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Don’t Fade Away: Contemplating retirement, architect Jeremy Sturgess’ next master plan is entirely personal. Jeremy Sturgess’s closet contains a polychromatic inventory of ties, but today’s decision is pretty simple. The LRT expansion entered a new design phase in the spring, so the City and his firm are holding charrettes across the north- side communities it will run through.
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But with a few hours to spare before tonight’s open house, Sturgess and I hop into his car for a tour of the last quarter century of his career. A career that’s in a slow twilight. After 4. 1 years of practice, 2. Sturgess. By the end of this year, Kevin Harrison, a recent partner in the firm that hired him fresh out of school 1. Sturgess Architecture.
In five years he’ll own all of it. Sturgess will become a part- time consultant. And there is more at stake than just company reputation: Over the next 1. Sturgess Architecture.
The 4. 0 kilometres of new track and 2. LRT dream; they’re Alberta’s biggest public infrastructure investment ever, costing between $4 billion and $5 billion. Half of Sturgess Architecture is working on it and Sturgess himself says the project is the company’s most important work yet, a chance to undo decades of car- centric planning and return Centre Street to pedestrians.“They had it right 1. Sturgess, before shifting into drive and commencing the greatest- hits tour, retracing his imprint on Calgary’s urban fabric through public buildings and private houses. We’ve hardly pulled out of the Bloc Building, which Sturgess Architecture bought, renovated and moved into in 1. Connaught Gardens. It didn’t leave him many options.
He ran a lane- access garage along the length of the monochromatic building’s north side, with five row- houses above it, while giving the south- side units developable basement suites with separate entrances, allowing for generations of families to live in the core. Each home displays a punch of colour, an early example of what would become a Sturgess trademark. In this case, it comes in a series of differently coloured front doors, an effect made all the more intense by the famously vivid southern Alberta sunlight that Sturgess has come to adore. Connaught’s 1. 1 townhomes are centred around a gated courtyard. It is that feature that has “become a thesis of how people should live in a city.” It’s repeated nearby at the Block in the Beltline, which opened in 2. Sturgess Architecture now has four more courtyard- centred multi- family homes in progress, including the exquisitely modern Avli, but it took almost 2. Connaught was ahead of its time.
His aunt, Jennifer Stowell, sketched some of the first Christian Dior fashions sold at Holt Renfrew, and had a work ethic that Sturgess admired even as a child. He’d watch the fashion illustrator pull all- nighters to draw newspaper ads for next- day publishing. His thespian mother, meanwhile, would have preferred to live in a more sophisticated and wealthy American city. She settled for travelling to those places, which made Sturgess sensitive to the vivacity of truly urban environments.
After high school, he moved west for pre- architectural studies at the University of Calgary, then boomeranged back east after reading a headline in an architectural magazine: “What is Going on at the University of Toronto Architecture School?”It was the 1. London’s AA School of Architecture, the Toronto school had, rather riskily and only briefly, converted to a studio- based program.
Students essentially worked on one project a year, for which they received either a pass or fail. Sturgess’s acceptance into the school was conditional on an in- person interview, but upon arriving from the Greyhound station, Sturgess found that the school doors were locked. He loitered outside with his duffel bag until someone noticed. Unfortunately it wasn’t the program director who was set to interview Sturgess; he’d forgotten about it and was on vacation.
But the professor he met, Kent Barker, accepted Sturgess on the spot anyway. Just a happy victim of circumstance,” says Sturgess, as the Bow Tower, for which his company designed a public plaza, disappears in his rear- view mirror. Like his mother, Sturgess would have preferred a more sophisticated city, but “circumstance”. Boucock, now retired, recalls the young Sturgess as confident but constrained by the work dictated to him.
I admired his independence, and it wasn’t very long before he formed his own firm. Few have the confidence of Jeremy to want to show your work to the world.” Boucock also admires Sturgess for maintaining his roots in home design. It has allowed him to experiment at a small scale, stay versatile, and hone the gift of listening to clients’ needs.
The G- shaped, steel- framed, corner- lot home is entered through a cleft that blends into a grand ramp that spirals around a courtyard into the living room. The Buddhist clients wanted something airy but private, so he placed a low, frosted glass fence across the front.
