East Village, the new 49-acre master-planned development being built just outside of downtown Calgary, is only about half finished, but its community garden is thriving. There are about 100 plots, and the space it uses on the edge of the new development, along with an adjacent playground, is becoming the main public space of a burgeoning neighborhood.
Its unlikely centerpiece is the garden shed. “We had this missing piece in the overall project that we needed to fill,” says Kate Thompson, vice president of projects at the Calgary Municipal Land Corp., the city subsidiary leading the development project. They figured they could fill the space with a utilitarian storage structure for gardening tools and outdoor furniture, almost as an afterthought. “Initially we looked at some prefab models and tried to figure out a simple way of doing it,” she says. Unsatisfied with the prefab options, they turned to Winnipeg, Manitoba–based 5468796 Architecture, who saw potential for the project to provide more. “We had budgeted for foundations, a roof, and a space heater,” Thompson says. “They flipped that notion on its head and said well, actually, what a community garden needs is gathering space.”
On a budget of just $100,000 (Canadian), 5468796 designed a low-slung Y-shaped structure, covered in rusted metal mesh. Hidden beneath the metal mesh in each of its three arms are shipping containers, providing storage and workspace, as well as a pre-engineered structural form that eliminated the need for expensive foundation work. A honeycomb of Cor-Ten steel sheets connects the containers and creates a mini pergola over the central space between. Three openings invite people to walk under the pergola and through the structure, which is half-building and half-pavilion. “We’re always trying to see the latent potential in projects that allow us to expand the possibilities further,” principal Johanna Hurme says. Here, that potential turned a shed into a pavilion.
Beyond helping keep costs down, the shipping containers also served to inspire the overall design of the project. The 5468796 team based the approach on the containers’ corrugated sides, using these trapezoidal surfaces to build on and transform the structures’ appearance. This is most evident in the skin that wraps the containers: three layers of metal mesh, each of which mimics that corrugation in different depths and thicknesses. The result is a stratified cage of rusted metal ridges that pop out from the containers’ surfaces by nearly a foot. It’s a way to “blur the edges of the container and expand it out,” Hurme says.
The three containers’ corrugated walls also inspired the pergola that connects them. The designers created an oblong grid of varied hexagonal shapes out of Cor-Ten that web between the tops of the containers. The space below is accessed through arched entries, and the hexagons above are cut at varying heights to form an almost domed ceiling.
Creating this connection ended up being one of the more complicated parts of the project. Hurme says the design team worked and reworked the form of the pergola, sending multiple iterations to their fabricator to try to reduce material costs and increase the overall size. “There was a lot of structural testing of how this could stand up,” Hurme says. “We were trying to push the parameters of how thin it could be, how the connections could allow us to pull the containers apart as far as we could and still afford the material.”
The steel honeycomb forms open to the sky like vertical flues and enable an interesting interplay of light and shadow, pulling sunlight all the way into the space below during different parts of the day, as well as creating pockets of light and dark within the vertical facets of the pergola itself. “There’s something about the quality of light in the prairies that’s so intense. And we have such beautiful access to it that there’s many opportunities to use the primary materials of light and shadow in the project,” Hurme says. “It creates varying conditions on the site and shadows on the ground plane that keeps it alive throughout the cycle of the year.” The space beneath the pergola becomes a kind of gateway, Hurme says, connecting the still-developing East Village to the community garden and playground area, designed by Stantec and Moriyama & Teshima, and to Fort Calgary, a historic public park nearby.
The garden shed and the gathering space it’s created are only part of the public sphere that’s emerging in this formerly industrial part of town.
The area links with RiverWalk, a new linear park that winds along the banks at the convergence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. East Village is also connected by pedestrian bridge to a 30-acre open space on St. Patrick’s Island in the Bow, recently redesigned by Civitas and W Architecture. The 5468796 design emphasizes views of this surrounding landscape.
The East Village site is about halfway through a 20-year development plan that’s set to include housing, commercial, retail, and civic spaces, including a new central library designed by Snøhetta. Eventually, East Village will be home to around 11,500 residents. But for now, the community is getting its kickstart in the garden and its new public space. Thompson says the design, along with active programming, is helping to show East Village’s growing population that a nascent neighborhood can still have a heart. “Even though it’s not fully built out yet, there’s a pride of place here.”
Project: Crossroads Garden Shed, Calgary, Alberta
Client: Calgary Municipal Land Corp.
Architect: 5468796 Architecture, Winnipeg, Manitoba . Apollo Au, Pablo Batista, Ken Borton, Jordy Craddock, Ben Greenwood, Johanna Hurme, Caroline Inglis, Jeff Kachkan, Eva Kiss, Kelsey McMahon, Colin Neufeld, Sean Radford, Sasa Radulovic, Trent Thompson, Shannon Wiebe (project team)
Structural Engineer: Lavergne Draward & Associates
Construction Manager: 0812 Building Solutions
Size: 320 square feet
Cost: $100,000 Canadian ($74,544 US)