Edmonton Election 2013: Campaign Colors

In one of our earlier #yegvote Hangouts, my colleague Ryan Hastman remarked on the similarity of colors between the three primary mayoral candidates. We joked about his color theory and moved on, but recently I found myself looking at campaign colors again. What colors are most common in this election? What do they mean?

That color grid represents the primary color of all 119 campaigns. They were generated by: taking a screenshot of the candidate’s website and/or Twitter page; identifying the primary color of each using Color Thief; and doing some post-processing on the results. The white boxes are for candidates that either do not have a website or Twitter page, or that have a Twitter page with the default settings (a shockingly large number fall into this category).

While it was a fun exercise, this also serves a purpose for me. ShareEdmonton’s list of candidates has now been updated with colors, and where appropriate/possible, I’ll use these colors to represent candidates on the election night results dashboard (you can see the 2010 results dashboard with color-coding here).

There are a lot of blues, greens, and purples. Fewer red, yellow, and orange. Does this mean anything? Let’s look at Paper Leaf Design’s handy color theory quick reference poster:

Check out the full poster for all the detail, but here are some election-related highlights:

  • Red often means intensity, strength, and energy.
  • Blue often means depth, stability, and trust.
  • Purple often means power, ambition, and nobility.
  • Green often means growth, freshness, and safety.
  • Yellow often means intellect, cheerfulness, and energy.
  • Orange often means enthusiasm, creativity, and warmth.

Do candidates and their campaign teams think about these things when choosing colors?

Perhaps more importantly, do campaign colors matter to you as a voter?

Edmonton’s Pedway: Wayfinding

This is the third part in a series of posts looking at the past, present, and future of Edmonton’s pedway network.

Have you ever gotten lost in the pedway? You wouldn’t be the first to do so.

In the late 1970s, the City began to think about how to make the pedway more usable, and navigational information (known today as wayfinding) was to play a big part of that. The Pedway Concept Plan of 1976 called for “a standardized information guide applied throughout the system, including directional signs, maps, route directories, and general information signs” and “identification for individual commercial frontages.”

In March 1989, the City published the Downtown Pedway Network Review which highlighted the need for improved signage. “There is a need to develop and implement a directional and information signage program for the pedway network,” it said. “The 1987 pedway user survey revealed that users generally were unaware of the extent of the pedway network beyond a few specific areas.” As is often the case with the City, there was already a project underway to improve the signage when the report came out.

Pedway Documents

In 1987 the City of Edmonton entered into an agreement with Lance Wyman Ltd. for “consulting services in the area of the design of public signage and information systems.” Wyman has had extensive experience in designing branding and wayfinding systems, having worked on the Washington D.C. Metro maps, the Mexico City Metro icons and wayfinding, wayfinding for Midtown Detroit, and branding & wayfinding for Pennsylvania Station in New York City, among many other projects.

Edmonton’s pedway wasn’t the only project Wyman undertook in Alberta. He also designed the branding and wayfinding for Calgary’s +15 network. Here’s what he wrote about it in 2004:

“Symbols can participate with the environment in many ways and can enhance and make a wayfinding system work better. A symbol can be a reminder of history and a functional directional guide at the same time. The Calgary +15 Pedestrian skywalk symbol (bridges and walkways are 15 feet above grade) combines references to the city history and culture (local native Blackfoot star constellation circles, traditional white rodeo hat symbol) to establish a symbol that participates in all aspects of the wayfinding system. Circle patterns are also used to indicate the walking path on +15 maps, and are inlaid into the floors in contrasting materials to indicate the actual walkways. The consistent use of the circle patterns become familiar +15 wayfinding information and is a reference to Calgary history.”

In Edmonton, Wyman’s work was to proceed in three phases. The first would be Preliminary Design, during which data would be collected and Wyman would become familiar with the system. A concept for the pedway system logo, typography, and symbols would also be produced in the first phase. The second phase would be focused on detailed design, resulting in a manual and cost estimates for each element. The third phase would be a demonstration project. The total value of the contract, signed in December 1987, was $117,950.00. Only the first phase at $27,725.00 was funded at first; the other two phases were to proceed subject to funding approval from City Council. The work was to be completed by the fall of 1988.

Wyman eventually produced the City of Edmonton Pedway Signing & Graphics Manual (pictured above), which outlined the pedway network logo, iconography, and other design details. “The Helvetica system of typography was chosen for the Pedway to be compatible with the LRT signing system, which also uses the Helvetica system,” it reads.

pedway levels

Something that may not be immediately apparent is that the pedway logo itself comes in three versions, one for each level of the system. As Wyman puts it, “pedway logos inform pedestrians which of three walkway levels they are on; Subway, Street, or Skywalk.”

Another unique aspect of the design are the directional elements. “The signs give orientation using compass directions that incorporate familiar city landmarks; the North Star to the North, the refineries to the East, the river to the South, the view of the Rockies to the West.”

pedway directions

The manual includes design details on a wide array of different signs, including:

  • Flag Sign (sticks out from building)
  • Wall Sign (flat on building)
  • Elevator Button Sign
  • Pedestal Map
  • Wall Map
  • Waymarker Sign (mounted at baseboard level)
  • Stencil Sign (for paint applications)
  • Overhead Sign
  • Street Name Sign
  • LRT Sign (on the illuminated signs)
  • Entrance Decal (interestingly has different times for entrance hours)

The project was a relative success, and today the signage that Wyman designed can be seen throughout the network. In 1989, the Downtown Pedway Network Review recommended that the designs and signs “be incorporated into the existing portions of the Pedway Network and used in all future pedways.” Furthermore, it recommended that all development agreements should “require installation of this standardized signage system within the pedway link and throughout adjacent developments to ensure ease of access by pedway users.”

Edmonton Pedway Signs

Over the years the signage rolled out, but it very quickly became out-of-date. As new buildings and connections appeared, they did not always follow the same format and some lacked signs altogether. There were long stretches of time during which the pedway map was not updated. Even today, the link to the Downtown Pedway Map on the City of Edmonton’s website takes you nowhere. Today’s system reflects a lack of ownership over the wayfinding aspects of the pedway, resulting in a mess of different signs and maps.

