Forest Lawn Lift Station, 2015, LED bar lights, metal, computer data, 23 x 37 x 21 ft., 1999 26 St. S.E. This piece was commissioned by The City of Calgary Public Art Program, Utilities and Environmental Protection, created in collaboration with Associated Engineering, Nemalux LED Lighting and Marshall Tittemore Architects.
The form is simple and familiar, akin to a child’s concept of a house. The uniform black colour enhances its silhouette against the prairie sky. An unusual perforated metal skin clads the structure. Beneath it, a network of lines changes colour. Although surrounded by a chain-link fence, the effect is elegant and enigmatic. To city operators, it’s an architectural Fitbit, tracking the pipes of the neighbourhood wastewater system. The best vantage point for observers to ponder the abstract graphic and colour-coded flow is the northeast corner, a spot on the escarpment that also offers one of the best views of the city and mountains beyond. Rhythms of urban life are evident below: the 1906 CPR irrigation canal, footpaths, bike paths, bridges. The traffic on Deerfoot Trail hums constantly. Meanwhile, Forest Lawn Lift Station acknowledges the quiet, invisible, wastewater system infrastructure.
Charles Blanc and Tristan Surtees, (the collective, Sans faon), came to Calgary from Glasgow in 2011 as lead artists for the pilot period of Watershed+. They encouraged a collaborative design process for the lift station from the start, and the result is well-considered and thoughtfully executed. Even the surrounding permeable paving grid reinforces the message of water stewardship and responsibility to those downstream. Like some of their other projects – the fire hydrant water fountains, one night limelight or “we are here” balloon arrows – it conveys their interest in people’s reactions and place, informed by the Eames Studio legacy of visual sensemaking but without aiming to provide answers, and mixed with a dash of gentle humour.