is minimal. The building respects local building traditions and is designed to withstand the unusual climate. It serves as protection, yet offers the ultimate experience of immersion and contemplation of landscape.
Whatever the reason for Snøhetta snagging this project in our beloved city, I cannot help but feel pride over Calgary warranting the attention of such a considerate and intentional group of architects and designers. If they have invested even half of the effort they do in projects like the Wild Reindeer Centre into our New Central Library, I am excited to see how it might transform Calgarians’ respect for, and their relationship with the city’s built environment.
Ellysa Evans, Jr. Interior Designer Davignon Martin Architecture + Interior Design