Twenty years after they first tackled the problem, Council decided to do something about wayfinding in the pedway. On November 18, 2009, Executive Committee directed Administration to work with the Downtown Business Association on addressing issues with the pedway, including “signage, way-finding, and new directions, including connections to outside streets.” An ad hoc pedway committee was formed shortly thereafter, and they identified “a system of standardized signage” as a key opportunity. The committee felt that a database should be created containing all of the relevant details about the pedway, so that it could serve as the basis for a web-based map to help people navigate the system.

Edmonton Pedway Signs

The Downtown Pedway Committee was officially established in September 2010 with a mandate to “examine and address the challenges and opportunities” related to the pedway. The committee met six times throughout 2011 and focused their efforts on updating the existing pedway maps, a task they finally completed in March 2012 (you can download it in PDF here). Next they turned their attention to wayfinding.

“The major focus of the Committee has been the creation of an integrated way-finding signage system for the pedway network. A way-finding system performs the essential function of directing, informing and supporting movements that allow public spaces and buildings to function. Such a system is key to ensuring that people can access and use pedways and the transit system efficiently, conveniently and safely. A comprehensive way-finding system involves not only clear directional signage to smooth pedestrian flows, but also includes open spaces beyond the pedway network which extend throughout the downtown, resulting in a more open, uncluttered environment. A comprehensive way-finding system also includes connecting street level activity with the existing multi-level pedway system.”

The Pedway Committee made it clear that they felt improvements to the wayfinding system were necessary, especially given all of the other projects taking place in the downtown area:

“The Pedway Committee feels the time is right to start planning for an integrated way finding signage system for the pedway and throughout the downtown. The downtown is well-positioned to take advantage of this initiative.”

In November 2012 the Pedway Committee made a presentation about the business case for a wayfinding system. They identified “at least 78 different signage types” throughout the pedway network, including 13 in the library parkade alone!

Edmonton Pedway Signs

They proposed a project with three phases to remedy the situaton. The first would be to do initial scoping and conceptual and detailed design. The second phase would focus on a pilot project, with the final phase including final design and rollout of the system beyond the pilot project area. Executive Committee was generally unimpressed with the presentation, and seemed shocked at the cost. The report estimated the cost of implementing such a project at $2 million, a figure based on similar projects that were recently implemented in Calgary and Toronto.

The source of that funding? The report recommended that the project be aligned with the “Green and Walkable Streets” project proposed as part of the downtown CRL. Unfortunately, when Council approved the list of catalyst projects that would be funded under the CRL on May 8, 2013, they broke Green and Walkable Streets into two. The first part, around the arena, was in the “recommended for initial funding” category. The second and much larger part, which includes any potential wayfinding project, was placed in the “to proceed on revenues actually realized” category. In other words, any improvements to the wayfinding system used throughout the pedway are for now dependent on the arena going ahead and the CRL being successful. Improvements may never happen.

So we’re stuck with the same old pedway signage and out-of-date information that has plagued downtown for the past twenty years. We’re stuck with PDF maps instead of mobile apps and other technological advances. And the situation could get even worse with the new arena, Royal Alberta Museum, and numerous other projects being constructed downtown with pedway connections.

It’s important to remember that wayfinding is about more than just signs. “An effective wayfinding system can be a visual ambassador, a means of saying ‘Welcome, let me help you find your way around and enjoy yourself’,” Lance Wyman wrote in 2004. “Wayfinding offers the designer an opportunity to reference the history, culture, and essence of place in an immediate way that will be seen and used on a daily basis.”

Recap: TEDxEdmonton 2011

More than 200 people attended the second TEDxEdmonton which took place on Saturday in the intimate Rice Theatre at The Citadel in downtown Edmonton. TEDxEdmonton is an “independently organized TED event” (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading.” It’s pretty likely that you’ve seen a TED talk at some point – more than 900 have been made freely available on the TED site. The idea behind TEDx is simple: stimulate dialogue at the local level by adopting the 18-minutes-or-less format and creating a TED-like experience.

The theme for this year’s event was “seeds of innovation”:

We’re in the midst of an exciting era. We’re living in an interconnected knowledge economy shaped by the creative industries, information technology, and globalization. And we’re seeing a new generation of connected artists, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs emerging who can transform seeds of new ideas into bold new works, companies and products. At TEDxEdmonton 2011, we’ll meet some of these remarkable people, some from abroad, others from right here in our hometown. We promise you another dizzying day of inspiration, wonder and curious delight, as we experience the stories, visions, and passions of these bold individuals through the art of live presentation.

After last year’s edition, I’d say the bar for TEDxEdmonton was set extremely high. The production quality, the excellent speakers, and the time built-in for discussions were just a few of the reasons that so many people thought last year’s event was superb. Matching or exceeding that success was a tall order for the organizing committee this year, but I think it’s safe to say they nailed it.

First impressions are everything, and TEDxEdmonton did not disappoint. Upon registering, attendees were given a lanyard with a nice big nametag that had space on it for a photo. The next step was to have a mini-Polaroid photo taken that could be taped onto the nametag. It’s kind of strange to have a photo of yourself on your nametag (I mean, you can see my face, can’t you?) but the nametags were indeed a great keepsake from the event. More importantly, it was an opportunity for people to have some fun and to get creative. And they did!

TEDxEdmonton 2011

Last year’s stage was created by the University of Alberta’s Student Design Association and it was, in a word, remarkable. It was colorful and visually interesting, and was going to be difficult to top this year. Once again the SDA was tasked with creating the stage for TEDxEdmonton, and the design they came up with was just as impressive as last year’s. Less colorful but more vertical, the stage provided the perfect backdrop for the day’s presentations. It sounded complex too – they took inspiration from Edmonton itself and used light to plot points of interest from around the city on the design. You can see some work-in-progress photos of both stages at the SDA’s Flickr page. You can also follow them on Twitter!

