Foster & Partners BOW Tower is currently Canada’s 9th tallest but it’s the meshy white head at its feet that steals the show

It’s big, it’s bow shaped, and at 58 stories it is currently the tallest tower in the petrostate of Calgary, and 9th tallest in Canada. Until 2017 when Brookfield Properties completes its Brookfield Place East Tower. So its got that height thing going for it, but does Foster & Partners’ Bow tower live up to the hyperbolic expectations leading up to its opening?

Sort of. First it got us that giant Plensa head. Which according to Mayor Nenshi and myself, is awesome! Secondly the tower’s sustainability and technological aspects are forward thinking and innovative. The tower’s lobby, with its exposed exo-skeleton provides worker bees an interesting architectural view into the building’s criss-crossing structural members and functional details. In its raw, open presentation of intersecting columns and glass, the open space isn’t just about aesthetics, it actually works to improve airflow and cooling.

The second floor allows ‘gassy hamsters’ or ‘petroleum workers’ access to their favourite fastfood feeding troughs and/or coffee huts via one of the many enclosed ‘hamster tubes’, before being herded politely back to their respective cedar-shaving laden cubicles. The Plus 15 system that’s been part of Calgary’s downtown since the 80’s, is designed to keep workers warm from Calgary’s bipolar winters until it’s time to head home in their SUVs to their homes where warmish meatloaf and some type of pudding awaits. The second floor of the tower also has stores and stuff.

Taking up a total of 158,000 square metres (1.7 million sq. ft.) and at a cost of $1.4 billion Canadian, the Bow is the ninth highest structure in Canada. The southwest facing Bow, so aligned to take advantage of that giant heat orb’s hot giving attributes, helps to decrease the buildings heating requirements in the Calgary’s 9 months of winter.

According to the Foster & Partners the facade’s diamond shaped details are in fact part of a functional and aesthetic decision. “The diagrid structure, in which each triangulated section unifies six storeys, help to break down the scale of the building visually. Where the building curves inwards, the glazed facade is pulled forward to create a series of atria that run the full height of the tower. These spaces act as climatic buffer zones, insulating the building and helping to reduce energy consumption by approximately 30 per cent.”


Three sky gardens, or atriums, provide vertical access and direct traffic to the various office spaces where workers may or may not have their jobs from one day to the next depending on the price of oil. The irony is, this piece was written 18 months ago before the Saudis decided to play Who’s the Boss. But where the Bow deserves architectural kudos for its sustainability components, Plensa’s wirey head should receive recognition as one of the country’s greatest public art offerings

Commissioned by Encana, the giant steel mesh head guarding the Bow’s entrance is oddly named ‘Wonderland’. Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa is a 12 meter tall wire head, who’s design inspiration is taken from a young girl’s headshot. Painted in white with openings for people to walk through, Wonderland’s facial features change from that of a giant OZ-like character from the inside, to that of a kind and forgiving diety on the outside.

According to Mr. Plensa, “My vision for Wonderland was to inspire everyone who experiences the sculpture: I believe the architecture of our bodies is the palace for our dreams.”

An inspirational thought by Mr. Plensa, juxtaposed nicely against the big phallic architectural member/big letter C/Toronto City Hall impersonator that towers ominously, yet metaphorically over the small headed one at its feet.

But alas, from the outside, the big crescent roll . The 58 storey bragging rights and criss-crossing facade are nice but it just doesn’t feel like the legendary team’s A game. Were the tower 20 storeys shorter, I wonder if it would receive the same level of hype? No British gerkin here, just a tower that far too closely resembles Toronto’s City Hall. Or from space the small letter C.

Foster & Partners

Note. Details regarding the tower’s height hierarchy in Canada have been corrected.

Angus Mackenzie

Canadian born automotive & architectural photographer. elemente magazine was born in 2006 as a Canadian national design publication . It remains as an online entity.

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