Alberta Venture: Calgary Transit’s Green Line has been your big project for a while now and will be so for some time. How’s it going?
Jeremy Sturgess: Some of the communities are more acerbic than others but they all want this thing to happen and to be a positive influence. It’s different from the past, when it was, “Not in our backyard.” It’s a sea change that is partly generational.
“The buildings we do create some level of community, either within themselves or for the street, the neighbourhood or the city.” – Jeremy Sturgess, Principal Architect, Sturgess Architecture
The wonder of the project is that we’re dealing with so many communities. It’s like a linear history of Calgary planning: It starts in Chinatown, which is kind of pre-planning, then it moves north through some of the worst years of planning – from the 1970s, all roads and no room for pedestrians – to around 64th Avenue. Then as you continue north to the newest communities, you start to get some density and it’s not all garages on the street and there’s a pedestrian realm once again. It’s a city-shaping project. Council has decreed that urban design and land use planning are central to transit planning, and that makes for a much more valuable result.
AV: You’ve worked on everything from homes to major infrastructure to urban design. What is your role as an architect?
JS: I see myself as a problem solver and conceptualizer and team leader and somebody who has to answer to every voice. People ask, “How do you choose your projects,” and I say “I answer the phone and try to be polite.” It’s not about choosing projects. It’s about making the most of the work that comes by.
AV: Are Albertans open to new ideas?
JS: I’ve committed myself to this province for 40 years and believe Albertans are risk-takers and are open to ideas. Plus, you can get into anybody’s office. You can get people excited about an idea if you’re persistent. Growing up in the East I believe that was not the case there. It was much more of a network that you needed to understand and graduate from. And we benefit from outside ideas. The more that developers here hire international architects, the better. For example, we’re doing an interesting development in Inglewood, Avli, which is a mixed-use residential and retail project. Just down the road is the new National Music Centre, which is an extraordinary building done by a Portland architect. When our clients saw that building, they said, “Wow, we have to do something impressive, too.” The client upped the ante.
AV: We hear you’re stepping back from the firm. Is that true?
JS: Rumours of my retirement are grossly exaggerated. I’ve owned the company for almost 40 years, and I’m selling it. I’m fortunate to have a young guy in my office [Kevin Harrison] who is eager to buy it, so we’re doing that over a five-year period, by which time I’ll be 70. The reason I can’t retire is because when you start your own office you do it with kitchen renovations and small restaurants and stuff. It takes a long time to be doing something like the Green Line and other significant works. It’s getting better and better so I’m going to be damned if I’m going to turn my back on that. Having said that, I’m happy not to own a company anymore. Most of the stress I’ve had over the years – which it’s fair to say has been significant – is related to owning a business, not to being an architect.