TEDxEdmonton 2011

The day’s presentations were broken up into three sessions: Transformation, Unstoppable, and Provocative. There were ten presentations in all, plus three TEDTalks, one for each session. Local power-couple Ryan Jespersen and Kari Skelton were our hosts for the day, and they did a wonderful job of keeping things moving.

Ryan Jespersen & Kari Skelton

TEDxEdmonton 2011Vik Maraj, co-creator of Unstoppable Conversations, kicked things off with the first presentation. His talk centered around the idea that we need to be game-changing. He used the metaphor of a child learning to walk to make his point, saying that we need to “start trying to walk, and stop trying not to fall” if we want to be successful. His talk was full of great one-liners, like this one: “The future derives from creation, not from surviving it.” He was a great speaker, and was the right choice to lead off the day.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our second speaker was Jessie Radies, founder of Live Local Alberta and owner of The Blue Pear restaurant. She talked about the importance of the local economy, through of mix of statistics and personal anecdotes. Her talk touched on the challenges of being a farmer in Alberta, noting that the average farm has experienced a net loss for the last 20 years. She also talked about her belief that a rising tide would lift all boats and her dedication to sourcing things locally. She issued a sort of challenge to the audience, saying that “by shifting a portion of our spending we can significantly change what our community looks like.”

TEDxEdmonton 2011Todd Babiak of the Edmonton Journal was up next to talk about the importance of story. Without question his talk was my favorite of the day, a sentiment echoed by many in the audience. His talk was the right mix of serious, funny, and thought-provoking. He talked about his kids, noting that children instinctively understand what a story is. We unlearn that knowledge as we get older, without even realizing it. Todd stressed the importance of having a story: “If you haven’t built your story, the most you can hope to achieve is mediocrity.” He also poked fun at cliches and jargon as he touched on authenticity, a section of his presentation that made everyone laugh. “You have to find the higher spiritual truth of your story in order for it to be effective,” he said. Finally, he got everyone thinking about writing their story by reminding us that “the longer you wait to tell your story, the more difficult it becomes.”

Our first TEDTalk of the day came next. We watched Steven Johnson’s talk titled Where good ideas come from. It was filmed in July 2010, and introduced the intriguing concept of the “liquid networks” found in London’s coffee houses. The key idea was that connecting ideas is more important than protecting them, because “chance favors the connected mind.”

Colleen Brown closed out the first session with an awesome musical performance. She’s a fantastic singer/songwriter and more than a few people in the audience proudly proclaimed that they were new fans as a result! It was a great way to end the morning.

TEDxEdmonton 2011

Lunch was next on the schedule and as with the rest of TEDxEdmonton it was anything but ordinary. Instead of individual lunches, groups of five or six people were given a wooden box filled with sandwiches, salads, drinks, and treats and were encouraged to eat together. Most groups ended up outside where the sun was shining and the streets were packed for the Edmonton Pride Parade. It was great to see discussions happening all over the place. Kudos to Elm Café and Duchess Bake Shop for the delicious food and the creative presentation!

TEDxEdmonton 2011 TEDxEdmonton 2011

The second session of the day began with another TEDTalk, Adora Svitak’s presentation rom February 2010 titled What adults can learn from kids. Her message is a powerful one, and I think everyone really enjoyed the talk. It’s definitely worth watching!

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our fifth speaker was Laura McIlveen, a chemical engineer at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. She started out with a provocative statement – “You probably think that engineers aren’t sexy” – then proceeded to explain why engineers are in fact, sexy. Laura encouraged everyone to “think about the possibilities that don’t seem possible, because that’s what engineers do.” She outlined four key steps: ask questions, dream big, build a team, and make it happen. To help illustrate her point, Laura talked about natural fibers like straw and said “we can spin straw into almost anything!” She then showed of a longboard, made of hemp!

TEDxEdmonton 2011Veer Gidwaney, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of DailyFeats.com, was our next speaker. He said “we need to change how we live” and talked about some of the major challenges we face, such as “Mr. Couch and Mrs. Potato Chip”. Veer’s key message was that small acts make a movement, and he encouraged the audience to “go do good”. He also shared a big idea: “What if we as a nation were to commit ourselves in ten years to match our national debt in positive actions done?” Veer was a really strong speaker, clear and powerful.

After another “conversation and refreshment” break, we were back for session three. Anthony Atala’s TEDTalk titled Printing a human kidney kicked things off. It was filmed just a few months ago, and documents some of the incredible advancements that have been made in bio-engineering. Truly fascinating.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our next speaker was Sheetal Mehta Walsh, a champion of microfinance and founder of Kuuja.com. She talked about entrepreneurship through the lens of her experiences in the slums of India. For her, entrepreneurship has become a way of life, and she had some very intriguing ideas. One of them was that she wants to be known simply as an “entrepreneur” rather than a “social entrepreneur”. She explained, “we should all be socially conscious.” Sheetal also talked about the importance of networking, saying “I often call my network my intellectual property.” She also had one of the unintentionally funny moments of the day, when she asked if everyone in the audience starts their day with Tim Horton’s coffee and no hands went up. I guess we were a Credo/Transcend/Starbucks crowd!

TEDxEdmonton 2011Meagan Kelly, a journalist and filmmaker, was our eighth speaker of the day. She gave an abbreviated talk on her debut film, a documentary that examines a young girl’s struggle to escape poverty on a garbage dump in the Philippines. The sights and sounds she shared were striking. One memorable moment was when Grace, the young girl featured in the film, started singing Justin Bieber’s hit “Baby”.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our next speaker was Aaryn Flynn, the Studio General Manager of local game developer BioWare. He used the opportunity to discuss BioWare’s approach to innovation. “Innovation relies on diversity,” he said as he talked about the cultural diversity at the company. Another key tactic utilized by BioWare is to “decide at the last responsible moment.” The most memorable mantra from Aaryn’s talk was definitely “no play, no say”. Basically if you don’t play the game, you don’t get a say in its development. It’s easy to see how this might be applied to elsewhere too. Aaryn finished with a brief demo of Kinect support in the upcoming game Mass Effect 3, noting that it opens the door to a wide range gameplay and accessibility possibilities.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Last but not least, Minister Faust (Malcolm Azania) was the final speaker of the day. His talk was titled “The Cure for Death by Small-Talk”, the same name as his upcoming book. He was a great speaker to end on, as he got the crowd laughing, thinking, and probably doing some serious self-reflection all at the same time. Instead of asking “what do you do for a living” at a party, Minister Faust suggests asking “what do you do for fun?” He touched on the etymology of “conversation”, explaining that is all about “living together” and the way you treat people. He told the audience to “ask people questions that will connect you for life.” Minister Faust’s talk ran slightly over time, and after he left the stage our hosts had to skip through another thirty slides or so that he didn’t get to – he could have talked all afternoon!


