© School of Architecture. University of Calgary
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Architecture Students Address their City's Sense of Safety Through Design
For years, officials in Calgary, Canada have been concerned with improving the perceived sense of safety and vibrancy in the city’s downtown core. At its center, the area includes Calgary’s City Hall and Municipal Building, the American Consulate, Olympic Plaza, Arts Commons, and the Glenbow Museum, as well as other significant landmarks including the City Building Design Lab, a collaborative research satellite for the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape (SAPL).
Despite its urban significance, the city’s downtown area is not without challenges frequently seen in urban areas and sometimes perceived as unsafe, especially at night. In 2020, the City of Calgary partnered with the architecture school to develop a temporary, experimental installation specifically tailored to improve the perceived sense of safety and vibrancy in the area. Under the supervision of Professor Mauricio Soto-Rubio and robotics specialist Guy Gardner, a team of students designed and built a 70-feet long lightweight wooden canopy equipped with fully interactive 3D printed lighting fixtures. The project has drastically and comprehensively changed how the area between the City Hall and the City Building Design Lab is perceived, providing it with a safer, more dignified, and vibrant character.
The design approach is based on the premise that making public spaces more inclusive and welcoming can actually improve social behavior. In sharp contrast, previous interventions in the area included protecting the buildings with fences, anti-people spikes, security cameras, and other defensive urban architecture mechanisms. The canopy defines and activates the space beneath it and provides an extra degree of weather protection along the façade of the architecture school. New fixtures improve the level of lighting in the area at night and give it a unique and vibrant character.
These colorful, fully interactive, 3D printed, LED lights are fitted with sensors that playfully respond to pedestrians walking underneath. The lamps vary in size from approximately 16 inches to 40 inches in diameter and were developed by means of an algorithmic script that controlled their dimensions, number of LEDs, individual geometry, and formal relation with the rest of the structure. The pieces were 3D printed by students using PLA plastic: a biodegradable, recyclable material that does not emit toxic emissions.