Calatrava's Calgary Peace Bridge breaks away from signature 'fishbone' structures
This weekend, the city of Calgary celebrated the official opening of Santiago Calatrava’s Peace Bridge across the Bow River. The project was hindered by widespread dissatisfaction from the local community after Calatrava was selected by city officials in 2007 to conceptualise a landmark bridge without the presumed design competition, leaving many to resent the fact that local architects were overlooked for the scheme.
Nevertheless, over a thousand Calgary residents turned out on Saturday for the long-awaited opening ceremony, attended by the architect’s son Michael. Local news source Metro News quoted local man Chris Thompson as saying that he ‘didn’t see the point of [the bridge] at first, but having it here isn’t doing any harm and it may be better in the long run. I thought it was too modern for the downtown. I think it’s definitely worthwhile having in Calgary. It’s a nice bridge; it’s a nice piece of architecture’.
The architectural design may have impressed one community member but scores of others flocked to their computers to complain about the source of funding. Costing $24.5m, the bridge was financed through taxpayers’ dollars - a keen source of discontent for many Calgarians. One critic posted their comments on the Calgary Herald’s write-up: “The politicians that approved this bridge broke their own rules. It was a shameful abuse of power.”
Calatrava’s helical structure is composed of reinforced concrete and steel with a glass roof to shelter users during often harsh weather conditions in the city. Double the width of the existing bridges across the Bow River, the twisted tube is divided into two portions: one for pedestrians, the other for cyclists, and is the only bridge in the area to offer a separate section for bicycle users.
Despite this, some residents have suggested that the need for an additional bridge was not great enough to warrant the immense price tag, with one commenter arguing: “This bridge truly wasn’t needed when you have another one a healthy golf swing away and at a time when roads and other more pressing projects needed the $25m.”
The oft-celebrated architect was constrained by many factors in this project which have resulted in a move away from his highly recognisable style of ‘fishbone’ bridges to a lower, scarlet, helical structure. An envelope of only 7m was offered to Calatrava due to the location’s close proximity to a working heliport and a desire to minimise environmental impact on the riverbed. As such, the 428ft bridge has no supporting piers and lacks Calatrava’s signature soaring white fronds.
The architect explains: “Although the design concept for the Peace Bridge is very challenging, it is one that I am extremely proud of. It has been an honour and a pleasure to work in this beautiful city.”