While some of the day’s presentations were definitely better than others, all succeeded at inspiring and sparking a dialogue. The entire day was streamed online for free, and while some technical glitches made it difficult to watch during session one, many people tuned in for the rest of the day. Twitter was active all day long using the hashtag #TEDxEdmonton and the discussions are still ongoing!

TEDxEdmonton 2011

Before the day was finished, Ken Bautista took the stage to make some announcements:

  • TEDxEdmonton 2012 will take place next spring. The larger Maclab Theatre, which seats 500-600 people, has already been booked as the venue. Tickets will go on sale for 2011 attendees in the next few weeks.
  • The TEDxEdmonton Salon Series will be launching in 2012, a series of smaller scale TED-like events.
  • A new event is being planned for fall 2012 – TEDxEdmonton Education, focused on building and inspiring a learning revolution.

Stay tuned to the TEDxEdmonton website and Twitter for updates.

I think it’s safe to say that TEDxEdmonton 2011 was a big success. The organizing committee deserves a ton of credit for making such a world-class event happen here in Edmonton. Well done everyone!

TEDxEdmonton 2011 TEDxEdmonton 2011 Organizing Committee

You can see the rest of my photos from TEDxEdmonton here. Watch for video and other updates to be posted on the TEDxEdmonton website over the next few weeks.

Recap: Designing Downtown – Between Two Cities

Tonight Sharon and I attended a panel discussion at the Art Gallery of Alberta organized by M.A.D.E. in Edmonton called Designing Downtown: Between Two Cities. It was an interesting evening for the event to take place, because across the street at City Hall our City Council was discussing the proposed downtown arena project (they voted to move ahead with negotiations) and also because today was Vancouver’s 125th birthday. Ryan Jespersen was our host for the evening, and Todd Babiak was the moderator for the discussion. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for that discussion to take place – the panelists used most of the time for their “introductions” (as is often the case).

Gene Dub, founder and principal at Dub Architects Ltd., kicked things off with a little show and tell. He talked about some of the projects he has worked on since establishing his firm in 1975, and highlighted four things that he has tried to focus on with his downtown development efforts: housing, heritage, infill, and commentary. Some of the interesting projects he showed pictures of included the City Market Affordable Housing, the Alberta Hotel, the McKay Avenue School Restoration, and City Hall.

Gene talked about the Seventh Street Lofts project as well, noting that it is a unique mix of a 1950s building, a 1929 brick building (the John Deere warehouse), and a new infill building in the middle. It turns out that when he purchased the northernmost building (1950s) he tried but failed to purchase the small parking lot right on 104 Avenue as well, which I have embedded above. Tonight he told the audience that he has since purchased that lot, and has plans to build an office tower there. He showed a rendering of a beautiful glass building!

107 Street Annex
107 Street Annex, courtesy of Dub Architects

Next up was Mathew Soules, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and the director of Matthew Soules Architecture in Vancouver. As much as I loved listening to Matthew’s very cerebral talk about Vancouver, it was his section of the evening that caused us to go completely off schedule. He had some really interesting things to say about Vancouverism, and I thought he did a great job of breaking it down and explaining it. The fact that the model can be broken down into building blocks is fascinating. One of the more interesting things he said about coming back to Edmonton was that it was refreshing compared to Vancouver. That is, the environment there is so “total” – completely planned, manicured, etc. – that it tends to lack the grittiness and messy vitality that Edmonton has.

Designing DowntownDesigning Downtown

Our third speaker was Shafraaz Kaba, an architect and planner at Manasc Issac Architects Ltd. right here in Edmonton. He spent some time talking about the firm’s interest in reskinning or “reimagining” existing buildings, a discussion which inevitably led to some more negativity directed toward the Associated Engineering building! He also talked about the Capital Modern Tour that Sharon and I went on back in 2008 (Shafraaz was our tour guide on that excursion) and made mention of the importance of preserving buildings such as the CN Tower. Shafraaz also had some of the most memorable statements of the evening, saying for example that “Edmonton has all kinds of plans, we’re good at making plans – what we’re not good at is implementation.” He also posed the very thought-provoking question, “why in the world do we have air conditioning in Edmonton?” Surely there must be a better way to heat and cool our buildings by making better use of our natural climate!

Our fourth and final speaker was Trevor Boddy, a graduate of the University of Alberta who is now a Vancouver-based architecture critic/curator urbanist. He has written books and articles, and is currently working on the TownShift: Suburb Into City ideas competition. He touched on Vancouverism as well, but showed it from a different perspective than Matthew. He also made some memorable statements, most notably: “Edmonton only gets one more chance to get downtown right.” I really liked some of the examples he showed (such as powering a water feature using the heat generated from a server farm located underneath) but I also thought he made some of the best points. He said you can’t fix downtown without also addressing some of the issues in the suburbs, that the arena project is a 1970s way of solving the problem, and that one of the most painful things Edmonton needs to overcome is the way our metropolitan governance model works (I really agree with the last point).

Designing DowntownDesigning Downtown

By the time we got through all of that, there wasn’t much time for questions, and to be honest my mind had started to drift toward the arena issue at City Council! One of the obvious questions that was asked was how the lack of an architecture school has harmed Edmonton, to which Trevor had a great response. He said that you get the school after you have the architecture, not the other way around, and pointed to organizations such as M.A.D.E. and Edmonton on the Edge as the foundation for what could eventually become an architecture school.

