Calgary’s newest mixed-use design intervention for urban explorers and art enthusiasts
Many know CMLC as Calgary’s go-to team of city building placemakers, and our latest project in partnership with The City of Calgary to reinvigorate one of downtown’s oldest landmarks -- the Historic Fire Hall No. 1 -- is no exception.
CMLC was approached by our partners at The City with the challenge of bringing new life to the 110-year-old vacant historic building. While longer term activation of the building is still being determined, CMLC reimagined the exterior into a vibrant artistic space that will provide another great opportunity for discovery in our captivating city. The design features a temporary pergola—a tall 14-foot steel structure whose overhead framework provides a space for art to shine and temporary stage for performers —alongside the historic building. The area around the pergola is dotted with picnic tables, turning the whole site into a welcoming gathering place for urban explorers and art enthusiasts.
Located at 6th Avenue and 1st Street SE—a prime corner in the heart of downtown—the new pergola was designed by Works of Architecture and built by Ryan Murphy Construction. The pergola was initially envisioned at twice it’s current size which would have required underground bracing. When evaluating the existing underground infrastructure, the decision was made to reduce the size which resulted in the structure becoming a freestanding, modular and mobile piece with the ability to be used for future projects.
CMLC engaged local artists, Emma McCaul and Jessie St. Clair of Calgary’s Moonlight Collab to help enliven the space. The duo created a hanging art installation titled Escape, which includes a collection of hand made and hand painted ladders at varying heights. The inspiration of this piece was drawn from the Fire Hall itself, using thematic elements like ladders and ropes. Each ladder is adorned with layers of paint, paper, and hand-written messages. The art piece explores the ladder as a means of escape; inviting the viewer to escape their everyday ordinary surroundings and journey into a playful realm of art and wonder. The ladders were layered across the top of the pergola creating a beautiful canopy for musicians playing below and for people to view the artwork from a unique perspective.
“The ladders are hung horizontally to represent time. As time passes, buildings erode, artists leave their marks, and the urban landscape evolves,” says artist Emma McCaul. “While some things change, others stay the same. The relationship between this temporary art piece and the Fire Hall is intended to represent exactly this.”
McCaul and St. Clair began working creatively together in 2012 when they co-founded Studio Cartel. Their time together encouraged their exploration and growth in new artistic mediums including sculpture, installation and interactive design. They remained close friends and created the Moonlight Collab as an avenue to collaborate on projects together.
McCaul is a self-taught mixed media artist and curator, who enjoys working in various mediums and St. Clair is known for her whimsically expressive painting style, often depicting playful, dream-like images of her memories and experiences.
The site also features multiple murals from accomplished artist Jae Sterling and a curated selection of up-and-coming local artists from Foreignerz, a creative house that pushes the boundaries in art, music and film. The murals were painted live during the official opening event for the space and the art was inspired by the history of the site and the artists’ interpretation on the theme of escape.
Installing an artistic space on a previously developed historic site is no easy task, but an opportunity that CMLC jumped at. Being the previous home of an active Fire Hall, the team had to design the space in consideration of existing underground utilities and tanks associated with the historical operations. Keeping steadfast to our vison in creating a unique outdoor gathering space to serve the downtown community, we worked with our partners to alter plans to safely install the structure.
The space is just the first step. This place, like all design interventions, revolves around the people. In the spirit of bringing people together, The City is hosting live performances every Saturday evening throughout September at the Fire Hall outdoor courtyard. For more information on times and performers, visit the City of Calgary website.