Sturgess Architecture: Improving Urban Flow, Upgrading City Life

Based in Calgary, Alberta, architectural firm Sturgess Architecture (Sturgess) has long been recognized for its innovative designs and distinctive approach to the business. Headed by Jeremy Sturgess, MAAA, FRAIC, RCA, who founded the company more than 30 years ago, Sturgess has expanded its artistic approach to urban design to multiple sectors. “When Mr. Sturgess started, it was in custom homes, and then gradually after a few years we became more commercial-related,” says Tom Leong, an architect at Sturgess. “We have done a lot of public work and private work as well. We did the Water Centre recently, and that was one of our biggest LEED programs here in Calgary. Right now our mix is 65-percent commercial and the rest residential.”
 
With more than 20 employees, Sturgess’ architectural services – from conceptual planning and programming to contract documentation, sustainable designs and project administration – are available beyond Calgary throughout the rest of Alberta and even overseas. “We did a hotel in Japan, and we’ve done a few other things abroad,” says Leong.
 
The firm approaches projects with an integrated design process, constantly in communication with all involved parties to facilitate the client's vision within the site's possibilities, operating with fiscal responsibility and environmental clarity. Each structure continues the conversation of how people can most efficiently and evocatively interact with the built environment.
 
Demolishing and Rebuilding
 
Currently Sturgess is putting its design expertise to use on a huge project in Calgary known as the Seventh Avenue LRT (Light Rail Transit) Refurbishment, working in association with GEC Architects. The City of Calgary Planning Department and Calgary Transit joined together to commission a master plan for the redesign of 10 stations and the pedestrian environment of the Seventh Avenue LRT transit corridor in a 16-block area of downtown Calgary.
 
“The exact size of this project is hard to explain. All of the LRT stations will be either refurbished or demolished. New stations will be constructed to replace the demolished ones. There are five stations being built that are new and that will accommodate the four-car trains rather than the three-car trains that are being used presently,” Leong explains. “There are other phases. Phase two and phase four each has a twin station, meaning there’s a station on both sides of the block. Phase two and phase four are basically bookends of the LRT refurbishment on Seventh Avenue.”
 
Sticking with its dedication to the green design movement, Sturgess included several sustainable aspects in this project. “We’re all using materials that are natural materials, and we’re trying to incorporate a better design to transition between the platform and existing buildings,” Leong says. “I think all of the stations will be completed in 2012.”
 
Expanding Underground
 
Even with Sturgess’ experience in public works, the Seventh Avenue LRT Refurbishment has presented some challenges. “The biggest challenge is to work around existing underground services that are not even in the books. Every time we dig down we hit something that we were not even certain was there,” Leong says. “The other challenge is to keep the Seventh Avenue corridor consistently meeting the needs of the users, and it’s always a challenge to accommodate the end users of LRT in Calgary. We can’t shut down the LRT system, so that’s always ongoing as well.”
 
Despite these challenges, Sturgess’ work will result in much-needed improvements to the outdated system. “I would be hesitant to tell you when the first [station] was built. They’re pretty old. I think it was the '80s when the first ones were built, but they may go back further than that,” he notes.
 
The first phase of the project began on the First Street SW LRT station’s refurbishment of the new westbound C-Train platform, with associated streetscape improvement between Centre Street and First Street SW. Other improvements include the block bounded by First Street and Second Street West. These improvements mark the design that will be incorporated into all of the new and refurbished stations. Each station will be marked with a dominant canopy and shelter structure of glass and steel. The six stations currently under development will also have these design features. They range west on Seventh Avenue to Ninth Street, following the original master-plan. Every station will be connected to currently existing buildings and will allow for any additional new developments.
 
Leong believes the overall effect of this project on the community “will enhance the number of users that can use the stations downtown and eventually throughout the whole LRT system because they will be incorporating a four-car system instead of the three-car system and will tie it into all of the northeast leg as well as the west leg of LRT. The entire system of LRT will be enhanced by the number of people who can use the system.”
 
With Sturgess coordinating with GEC to guide the project, the Seventh Avenue LRT Refurbishment will no doubt be a huge success and improvement throughout Calgary. It will improve the face of the city, drawing from Calgary's context, reinforcing its sense of community, and furthering Sturgess Architecture's reputation as a firm that contributes responsible, aesthetically and emotionally resonant design to the public realm.