The key takeaway seemed to be that getting the discussion happening, with events such as tonight’s panel or the upcoming PKN X, is the key toward cracking the downtown nut. Thanks to all of the organizers for making the event happen! You can see a few more photos here.

UPDATE (4/18/2011): I added the 107 Street Annex rendering, courtesy of Dub Architects. It is labeled “Lot 162, Block 6, Plan B2”.

Happy Anniversary to the Art Gallery of Alberta!

This weekend the Art Gallery of Alberta celebrates the one year anniversary of its new building in Churchill Square. It’s hard to believe that it was a year ago that the ribbon cutting took place and Edmontonians were clamoring to get a peek at the beautiful facility.

And what a year it has been! Here are some of the highlights of 2010:

  • Attendance more than quadrupled since 2009 – more than 111,000 visitors!
  • Of that number, approximately 87,000 were paid admission, which significantly surpassed the target of 65,000.
  • The number of AGA members increased from 1650 to 5300!
  • A total of 17 exhibitions were presented, 5 of which were dedicated to Alberta arists.
  • Roughly 4700 people in total attended the 395 public tours that were given. In addition, 146 private tours were given to a total of 3150 visitors.
  • School programs grew from 5000 students in 2009 to 14,500 last year.
  • A total of 367 private and corporate events, 24 wedding receptions, and 62 wedding photos sessions took place.

Here are a few graphs to help illustrate the success of 2010:

One of the highlights for me personally was the Refinery series of events. There were three in 2010, and each one was more popular than the last. Over 1700 people attended Refinery, and 800 of those were at the most recent event (it was so popular, people had to be turned away). I wrote about the second Refinery here. The 367 private and corporate events is significant as well. I attended dozens of events that took place at the AGA last year, it’s a great venue.

And who could forget the exhibitions! From Edgar Degas, Francisco Goya, and Edward Burtynsky to Warner Bros., Jonathan Kaiser, and Laura St. Pierre, we had a little bit of everything. I particularly enjoyed the Warner Bros. cartoons and Janet Cardiff & George Miller Bures’ Storm Room.

While the building was the most obvious “new” thing from 2010, let’s not forget that the AGA launched a new restaurant, logo, a new website, and established a presence in social media last year as well. All of those things helped the organization win a variety of awards:

  • Metal Construction Association Presidents Award for Overall Excellence
  • Institutional Winner: Alberta Construction Magazine 2009 Top Projects
  • 2010 Edmonton Economic Development Corporation Recognition Excellence Award
  • Best Cultural Institution 2010 by See Magazine
  • Zinc Restaurant was named one of the Best New Restaurants of 2010 by Where Magazine
  • Allan Scott was named Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser by the Edmonton Association of Fundraising Professionals

Interview with Gilles Hébert, AGA Executive Director

The numbers for 2010 are certainly impressive. I asked Gilles to reflect on the past year. “It’s quite remarkable,” he told me. “The challenge is to maintain the momentum and continue to grow our audience.” In the first two months after the new building opened to the public, more than 30,000 people visited. “Lots of people came initially just to see the inside of the building,” Gilles said. Now he says people are coming back for the programming. “We exist because of the program, not because we have a cool building.”

Gilles said the AGA has seen the most interest in its contemporary programming, which he described as “pretty cool”. The success of the AGA’s contemporary exhibitions has driven interest nationally too. “People are looking to us for these big ambitious shows,” he told me. “They’re drawn in by the level of enthusiasm that is palpable in this community.”

Looking ahead to 2011, Gilles told me the challenge is generating buzz in places other than Edmonton. “There is no other institution like us in this province – we have a provincial mandate.” One of the ways the AGA is doing that is through social media. “We’re finding that these new forms of communication are really driving interest and allowing people to connect with what we’re doing.” He said their social media activities are actually becoming more valuable than traditional printed material and paid advertising, at least in terms of driving audience.

Gilles told me he is really looking forward to the celebration this weekend. “We are so proud to celebrate this milestone.”

Art Gallery of Alberta

Sunday Celebration

The anniversary celebration takes place on Sunday from 11am until 5pm. Here’s a brief description of what to expect:

The day includes the launch of the official AGA building book, presentations by the Citadel Theatre, Alberta Ballet and the Edmonton Opera, exhibition tours, as well as cupcakes for the first 500 visitors.

It should be a great day! You can see the event on ShareEdmonton here. And if you just can’t wait until Sunday, tonight is opening night for the Brian Jungen exhibition which features three sculptural installations.

If you’re taking photos this weekend, be sure to add them to the AGA pool on Flickr. Be sure to follow the Art Gallery of Alberta on Twitter.

You can see my photos of the AGA here. If you’d like a bit of background on the new building, check out my recap of architect Randall Stout’s talk.

Reimagine: Achieving a Sustainable Building Stock in Edmonton

A few weeks ago I attended Manasc Isaac’s Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit 4 (see my preview). John Woelfling from Dattner Architects in New York was the guest speaker, and he shared a wealth of information on the renewal of the Peter W. Rodino Federal Office Building in Newark, New Jersey.

Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit

John covered all aspects of the renewal project, from cooling & heating plant upgrades to egress improvements and façade upgrades. They were able to achieve a significant increase in the energy efficiency of the building, and it looks much nicer now too! A lot of the information was over my head, but you can download John’s presentation here if you’re interested (PDF, 10 MB).

Peter W. Rodino Federal Office BuildingPeter W. Rodino Federal Office Building

One slide in particular from John’s presentation stuck with me. To help set the context, he showed this graph:

As you can see, the vast majority of new office construction in Manhattan occurred back in the 1970s and 1980s. Why is that significant? Building codes and regulations were far less likely to consider energy efficiency at the time. An office tower built today is far more likely to be energy efficient than one built in 1970. It wasn’t until the Brundtland Report was published in 1987 that the term “sustainable development” was defined.

