When it comes to designing interior spaces in Calgary, the choice between contemporary and heritage design has typically been a simple one – out with the old and in with the new.
“Heritage design for me is basically, something that honours a design style that is specifically from the past. Something like Art Deco, Art Nouveau. Contemporary for me is really about what is the fad of the moment. If blue's the in-colour it's blue. If green's the in-colour, it's green,” said Tremayne Dam, Senior Designer with BKDI Architects.
Thanks to successive boom cycles of development, when companies have wanted to update interior spaces, the priority has been speed and modernity over preserving existing features and holding a link to the past. Now, with the money for design being harder to come by and a maturing attitude towards heritage design, many companies and firms are finding ways to make the original design work with a new vision for their environments.
Tremayne Dam, Senior Designer with BKDI Architects, points to the redesign of the historic Lougheed Building's 6th floor as a way of how this was done effectively, leaving existing features intact where they could. “We left the crown molding and columns as they were, we just painted them up. We didn't try to hide what it was,” he said. “We left the ceiling completely open unless it was absolutely necessary. So when you're walking through the space you can still see these old trusses. It still has old insulation on it and paint splatters, I'm pretty certain if you get up there, you'll see scribbles from the trades people who were installing it,” Leaving those details, like original brickwork, or perhaps leaving just a section of original interior design in place as a focal point, honours the building's identity.
Chau Tran, Interior Designer with BKDI Architects, added that remaining details can be quite thought-provoking about the history of buildings with heritage design in them. “It tells a story. You walk into a space and look at these details and you wonder what they were thinking back then, and then we consider the trends at that moment.” And of course, there's the cost factor. Leaving existing features in place can dramatically lower the cost of a renovation and reduce the amount of construction time.
That leads to the question of what actually counts for heritage design in a city which has often torn down the old for the new, and is dominated by 1970s and '80s architecture in the downtown core. “In some ways, the architecture and design of the boom years is what has defined this city for years. It's very non-descript,” said Diane Sawa, Senior Interior Designer with BKDI Architects.
While Calgary continues to be associated with Western heritage, there are less and less examples of that style of design within Calgary, and precious little in terms of heritage Western design. “Back in the '90s, heritage had no meaning other than that it was in the way of making something better, so out it went,” said Tremayne. “It's only recently that the idea of preserving heritage interiors has gotten any traction, and that may reflect Calgary's actual values in terms of design,” said Diane. “So maybe the argument is do we want to be defined as a Western based design community? The conversation is that Calgary is losing its Western identity and growing up to compare with the best international cities. We're not a cowtown.”