The redesign of St Patrick’s Island is the centerpiece of an ambitious redevelopment strategy for Calgary’s East Village. The ‘Living Island’ provides a natural landscape infrastructure with restored ecological vitality, creating both a well-located community resource and a citywide recreation destination. The overarching intentions of the design include focusing on the island’s unique urban environmental context, generating a sense of place, nurturing strong spiritual attachments to the island’s beauty, seeking balance and harmony between constructed and natural elements and providing opportunities for life-enriching experiences. The center of the island was restored as a bio-diverse and tranquil area of natural habitat. Shared experiences link along a multi-use pathway traversing the island, connecting into Downtown Calgary and adjacent urban centers, creating unique place-making amenities with long-term resilience to the inevitable flooding of the Bow River.
One hundred and twenty five years ago, St. Patrick’s Island and Fort Calgary were the center of the region. But in the intervening years that followed, railroads, highways and industry began to take over and isolate the island from its surroundings. Less than fifty years ago, the 30-acre island was at the edge, or even the back of the downtown. More than a century later, this all-but-forgotten treasure at the Calgary’s center is poised to re-emerge as an amenity-rich, family-friendly park space for all users to enjoy. Revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is an exciting component of the East Village initiative – providing the union of downtown real estate adjacent to Fort Calgary and the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.
The philosophy of the design is simple - draw on the ecological history of the island to restore its ecology and increase biodiversity, while providing new amenities to engage visitors with the natural processes of the dynamic Bow River.
The ‘Living Island’ concept unites ecology and urban living in a uniquely sustainable experience. The design not only restores and enhances the biodiversity of the island’s natural habitat, but increases the flood resiliency of the island’s land mass and the amenities being constructed.
The revitalized island’s enhancements and attractions include:
The Tip - Located at the westernmost edge of the island, the Tip is designed to take advantage of the views of the river and Calgary’s downtown skyline. All elements of the Tip, including seating, are designed to withstand annual flooding while providing a vantage point for recreational users seeking a natural experience at the water’s edge.
The Seasonal Breach - During the 1960’s, a channel on St. Patrick’s Island was filled in to accommodate construction of a pedestrian bridge connecting the island to the south bank of the Bow River. This historic channel was restored creating the Seasonal Breach – a channel with fluctuating water levels. It was created from the excavation of the two island channels. The Breach is positioned near the west island entry from a pedestrian bridge and includes a gravel bar and a small pedestrian entry plaza that transitions to a lawn area. In the summer months, visitors can wade into the water and venture safely out onto the gravel bar. Come winter, it becomes ideal for outdoor skating.
The Rise - Rising 30 feet, this grassy knoll slopes down to the west and south with views of downtown Calgary and the East Village, providing a dramatic outdoor amphitheater setting for community celebrations, performances or movies in the park, and in winter - a fantastic sledding hill.
The Transect - The Island features an elevated boardwalk providing no-impact access to the Lowland Channel, a true riparian wetland at the heart of the island, as well as passage through the old-growth Gallery Forest covering the south-eastern third of the island.
The Lowland Channel - In 1920, a channel between St. Patrick’s Island and St. George’s Island was filled in. This Lowland Channel is restored and deepened creating a seasonal riparian wetland at the heart of the island. An elevated boardwalk provides no-impact access to the wetland.
The Lookout Plaza – Located near the eastern edge of the park, Lookout Plaza provides seating areas, a small amphitheatre, and overviews of the Lowland Channel. It also serves as a meeting place and gateway into St. Patrick’s Island from the east and the parking area shared with the adjacent Calgary Zoo. It is serviced by washrooms, parking, and electrical amenities which can be utilized for food trucks, ticket kiosks, and performance equipment.
The recently completed improvements have returned the island to a working island within the river, increasing bio-diversity, and returning previously disturbed areas to their original natural functions. As part of the scope and prior to construction, the design team, ecologist and numerous local citizens and volunteers completed a bio-blitz that collected and documented the existing flora and fauna inhabiting the island. During a rainy 48-hour period over 500 species were discovered, identified and documented creating an ecological baseline used to test the post construction diversity that will be quantified during future regular blitzes. The process provided quantifiable metrics for future changes and projects in similar environments.
St Patrick’s island is a new waterfront experience for Calgary. By allowing the 30 acre island park to interact with the seasonal flow of the river, new ecologies were opened to exploration, while simultaneously a more diverse habitat was created for animals. This mix of greater ecological diversity with creatively controlled areas for use by people resulted in a model of resilient design.
St. Patrick’s Island, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Calgary Municipal Land Corporation
W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC
W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Civitas
Landscape Architect of Record/Firm: IBI Group; Structural Engineer of Record: Reed Jones Christopherson; Structural Engineer: Guy Nordenson Engineers; Electrical Engineer: SNC Lavalin; Mechanical Engineer: SMP Engineering; Civil Engineer: IBI Group; Cost
Collin Way, Barbara Wilks
W is an interdisciplinary woman-owned studio which builds on links between architecture and landscape architecture to create spaces that engage both nature and urbanism. Our office is in New York, and we have projects in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.
W is organized around the commitment of Principal Barbara Wilks to quality design and active participation in all levels of the firm’s projects. With over 35 years of experience, she believes that effective leadership on complex projects requires vision, a collaborative and talented team, effective communication, and persistent commitment to finding solutions to project goals and aspirations. The staff is organized in a flexible studio manner and includes experienced project managers, urban designers, landscape architects and LEED accredited professionals, who engage in each project through its successful completion.