I have been thinking about that graph ever since, wondering if the situation here in Edmonton was similar, and trying to wrap my head around the problem of having an old and inefficient building stock. I spent some time on the website for The Way We Green, and came across this discussion paper from Klaas Rodenburg of Stantec. Titled Achieving a Sustainable Building Stock, the paper discusses the very thing I have been thinking about. Here’s a key excerpt:

Buildings are directly responsible for more than a third of all energy used and more than 50% of natural resources consumed in Canada. As a significant part of the problem, buildings also present part of the solution.

Although buildings look permanent, they are actually replaced or renewed on a perpetual basis. Municipalities can take advantage of this continual renewal cycle to significantly grow their stock of sustainable buildings by expecting higher standards for new buildings and encouraging existing building owners to engage in green renovations. Building codes are slow to change and focus on life safety, health and accessibility and not environmental performance.

The paper goes on to discuss voluntary rating systems such as LEED, and identifies strategies our city could employ to achieve a more sustainable building stock.

So what does our building stock look like? I turned to SkyscraperPage.com to help find the answer. They’ve got a pretty good database of Edmonton buildings – it currently contains 283 completed buildings. Of those, 183 have a “year built” associated with them. Here’s what you get with a little Excel magic:

Very similar to the Manhattan chart (though the SkyscraperPage data includes both residential and office buildings). Most of Edmonton’s buildings were built prior to the mid 1980s. Here’s what it looks like when you focus just on buildings that have 20 or more floors:

Yikes! All of the buildings on the right side of that graph are residential too: One River Park, The Century, The Jasper Properties, ICON I, ICON II, and Quest.

Obviously we need to ensure that any new buildings we are constructing are energy efficient. As Rodenburg says in his discussion paper, they must “exceed existing codes and standards by a significant measure.” I think that is happening to a certain extent – being LEED certified is something we hear quite a bit about now.

The graphs above suggest that perhaps we should pay more attention to our existing building stock as well. There’s a number of strategies we could use to make our older buildings more efficient, including the increasingly popular idea of reskinning.

Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit in Edmonton

Next Tuesday, Manasc Isaac Architects are hosting a luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald featuring John Woelfling of New York’s Dattner Architects (on ShareEdmonton). This is the latest in a series of events known as the Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit. Here’s the event description:

In this luncheon hosted by Manasc Isaac Architects, Woelfling will present on the renewal of the Peter W. Rodino Federal Office Building in Newark, New Jersey. The P3 modernization project utilizes a true re-skinning strategy, a first for North America. The smart skin increases energy efficiency, provides more effective fresh air ventilation, allows the building to be renovated while still occupied and dramatically transforms the building’s identity.

I was invited to the event and am looking forward to it. I’m not an architect (obviously) but I am interested in ways to transform Edmonton’s urban form, and this seems like a useful addition to the toolkit. Manasc suggests that “a reimagined building” (or a re-skinned building) can result in lower operating costs, reduced energy consumption, and improved day-lighting, among other things.

Some of you might remember Shafraaz Kaba’s talk at TEDxEdmonton last March, where he discussed the reimagining of the old Dell call centre building, now the Servus building. Here’s the before and after:

Servus Credit Union

Shafraaz pointed out that the benefits go deeper than just the exterior of the building. People are more productive when there is lots of natural light, etc.

One of the Pecha Kucha talks I remember most was Myron Belej’s from the very first PKN in Edmonton (slides in PDF here). He talked about Urban Color, and showed a before & after for a variety of Edmonton buildings. I remember being struck by just how much of a difference it can make when the building is not beige. Manasc Isaac’s ideas go beyond just color, of course, but I think the two are related.

Here are some more visuals from Manasc Isaac that demonstrate the re-skinning idea:

Stanley Milner Library
The Stanley Milner library downtown – it always comes up in discussions about redevelopment.

Chancery Hall
Chancery Hall

Associated Engineering
Associated Engineering building, apparently so ugly “it stops traffic in its tracks”. There’s a re-skin on the way for this building already.

If you’re interested in attending the event, you can register here. And if you’re in Calgary, they’re doing the event there too on November 10th.

Recap: TEDxEdmonton

On Saturday I spent the day with about 100 other creative Edmontonians at the TransAlta Arts Barns in Old Strathcona. We were there for TEDxEdmonton, the local edition of TED’s popular independently organized event series. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated by volunteers in each community, but all feature TEDTalks videos, and TED’s celebrated format:

A suite of short, carefully prepared talks, demonstrations and performances on a wide range of subjects to foster learning, inspiration and wonder — and to provoke conversations that matter.

That’s what TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is all about. Inspiring conversations. If you’ve never seen a TED video, I encourage you to take some time at the TED site. There are tons of “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”

The theme for the first ever TEDxEdmonton was “Cultivating the Creative Economy”:

Creative Entrepreneurship – At the intersection of creativity and innovation is opportunity. Where there is opportunity, there are entrepreneurs building companies and working towards social change.

Creative Sustainability – Sustainability has become part of every industry from design to green technologies. We’ll explore concepts and emerging practices that are reducing negative impact on the environment.

Creative Technologies – Creative technologies are shaping the future of the global creative economy. We’ll explore emerging technologies that are impacting successful creative economy growth.

The organizers did a great job of selecting local talent for the event. In total, nine influential people with ties to Edmonton shared their ideas, entertained us, and participated. They also did a good job of picking a diverse group of attendees (you had to apply to attend). I can safely say that my $99 ticket was well worth it.

Here’s how it all went down.


It became immediately clear to me upon arriving at the venue around 9:15am that the day was going to be memorable. Already lots of conversations were taking place, and despite the lack of coffee, I couldn’t help but notice the attention to detail. Each attendee received a lanyard and name badge, which, I realize, is standard fare. Except that these name badges featured the TEDxEdmonton design in addition to our names, on both sides, so that when it inevitably got flipped around, you could still read the name. Such a nice touch. Same goes for the tables that were setup – each had a little “idea tree” on it, with words like “Create” or “Inspire” on cards.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone was pretty blown away by the stage after entering the actual theatre. Designed and created by the University of Alberta Student Design Association, it was colorful, interesting, and impressive. It really “set the stage” for the day!


