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Calgary's mid-rise developments
sharpen their design edge

Innovative developments feed booming residential demand in the city's Sunnyside, Bridgeland and Beltline neighbourhoods

Minto, a nine-storey mid-rise in Calgary’s Sunnyside neighbourhood, is being designed by Nyhoff Architecture. Firm co-founder Kevin Nyhoff says creative and innovative design is helping to alleviate community concerns around densification in older neighbourhoods.

A growing population of downsizers, young professionals and urban families in Calgary's inner-city neighbourhoods are driving demand for mid-rise developments where the convenience of condo life is coupled with cutting-edge architecture, human scale and a sense of community.

"Living downtown wasn't so much the flavour a few years ago in Calgary, but that's changed, and it's in part down to more daring developers willing to invest in good multifamily, mid-rise design," says Kevin Nyhoff, co-founder of Nyhoff Architecture, which is currently designing a nine-storey residential development called Minto in Sunnyside, north of downtown.

Sunnyside's population has boomed in the past four years, rising by 15 per cent compared with the five years previous.

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Since 2012, 13 land-use redesignation applications for multifamily residential developments have been made in the community – eight of those have been in the past two years.

Mid-rise developments, which are between five and 11 storeys, have included Ven by Bucci and Lido and Pixel by Battistella, each of which are within a couple of blocks of the site where Minto will be constructed.

Mr. Nyhoff says creative and innovative design is helping to alleviate community concerns around densification in older neighbourhoods where development is clearly escalating.

"All cities have poor examples of previous eras' best practices, and Calgary is no exception," he says. "Residents in lower density, established communities often express concerns that are founded on dated design practices, but there's an emerging understanding of what good design is and there's a lot that we can do as designers to address those fears."

Mr. Nyhoff says residents of Sunnyside were worried about replacing a row of single-family homes with one massed building. That concern has shaped the design of Minto.

"Replacing six porches along a sidewalk with one large door that people just disappear into would have created a huge disconnect in the community," co-founder Mairi Nyhoff says. "So we have 10 ground-floor units with direct access onto the street via small courtyards, as well as the main entry.

Steps, designed by Sturgess Architecture.

"There's also no real back of the building," she continues. "There are doors and windows to the community on both the main street and the laneway, so all sides are in active use. We've also pulled in the north and south sides of the building to allow pedestrian and cyclist access mid-block. This design allows us to optimize the ways the public realm meets the building, how it passes through it and how residents engage with the public realm."

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Mr. Nyhoff agrees. "Creating more porous structures in established neighbourhoods really helps to integrate them into communities," he says.

It's a strategy that's also being employed in the inner-city community of Bridgeland, east of Sunnyside, where the population has grown 14 per cent in the past five years. Growth in Bridgeland is largely attributed to a new 30-acre community called the Bridges on the site of the old Calgary General Hospital, which is currently adding around 2,500 residents to the neighbourhood. The community was designed by Sturgess Architecture, who also designed Steps, a mid-rise development by Guistini currently under construction within the community on McPherson Square Northeast.

"[Steps is] a building typology which differs significantly from the typical double-loaded corridor building found throughout Calgary," architect Kevin Harrison says.

Upon completion, Steps will exemplify a modern, cubic design consisting of four six-storey buildings connected by an internal courtyard with a screened "louvered loggia" walkway acting as the connective tissue bonding the four buildings into one unified development.

"It's conceived as a series of buildings creating an urban edge to the streets they front, all connected by an internal courtyard." Mr. Harrison explains. "By creating a courtyard, the units within the building now have double exposure allowing them to become narrower, resulting in more doors, and eyes, on the street. This creates a safer, more urban development where the users of the building really get to know their neighbour."

Steps joins several other mid-rises in the Bridges, including Bridgeland Crossings by Apex, which was recently completed, and Radius by Bucci, which broke ground at the end of 2016.

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"The economic downturn over the past couple of years in Calgary has resulted in much of the private sector slowing, however of late we are seeing that sector starting to pick up again," Mr. Harrison says, "particularly the mid-rise sector."

Beltline project, as yet unnamed, designed for Bellaview Luxury Homes by Gravity Architecture.

Stephen Barnecut, co-founder of Gravity Architecture, agrees. He believes Calgary's growing urban population is driven by policy.

"The city's densification policy is having a significant impact on our business," he says. "Since 2006, we had primarily been designing infill and semi-detached houses, but in the last two years this low-density work has been largely replaced with mid-sized multiresidential and mixed-use projects."

"Seventy-five per cent of our work load right now is multiresidential projects. Mid-rises are 60 per cent of that work," adds his partner Trent Letwiniuk.

"Many of our clients who had previously focused on the infill market have shifted, some completely, to doing multiresidential work," continues Mr. Barnecut. "The effect of this shift is that many properties with medium-to high-density land-use designations, that had previously sat underutilized, are now being considered for development and we're seeing a lot of creativity coming out of the design community in Calgary."

Mr. Barnecut and Mr. Letwiniuk are currently designing a nine-storey mid-rise for Bellaview Luxury Homes on a corner lot in Beltline. Beltline is one of the fastest-growing communities in the 2017 census. It's currently home to more than 23,000 residents; growing by 15 per cent in the past four years and more than 30 per cent in the past decade. Since 2012, 31 land-use redesignation applications, eligible for multifamily residential developments, have been made in Beltline.

Gravity's design, though still in the exploratory phase, will be "befitting the emerging design conscious vibe we're seeing in Beltline," Mr. Letwiniuk says.

"It will be a contemporary, modern building inspired by extruded concrete tubes which provide privacy and exposure in the right places," he continues. "The developer is looking for something creative and we're excited by that, it's great to see."

Gravity's development, on 12th Ave. SE, will share a block with the Orchards, a future high-rise development which will consist of two 31-storey modern glass towers. It's a context which they're taking into consideration and, Mr. Letwiniuk says, their approach is "to differentiate, through design."

"This is not a sleek glass tower; it will be a building with texture and character," he explains. We want to create something that will nurture a community; something with a village feel. We believe that's what people who seek out a mid-rise lifestyle are looking for."

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