Memorial Drive: A Landscape of Memory

ARCHITECT The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative Inc.
LOCATION Calgary, Alberta

This project is part of the second phase for the Memorial Drive Landscape of Memory, a 9.5-kilometre renovation to the parkway that forms a portion of Calgary’s pedestrian pathway system. The focus of the second phase is on a series of interconnected public spaces, and the Memorial Plaza is the first of these new public spaces. The project addresses the client’s programmatic directive to design a space to commemorate Canada’s efforts during wartime, while at the same time offering a much needed contribution to Calgary’s fledgling public realm by creating a four-season, 24-hour space.

The existing site is characterized as a residual green space, adjacent to the intersection of Memorial Drive, a busy road running east/west, and 10th Street with its bridge connection to the downtown core. The site includes a two-storey historic building that houses an outdoor resource centre and meeting spaces. North of the site is the walkable neighbourhood of Kensington, and south of the site is defined by the Bow River. While the site’s grade slopes steeply southward to the river, it lacks an appropriate connection to the water.

With respect to the design, the two main challenges involved the resolution of the complex urban design diagram and the development of a commemorative voice for the space. Specifically, the urban design diagram facilitates the weaving together of the neighbourhood to the north with the river’s edge, and the resolution of the conflict between pedestrians and commuter cyclists along the pathway. The need for space to stage large formal gatherings for commemoration was to be balanced with spaces that are adaptive for everyday use.

The solution strategized two distinct and interrelated surfaces, one of wood and the other of weathering steel. Both surfaces are conceived as systems that allow manipulation and therefore transformation, framing and catalyzing different opportunities for occupation, engagement and connection.

Defining the vertical shift within the grade change in the space, the weathering steel surface focuses this transition space as the primary space for commemoration. In concert with the vertical movement defined by the weathering steel, a series of narratives are cut from the surface with a water jet and then backlit, portraying different voices and perspectives in relation to the sacrifice, honour and hope associated with all facets of society during periods of conflict. In addition, the descent through and along the weathering steel frames a view across the water to illuminated sentinels on the south shore of the river, representing a conceptual “space apart” and “space of desire” often associated with the separation of loved ones during wartime.

The wood surface is Balau, a fast-growing wood that is characterized by its hardness, resistance to rot, and maintenance-free nature. Conceived as transformable decking, it sutures disparate spaces and negotiates grade changes into a singular continuous surface, and folds to provide various urban amenities, such as a canopy and surfaces for seating, eating and sleeping.

Within the limited material palette, complementary design elements include body-sized weathering steel letters signalling and defining the presence of the public space to the Kensington neighbourhood and to vehicular traffic. Further, an illuminated bosque of trees honour the original trees planted along Memorial Drive in memory of the fallen from World War I.

The resultant public space offers two interrelated places: a gregarious space of interaction that extends and complements the pedestrianized Kensington neighbourhood, characterized by urban sounds, commercial opportunities, and spaces of occupation at different scales; and then the more reflective space connected to the water’s edge and the pathway system, characterized by the sound of water and birds, and vistas of the river waterway.

GH: This is a fabulous memorial on a very banal river’s edge. The way the elements engage the bridge on both sides of the river really creates a meaningful engagement with the landscape. The renderings, while dark, were very successful in illustrating the intentions.

JPL: In this project, the architects have skillfully created urban events through the use of materials and street furniture. The transition to the river is addressed in a subtle way with a series of belvederes along the lower river promenade. The accommodation of disparate user groups has been thought through. However, the treatment of the interface with the adjacent busy artery weakens the project.

PR: It’s a beautiful, appropriate and well resolved project. It pushes the artfulness of architecture with a dexterous hand.

Client The City of Calgary
Architect Team Marc Boutin, Ron Choe, Mike DeBoer, Jerry Hacker, Sean Knight, Tony Leong, Mauricio Rosa, Nick Standeven, Kristin St. Arnault
Structural/Mechanical/Electrical/Landscape Stantec Consulting
Contractor Graham Construction and Engineering Inc.
Area 112,000 ft2
Budget $8 M
Completion 2010