The day was broken up into four sessions. The first was “Creativity & Innovation”, hosted by Michael Brechtel. In addition to the speakers for each session, we also watched one TEDTalk, picked by the host. Michael chose Rory Sutherland’s Life lessons from an ad man, filmed in July 2009. Very entertaining!

Tim AntoniukThe first speaker of the day was Tim Antoniuk, Associate Professor in the Industrial Design Program at the University of Alberta. He talked about Creative Economic Emergence, and shared a number of statistics about creative economics around the world (mostly from the UN’s Creative Economy Report 2008). He highlighted China as the fastest growing creative economy, noting the shift from “Made in China” to “Created in China”. Tim also spent some time talking about epistemology, “social shapers”, chaos, the rise of Richard Flordia’s creative class, and waste. He noted that 60-80% of environmental impact is determined at the design stage. Tim finished by saying we need to foster emergence, and shared this Peter Drucker quote: “The basic economic resource is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labor. It is and will be knowledge.”

Shawna PandyaOur second speaker was Shawna Pandya, an Edmonton-born entrepreneur working at NASA-Ames in Silicon Valley. She began with a song, stating that fostering innovation requires “thinking and acting differently.” Shawna encouraged everyone to share their ideas, saying that “life is too short to be proprietary” with them. She also talked about entrepreneurship, and noted that “anywhere you have stasis and stability, you are not going to have startups.” Perhaps her most tweeted remark was that “a crisis is not a tragedy, but an opportunity.” Shawna finished with a call to action – to shift from linear thinking to exponential thinking – and a really creative exercise called Innovation Mad-Libs. Essentially: think of a problem that is unique to Edmonton, come up with one crazy and daring way to approach it, and then ask someone for their thoughts on it.

Andrew HesselAndrew Hessel, a genomic scientist who founded the Pink Army Cooperative, was our third speaker. He focused on the rise of do-it-yourself biology, and compared bacterial networks to computer networks. Andrew delighted us with lots of interesting ideas, like word processors for DNA, cancer-fighting beer, DNA hacking kits, DNA printers, and “fields of chairs being grown in the future”. He said that one day we’ll be able to print new hearts and that we can already cure blindness from vitamin deficiency with goldren rice, but noted that current GMO standards scare people. Andrew also talked about 23andme, PatientsLikeMe, and discussed the sorry state of the pharmaceutical industry (it takes 10-15 years to bring a new drug to market). He closed with some thoughts on biomanufacturing, and a little bit on Pink Army, which aims to make individually-tailored cancer drugs based on an individual’s genetic makeup.

Stephani Carter hosted the second session, on “Creative Sustainability.” The TEDTalk she picked was Cameron Sinclair on open source architecture, filmed in February 2006.

Shafraaz KabaThe fourth speaker of the day was Shafraaz Kaba, architect and partner at Manasc Isaac. He talked about the importance of materials, and said that what you get from combining wood magnents and glass depends on the designer! His firm recently redesigned the old Dell call centre building in the Edmonton Research Park, because the original design was horribly energy inefficient. Shafraaz showed a great heat loss visualization of the building, and pointed out the lack of natural light, both problems they were able to solve. Through his examples, Shafraaz demonstrated that great ideas almost always come from somewhere unexpected, and said we should embrace that!

Theresa HowlandTheresa Howland, Vice President for the Western Region at Bullfrog Power, was our fifth speaker. She started by saying that 80% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, the result of decisions based on the lowest cost. She then shifted into wind power, noting that Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta currently produce the most wind power in Canada (about 1,000,000 homes can be powered by wind power across the country). Theresa noted that wind power is not new, but that until economic incentives exist, it will not be fully developed. Wind power works with the natural environment, and in conjunction with existing land use (oh and it doesn’t kill birds!). She closed by encouraging us to make decisions that have a positive impact, stating that individuals really can make a difference!

After a break for lunch (featuring some yummy lasagna) Cam Linke hosted the session on “Creative Entrepreneurship”, and showed us the TEDTalk by Seth Godin on standing out (purple cows), filmed in February 2003.

Grant SkinnerOur first speaker after lunch was Grant Skinner, a local Flash guru and “tech rockstar”. He walked us through cultivating the creative economy on a personal level, sharing some anecdotes from his own work in a very reflective talk. Grant defines success through challenge, contribution, novelty, diversity, and the people he interacts with. He encouraged us to celebrate “play” and said that passionate procrastination is a good thing. Seek inspiration outside your area of expertise, explore limits, cultivate relationships, avoid extremes, and create new things, however minor, were a few of the other thoughts Grant shared. He closed by demoing some of the really interesting projects he has worked on over the years.

Cameron HeroldNext up was Cameron Herold, a successful business leader who created 1-800-GOT-JUNK. His topic was teaching entrepreneurship to kids. He said we should be raising kids to be entrepreneurs instead of lawyers, not because he hates lawyers, but because he feels we should treat entrepreneurship with the same level of distinction. Cameron thinks that we focus too much on teaching what they not do, and that we should do better at helping cultivate the things they are good at. A couple of Cameron’s most emphasized points were that allowances teach kids to expect a paycheck, and that we should not medicate them for attention deficit disorder (except in the most extreme medical cases). Cameron finished by sharing the fantastic video, entrepreneurs can change the world.

The driving force behind TEDxEdmonton, Ken Bautista, hosted the last session on “Creative Content”. The TEDTalk he shared was a really eclectic one from John Hodgman on aliens and love.

Sean StewartThe last speaker of the day was Sean Stewart, an award-winning science fiction novelist and influential writer of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). He talked about the evolution of storytelling, and said that any way humans have invented to lie to one another should be part of your storytelling kit! The latest iteration of storytelling is transmedia, interactive, and social, according to Sean. He talked about fanfiction.net, and noted that the vast majority of words ever written about Harry Potter were not written by JK Rowling. He closed with perhaps my favorite remark of the day: “Art at this point is not about dictating to another person, it’s a dance. Hold out your hand and ask, do you want to play?”