As he wrote in Full Spectrum, the 2. U of C, “It wasn’t always the urban place I wanted it to be, but gradually I realized we were part of the solution.” While the U of T was a hotbed of architectural theory and conversation, Calgary lacked any critical discourse. Along with architect and critic Trevor Boddy, he founded the Calgary Architecture and Urban Studies Alliance in 1. The lecture series brought some of the world’s most esteemed architects, like Rem Koolhaas and Robert Stern, to the budding western metropolis. But for all his accolades, for all his prestige, Sturgess has never come close to their status, even after he and Gary Andrishak, with whom he shared a practice in the 1. Douglas Cardinal for the honour of designing the Alberta pavilion at Expo ’8. Vancouver. Boddy says it’s because Sturgess has avoided the “starchitect trap” of superficiality.“Everyone makes fun of his clothes, saturated bright colours and strange combinations, but within that flashy package is a different kind of person,” says the Vancouver- based critic and friend.
One reason he’s incredibly well regarded is that his houses grow with their occupants. They appreciate over time.”To Boddy, Sturgess has matured through various phases alongside his clients and Calgary itself. He’s the person who harvests the mental energy of a place and turns it into creative works.”. Jasper Skywalk. Robert Lemermeyer /. One of the 7th Avenue LRT stations. And the firm’s boutique size may have held it back from getting institutional bids like the Alberta College of Art & Design’s main building renovation.
Sturgess says the firm “can’t get to first base” on these projects, even though it has proven itself capable with the impressive yet affordable Water Centre (another on our “greatest hits” driving tour), and especially with Jasper Skywalk. Boddy calls the latter a “flat- out masterpiece,” a beautiful demonstration of craft, design and discipline. In the past, Sturgess has flirted with, but ultimately turned down, offers to merge with a global design firm that has 1,0. Institutions often favour timely and on- budget execution over quality design and materials, but that’s also changing as the city matures, he says, pointing to the Bow Tower, National Music Centre and Central Library. Just as Sturgess arrived in Calgary at a critical time, so too did Harrison. But the two men took different paths. Born and raised in a small B.
C. His father, a general contractor and homebuilder, gave him summer jobs and taught him how to read blueprints. From an early age, Harrison could look at a floor plan and visualize the finished room.
His aptitude with 2- D documents carried forward into the 3- D world when he moved to Calgary to study architectural technology at SAIT. Disillusioned, Harrison enrolled in Dalhousie’s architecture master’s program in 2. Sturgess, who’d been invited to the Halifax university to assist with portfolio reviews.
Halfway through the program, they met again, when Harrison showed up unannounced at Sturgess’s Calgary office to inquire about student summer positions. He was hired on the spot and continued to work with Sturgess every summer until graduation, rising within the company at a fast pace. She studied fine arts and completed a master’s degree in environmental design at U of C before joining him when he went independent in 1.
Sturgess refers to Beale as the “office conscience” who challenges ideas with pragmatism. Recently, under Beale’s guidance, Sturgess has taken up artistic drawing for the first time; he is especially inspired by the view from their apartment in the south of France. Beale concentrates more on execution and project management, leaving most designs to Harrison and Sturgess. The former has a more technical background, giving him great drafting and realization talents, says Beale. Kevin is more measured.
What they have found is a very sympathetic and logical way of resolving architectural issues together. It means there’s really good efficiencies.” Moreover, the three share a belief that architecture is city building. In 1. 99. 0, when Sturgess was in business with Dan Jenkins, the partners told the Calgary Herald that new subdivisions were boring, predictable and unliveable. Sturgess and Beale feel liberated now that North America is catching up. Over the course of the day, Sturgess has shown me his proudest achievements in multi- unit housing, single- family homes and institutional structures. But he’s saved his best for last: The Bridges master plan.
Ironically, it is a project for which his firm will rarely be recognized, as it is an invisible design that reveals itself not in the contours of buildings but in the liveliness of 3. Bridgeland- Riverside.
On this bright April afternoon, a lineup of foodies outside Shiki Menya put life on the sidewalk, two young boys toss a red ball in the middle of a street, and a group of joggers in blue T- shirts animate a park where the Calgary General Hospital once stood.