Home Month and Year October 2023 Placemaking Experiences

Placemaking Experiences

Inspiring people and communities

Photo by Rebecca Hardcastle

They are stunning! Beautiful. Masterpieces. Landmarks. And, like other, large, high-visibility graphic works of art, they are expressions, emotions and feelings. And yes, they are conversation pieces.

They are also a key part of the relatively new urban design movement, generating awareness and getting noticed as “placemaking.”

Urban Design Lab, an expert in this space, explains placemaking as “a contemporary approach to urban design that prioritizes people over infrastructure. It aims to create public spaces that are more than just utilitarian, but rather places that inspire and promote social interaction and cultural exchange.”

Heavy is an internationally acclaimed and Calgary-based creative team which partners and collaborates with architects, artists, developers and contractors to bring these creative placemaking experiences to life in high profile and public spaces. According to the specialized expertise of Ryan Bessant, president and founder of Heavy, it’s an exciting business and cultural phenomenon that creates joy and a deeper sense of community using intentional creativity and design.

A prime example is Wonderland, the 12-metre, bent-wire girl’s head in front of The Bow tower in downtown Calgary. Although it is likely the most recognizable example of Heavy’s ingenuity and placemaking successes, there are more than 1,000 iconic Heavy installations throughout Alberta, Canada, the U.S. and as far away as Munich and Singapore.

“Of course it’s art,” Bessant says enthusiastically, “But it’s bigger and much more than that. Placemaking is broader, and more nebulous. We are more like collaborators and facilitators. Placemaking means different things to different people. But the beautiful thing about it, and the design and the art which is the focal point, is that it gets people talking.”

Heavy continues to earn awards and a growing international reputation as a uniquely bold and forward-thinking Canadian art and architectural features company, working with a variety of creatives to design iconic landmarks and transform city landscapes.

Heavy’s focus and hands-on approach works to improve neighbourhoods and cities, by inspiring people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community.

More than just promoting striking urban designs, Heavy facilitates the creation of physical, cultural and social identities that define a place – as well as supporting their ongoing evolution. “To make it happen, the Heavy team collaborates and creates a sense of place where people want to work, and play or just relax and enjoy,” says Bessant.

Heavy (perhaps the most unique and eclectic business in Calgary) is a high-energy team of 70 creatives, designers, materials experts, fabricators, welders, installers and project management professionals.

It’s no simple feat to plan and build fully custom, one-of-a-kind features while facilitating these massive projects with various creatives, designers, suppliers, fabricators and more. “We’re pushing the limits of what’s possible, connecting people to their public spaces in a way that helps enrich their lives,” Bessant explains.

Heavy’s intentional PLAN–BUILD™ process ensures projects of any size are delivered to their signature world-class quality. “Although it can sometimes be a challenge to fuse design and engineering with the creative vision and bring it all together, this is where Heavy shines,” says Connor Hayduk, Heavy’s director of creative. “We satisfy all the considerations while still creating something impactful.”

“We have a flexible process that can be applied to any space and any type of piece,” adds Sander Henriksen, creative lead. “We encourage our clients to think bigger and bolder in their ideas, while being focused on providing a path for how to achieve their vision.”

The challenge – and the exciting opportunity – is creating a feeling and a mood, because, as with most art, reactions, positive or otherwise, are bound to be individual and personal.

“Typically when we are working with an artist and architect, it is really in their world to establish that feel and idea. Our role is to understand and sometimes challenge them on their perspective, but ultimately support them on that vision,” explains Henriksen. “Ultimately, our work with our clients is to understand the creative vision and intent – and make it happen.”

Even with Heavy’s game-changing and unconventional business model, it’s a fact that Heavy boasts one of the most impressive, bold and breathtaking business portfolios..

It includes other spectacular Heavy achievements, like Emergent, located at the entrance of the Edison building in downtown Calgary. Paying homage to the history of the Canadian railway and the impact it had on Calgary’s development, artist Jill Anholt worked with Heavy to create a piece that would serve as a placemaking feature and a surprising experience. The mirrored stainless steel panels were painstakingly installed at precise angles to reflect the Calgary tower and iconic surrounding buildings back to the viewer, linking the piece to its context and history.

Another example of Heavy’s architectural ingenuity is The Nest, the encompassing meeting space suspended at mezzanine level in Calgary’s Esker Foundation gallery. The Nest is composed of both structural and aesthetic bands of steel and built according to LEED Silver standards.

The whimsical tree sculptures at Flyover park Calgary’s Bridgeland district get lots of oohs and aahs, as do the beautifully sculpted pitcher-like flower shapes of the quartet of monoliths in Paisley, Brookfield Residential’s south Edmonton neighbourhood. These are internally-lit sculptures that face each other and use a motion sensor to trigger dynamic lighting scripts that interact with users.

“Considering the impact on our community is essential and at the core of everything we do,” Ryan Bessant emphasizes. “It is at the centre of Heavy’s placemaking process, and it is consistent with Heavy’s ultimate goal: the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness and well being.”

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SOURCEJohn Hardy
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