In more ways than one, the pairing of CANA Construction with the construction of Studio Bell in Calgary has been a harmonious one. Not only does CANA have the expertise and experience necessary to complete a project of the size and scope as the $168 million, two-block-long new home of Canada’s National Music Centre, but CANA has been responsible for so many of Calgary’s other landmark buildings that it only seems right. Project Director Jason North says the company is proud of its close ties to the Calgary community, and expects its work on Studio Bell to further strengthen those ties.
“CANA is Calgary-based and always has been, and we really pride ourselves on being part of the southern Alberta and Calgary communities,” North says, pointing to the company’s extensive portfolio of recognizable projects in the city such as the Saddledome. “It’s a big part of our corporate culture.”
Once completed, the Studio Bell project will be the new home of the National Music Centre, a cultural organization dedicated to sharing and appreciating Canada’s musical cultures and heritage. The National Music Centre expects the new building to not only provide it with a state-of-the-art facility for its collections, exhibitions and programs, but also create an international hub for musical appreciation and collaboration in Calgary. That description fits in perfectly with CANA’s overall portfolio of what North describes as “community-defining” projects.
“It’s the type of project that CANA builds,” he says. “It’s really a perfect fit for us and our organization.”
Studio Bell is a one-of-a-kind project, and building such a project comes with a wide variety of challenges. However, CANA’s extensive capabilities as a builder that has helped define Calgary have helped it overcome those obstacles and allowing it to deliver what it believes will be another jewel in CANA’s crown.
Located on two blocks in Calgary’s East Village neighbourhood, Studio Bell will encompass more than 165,000 square feet and six storeys. The facility is divided into two towers with an enclosed bridge connecting the two over the street between them. Inside, Studio Bell will feature an education centre with classrooms, broadcast facilities, recording studios, a café, retail space and a 300-seat auditorium and performance space.
Additionally, Studio Bell will house the National Music Centre’s extensive collection of more than 2,000 musical artifacts dating back to the 16th century. These pieces include instruments and other pieces from significant Canadian musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Unlike a typical museum, however, the National Music Centre’s exhibits and displays will be arranged to offer more interaction between guests and the collection. North likens the atmosphere in the exhibit section of Studio Bell to a music festival rather than a museum.
The most striking aspect of Studio Bell is the building’s architecture, which is unlike almost anything else in the world. Designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, Studio Bell’s sloping walls and curved lines were inspired by the profiles of musical instruments, giving the entire building a look uniquely suited for its purpose. “It’s almost like a sculpture, rather than a building,” North says.
The building’s unusual geometry makes Studio Bell stand out, but it also presented CANA and its trade partners with some significant challenges when work began in 2013. Because the project is located in a busy urban area, getting access to the site to build some of the more unusual portions of the design proved difficult, according to North. The building’s unique geometry required the use of advanced 3-D modeling software to ensure that everything was in the right place and the walls’ layout points were in the correct locations.
North says CANA’s experience with 3-D modeling on other projects made this portion of the work less of a challenge for the builder, but it had to ensure that the subcontractors it was working with also were well-versed in such systems.
Another challenge came in the form of the bridge that links the two buildings in the project on their fifth floors. According to North, the city wanted to keep the street underneath the bridge open during construction to prevent traffic congestion, which presented CANA and its partners with a more difficult proposition than if they had been allowed to close the street.
North explains that the project team has solved the problem by building a large temporary bridge over the street first to allow crews safe access to the permanent bridge while maintaining both vehicle and pedestrian traffic below.
Perhaps the most unique challenge of the project was the presence of the King Edward Hotel, a building more than 100 years old that the National Music Centre wanted to preserve as part of Studio Bell. King Edward Hotel maintains its significance as a blues club for the Centre.
“They call the hotel the biggest piece of their collection,” North says.
The problem, North adds, was that the King Edward Hotel had not been properly maintained over the course of its history, and CANA encountered walls that crumbled as it attempted to work around it. Rather than tear the building down and scrap the plans to include it in Studio Bell, CANA disassembled the building brick by brick, cleaned each component and reassembled them with new support. The result is the same building that was built more than 100 years ago, but improved to last well into the future.
North says CANA expects to have the building closed in before the end of the year, before the worst of the winter weather descends on Calgary. Once the entire project is completed in spring 2016, Studio Bell is expected to be something that the National Music Centre, the city of Calgary and CANA can all take pride in.