At one point in the not so distant past, commercial buildings were a public enterprise, encapsulating (within bricks and mortar) the socio-economic ideologies inherent within a given culture. Over time, these ideologies or attitudes towards commercial buildings, laid the foundations for a typology that was public, inclusive and porous.
Fast forward to today, where as stated by Reinier de Graaf, “Architecture has become a tool of capital, complicit in a purpose antithetical to its social mission.” This sentiment is perhaps most apparent within the commercial architecture that has consumed much of the city. We would argue that the gradual diminishment of commercial typologies could be largely attributed to the increasing disparity between revenue and quality, which appears to be the guiding principle of most private/speculative development companies.
The commercial buildings dominating the skylines of our cities could be abstracted as 3D bank accounts, that physically assert their propensity to maximize profit or return on investment above all else, enabling a mindset that value engineers anything that threatens this priority. Within these new parameters, where does architecture factor in? Have architects become economists?
In many ways Macleod Place in Calgary embodies this fate with respect to commercial typologies. When we were engaged to help breath new life into this outdated typology, our first thought was to reanimate the building’s static interface with site. As is the case for many similar commercial buildings, there is little to no attention given to how the building transitions between building and grade. Not only does this provide little in the way of human-scale, it also propagates the exclusivity or ‘privateness’ of the building.
Our intervention ‘Light Cloud’ repurposes everyday materials (aluminum bar grate) into a spectacle or art piece that employs mass, light and shadow to enhance the human-scale and pedestrian experience, facilitates way finding with respect to entry and circulation, provides an opportunity for macro-signage and provides much needed light and warmth in the winter months.
This intervention is echoed on the roofscape of both Macleod Place I and II, and while there is a conceptual connection, the scale of the intervention now communicates to a much larger or civic audience. Nicknamed as the ‘Light House’ the intervention proposes an ‘alternate ground’ for the city, and while this realm isn’t accessible to the public, it begins a much needed conversation in our city with respect to how we finish our buildings.