Photograph of signs and paint at PARK PARK, Calgary. Image taken by and courtesy of Public City Architecture.
Given the pandemic and the rapid onset of winter weather, it is more imperative than ever for us to rethink public parks in our major cities. For this site profile, then, we examine the newly opened, whimsical PARK PARK in Calgary for inspiration.
PARK PARK is a multi-use outdoor space in Calgary, Alberta. Designed by the firm Public City Architecture, it opened just this September in the Inglewood neighbourhood. A popular site for Instagram photography, PARK PARK serves a multitude of uses and unleashes a new set of meanings to the urban landscape of Canada.
Borne out of a competition launched by the Calgary Parking Authority and managed by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), in conjunction with the Inglewood BIA, PARK PARK focuses on innovating public space, encouraging its use both during peak and off-peak hours. PARK PARK reinterprets the flat expanse of the parking lot. By carefully examining the nature of Canadian cities, with their favouring of vehicular traffic to cross distances in a variety of climates and locales, Public City Architecture provides a counter-proposal to the drab necessity of car parks in our urban spaces. The monotonous concrete slab punctuated by a few white lines and signs on narrow metal poles of the typical parking lot is disrupted at PARK PARK. Bright pastel and primary colours painted on the ground, oversized cut-out signs, and even reused garage doors enliven the concrete landscape, encouraging active engagement on the site through a variety of programmatic elements made available there.
The large signs take their inspiration from the iconography of the Canadian leisure park and/or campsite, making life-size the activities one does both inside and outside of the city. Each sign’s icon features the activity it is meant to represent, from picnic tables almost popping out of the sign to a basketball hoop attached to the sign. There is even a small library contained within the “book” sign, a handwarmer in the “campfire,” and phone chargers in the phone sign.
PARK PARK asks Calgarians to actively examine the environment around them, meshing both leisure and necessity, city and country, and even past and present, to develop a keen awareness of the ways in which the built environment affects them. The relative simplicity and one-note legibility of our network of signs pointing out amenities is turned on its head at PARK PARK, reinterpreting the symbols which have only had one meaning until now and giving them a new life within the city.
PARK PARK serves many uses, including recreation, rest, and, yes, even parking. It is both rest stop and urban park. Its enclosure in metal scaffolding topped with colourful flags reminds users of a fairground, while its concrete expanse and curb stops (concrete barriers at the end of parking spots) are reminiscent of skate parks, a use also encouraged at the site. The elements of a parking lot are disassembled and reassembled in creative ways to encourage a creativity of experiences had by users. PARK PARK is a fun play on the most mundane elements of our cities and landscapes, a concrete parking lot, metal signage, and the domestic garage door. Clad in their new colours and larger-than-life renditions, these elements encourage a playfulness that urbanism is not always able to provide, and certainly, not often found in parking lots.
On-site activities such as skateboarding and basketball are encouraged at PARK PARK. Images by and courtesy of the Calgary Parking Authority.
PARK PARK “challenges the way we think about the ubiquitous nature of single use territories in our cities,” encouraging engagement with the landscape and the built environment that echoes aspirations towards sustainability, multi-purpose, and community-building. These values are central to the way we build cities in Canada, and Public City Architecture has provided an important synthesis of these ideas to use as example and inspiration for designers.