The city of Calgary’s downtown core houses government buildings, museums, arts commons and the City Building Design Lab, a collaborative research satellite for the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape (SAPL). Like many urban spaces, this center is sometimes perceived as unsafe at night, something that the City of Calgary and the architecture school hope to address with a collaborative project to improve the sense of safety in the area. Students have designed and built a 70-foot-long lightweight wooden canopy equipped with interactive 3D-printed biodegradable light fixtures on the Castell Building in the heart of Calgary’s downtown. The students unveiled this project in November 2020.

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A cityscape with blurry cars passing in front of a wood canopy with blue and purple lights.

The LED lights are fitted with sensors that respond to pedestrians as they walk underneath, illuminating the space and creating a unique sense of vibrancy in the area. The project is part of a year-long study to identify the potential of quick, low-cost architectural interventions to improve perceived safety in urban settings and will be measured with public surveys. 

Related: Glowing Wishing Pavilion is made with 5,000 recycled plastic bricks

A wood canopy with blue and purple lights.

Because of the temporary nature of the project using custom-made steel brackets that rely on friction, the canopy can be installed on the building without permanently damaging the facade. This feature helps demonstrate the possibility of future attachments to similar buildings that may have restrictions due to building protection requirements or heritage status. The LED lamps vary in diameter from 16 inches to 40 inches. Students 3D-printed the fixtures using biodegradable and recyclable PLA plastic that doesn’t produce toxic emissions.

A close-up of a purple light on a wood canopy.

All pieces are fabricated following a zero-waste policy, and despite its low weight, the adjoining wooden canopy is built to withstand the extreme Canadian winters. A series of cantilevered parallel strand lumber beams help support undulating slats made from poplar plywood. The wood is specifically made for long term outdoor use and is pressure-treated, lightweight and weather resistant. To allow urban trees on-site to continue growing uninterrupted, the wooden slats are movable and adaptable.

+ University of Calgary

Photography by Neil Zeller and Riley Brant