To close out the show, award-winning soul and jazz singer-songwriter Krystle Dos Santos performed, with some help from Mitch Holtby. She sang a number of songs, and Mitch wowed the audience by playing at least four different instruments throughout the set, including a really interesting drum machine. It was a fantastic way to end the day!

Krystle Dos SantosKrystle Dos Santos

Well, the formal part of the day anyway! Many people headed over to Suite 69 for drinks and appetizers, and then back to the TransAlta Arts Barns for the official TEDxEdmonton After Party. Conversations continued with drinks, music, slideshows of the day, and a photo booth. It seemed fitting to end such a great day with a party, even though I think many people were intellectually drained.


TEDxEdmonton was webcast for free online, with dozens of people watching. Twitter also played a big role in the event – we were the #1 topic in Canada for much of the day, thanks to the more than 900 tweets posted by Edmontonians during the event.

I think Ken said it nicely in his recap post:

Everyone needs to know that Edmontonians are working here and beyond, changing the world in their own ways – in science, technology, entertainment, design and more. We wanted TEDx Edmonton to be a spark that would ignite and connect the entrepreneurial and creative energy we’ve always had in our community.

It worked. TEDxEdmonton was a huge success, and I think everyone who participated in person or online felt a positive lift. I suspect there are more than a few Edmontonians with an extra jump in their step this week! Congratulations to Ken, Cam, Michael, Cindy, and everyone else who worked so hard to bring Edmonton such an incredible experience. I can’t wait until the next one!


You can see more photos here and here (some by me, and some by Jason Everitt, Aaron Pederson, and Dallas Whitley), and you can read the liveblog archive here (written by Doug van Spronsen and myself, incorporating tweets). Stay tuned to the TEDxEdmonton site and Twitter for updates, and links to the videos when they are posted.

Randall Stout on the new Art Gallery of Alberta

On Saturday afternoon, Randall Stout gave a talk at the Winspear Centre on the new Art Gallery of Alberta. As the lead architect on the renovation of the AGA, he could talk about the project like no one else. He started with some of his influences and favorite examples of architecture, and then moved on to the philosophy behind the design for the new AGA. He touched on the technology used throughout the design process, and the materials used for the building’s construction. He finished with some never-before-seen renderings and photographs of the new AGA.

As Sharon noted, one couldn’t help but come away from the talk feeling excited about the new Art Gallery. I was already looking forward to the new building for it’s unique and controversial design (both positive things in a city mostly full of plain buildings) and hearing Stout’s thoughts only furthered my appreciation for the design.

Randall Stout Architects, Inc. was named the winner of the Edmonton Art Gallery’s New Vision architectural competition on October 13th, 2005. Here’s what Stout had to say at the time:

“It is an honour to be chosen from among such distinguished colleagues,” said Randall Stout once he had been given the news. “I look forward with great excitement to crafting architecture that serves the Gallery’s New Vision of programming for the people of Edmonton and all of Alberta.”

The distinguished colleagues he mentioned included Alsop & Partners (London, UK) and Quadrangle (Toronto), Arthur Erickson/Nick Milkovich (Vancouver), Dub Architects (Edmonton), and Zaha Hadid (London, UK).

Though Randall Stout has been on the job for about four years, the project actually started nearly twelve years ago. That’s when the wheels were set in motion for the renovation of what was known at the time as the Edmonton Art Gallery. I think once we see the completed building we’ll look back and say it was worth the wait.

The most distinctive feature, the sweeping stainless steel wave, is known as “Borealis”. It is meant to reflect our city’s unique geography – the river valley cutting through box-filled urban spaces. While it will appear as one piece as you walk into the building, it is actually separate to ensure that cold outside temperatures stay outside.

Stout talked a little about designing for such a northern climate. He mentioned that the building was designed with winter in mind, and showed a rendering of the building on a very snowy day. He didn’t give specifics however, and said to wait for some nice weather-related surprises when the building opens. He also shared his admiration for local construction workers who braved the cold weather to keep the project on track.

Though the new AGA will indeed be linked to the pedway system and to Churchill LRT station when finished, it will not include a redesigned LRT entrance. Stout said that he went above and beyond the requirements of the competition by including the feature in his initial designs, but scrapped it due to lack of funding. He’s hopeful that the City might resurrect the feature in the future (and I am too).

Art Gallery of Alberta

Other interesting features of the new building include “the grand staircase”, the third floor terrace, a new restaurant/cafe, and a color-changing exterior. You can learn more about the building features here.

The new $88 million Art Gallery of Alberta will open to the public on January 31, 2010, roughly 1500 days after Randall Stout won the competition. To tide you over until then, the Art Gallery of Alberta is hosting an exhibit called Building a Vision, which features “the progression of the building from initial conceptual sketches and diagrams to pictures, models, and photographs captured throughout construction.” Don’t miss it!

UXCamp Edmonton – July 18th

Edmonton’s first UXCamp is being held on Saturday! Organized by Cam Linke of BarCamp fame, Jess McMullin from nForm, and Marc Brisbourne, an instructor with MacEwan’s Design Studies program, UXCamp is a free, one-day event taking place at MacEwan downtown. Here’s what it’s all about:

UXCamp is for people who want to learn and share about user experience, design, usability, information architecture, user interfaces, service design, and anything and everything else about creating better products and better experiences.

Edmonton joins a growing list of cities that have hosted UXCamp, DesignCamp, or InteractionCamp events. Like BarCamp, the schedule is open – anyone can sign up to present in a 20 minute time slot. You can read more about what they’re expecting for presentations and how the day will progress here.

Here are the details for UXCamp Edmonton:

Date: Saturday, July 18, 2009
Time: 9am – 5pm
Location: 9-202, Robbins Health Learning Centre (104th Ave, 109th Street – map)
Cost: Free

The event is limited to 100 people by the venue, so make sure you register now. If you’re interested in sponsoring, click here. Should be a great event!