Douglas Coupland to create Calgary’s largest public artwork

Renowned Canadian artist and author Douglas Coupland will add a new work of global significance to Calgary’s vibrant public art scape. ‘Northern Lights’, a 160,000 square foot LED-based art installation at the new TELUS Sky tower, will become the biggest public art piece in Calgary. TELUS Sky is set to be the third tallest building in the city’s skyline when it opens in early 2019. The north and south façades of the 60-storey mixed-use tower rising above 7th Avenue SW and Centre Street South will showcase the compelling installation, which will be programmable to change colour and lighting sequences.

Coupland, who is known for public art installations across Canada, including Vancouver’s ‘Digital Orca’, and Toronto’s ‘Four Seasons’, has created full-colour motion sequences with the lights that take advantage of TELUS Sky’s curved shape. Made up of 600 custom bulbs, the integrated LED lighting wraps around the window frames of the building to create ‘pixels’, that together form an infinite number of patterns and colour displays.

Douglas Coupland, Telus Sky, Calgary. Westbank, Bjarke Ingels Group, BIG
Northern Lights. Image via Westbank

Coinciding with the daily revolution of the earth, the signature Northern Lights sequence will begin at sunset and play for eleven minutes. To honour the Northern Lights phenomenon, fluid movements changing by the second with unexpected hits of colour, will scroll across the building. Interspersed between plays of the Northern Lights sequence will be one-minute Coupland-generated patterns, designed to vary regularly in line with seasons, special celebrations, key dates and city events. Together, the combined 12-minute series will loop to run five times per hour.

Douglas Coupland, Telus Sky, Calgary. Westbank, Bjarke Ingels Group, BIG
Northern Lights. Image via Westbank

“Northern Lights will draw in the public, in a similar way to a firework show. It has an amazing sense of real-time motion and energy, along with the build-up to a spectacular crescendo,” says Coupland. “Bjarke Ingels’ TELUS Sky design is simultaneously symmetrical and curvilinear. Its twisting and mineralogical façade provided the perfect canvas to channel such a dynamic symbol of nature as the Northern Lights. For me, it was a chance to create something very analog on a system that is very digital. Like the building itself, there is an inherent contradiction, in that technology can be both a form of art as well as a tool for its creation.”

Leveraging TELUS Sky’s tenet of using innovative technologies to enhance sustainability, Coupland is creating a free downloadable app that will share details of how Northern Lights works. Over time, the app will reveal new interactions and versions to enable smartphone and tablet users to hold devices up to TELUS Sky’s facade to see and read colour-specific messages that are otherwise concealed within an overall sequence. These messages could be simple data like the date, time and weather, but could also become larger and quite elaborate as the technology allows for an infinite number of colour and pattern possibilities.

Douglas Coupland, Telus Sky, Calgary. Westbank, Bjarke Ingels Group, BIG
Rendering of the completed Telus Sky. Image via Westbank

Arguably one of the most anticipated skyscrapers in Canada based on its unique design, TELUS Sky is a signature development created by world-renowned Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Dialog, along with developer  TELUS Communications Inc., and real estate investment trust Allied REIT. As the building’s namesake and anchor tenant, TELUS envisioned a design that embodied its commitment to community and innovation, which will enhance Calgary’s skyline with unique architecture and inspire wonder with striking public art that honours the Northern Lights.

TELUS will occupy 33 per cent of the LEED Platinum tower, which incorporates 450,000 square feet of next-generation office space, with leasing opportunities still available. The mixed-use tower also features fitness and meeting room amenity space, plus 325 executive residential rental units to offer a unique blend of urban living and modern comforts. Residential rentals will begin leasing in early summer 2018.

“As one of the most beautiful and avant-garde architectural structures in the world, TELUS Sky will transform the Calgary skyline,” says Darren Entwistle, President and CEO of TELUS. “The stunning tower blends a vibrant mix of traditional office and retail space with artistic residential units above. The integration of Coupland’s public art, Northern Lights, into TELUS Sky’s exceptional sculptural form will create a large scale canvas for his work, inspiring Calgarians with its striking beauty.”

“Unique, eye catching and sure to enliven the city after dark, Northern Lights is a game changer for Calgary,” says Ian Gillespie, President at Westbank. “I am confident it will enchant and intrigue to become a true icon of the city.”

To create Northern Lights, Coupland has worked with Montreal-based high-tech lighting firm SACO.