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The Bow is a 1.7 million sq ft building with a total of 58 floors located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The building, completed in 2012 is the tallest tower in Canada outside Toronto. It houses the headquarters of Cenovus Energy and EnCana Corporation. Because of its imposing structure, the building is considered one of the first significant mixed use developments east of the Central Street in Calgary. The design helps provide an environmental sustainable by creating a generous social space for Calgary thus offering a new cultural, shopping and civic destination for headquarters for Canada’s leading corporations. The aim of this paper is to analyze the building and its design created by Foster and Partners from the UK and Zeidler Partnership based in Calgary.

The Architectural Project

Early in 2006, EnCana Corporation, one of North America’s leading natural gas producer companies, announced its plans to construct a high-rise building. Architectural designs were to be provided by Foster and Partners and Zeidler Partnership Architectures based in Calgary while the management of the building was to remain under the hands of Mathews Southwest, a US based company in Texas and assisted by the main contractor Ledcor Construction, Transsolar KlimaEngineering, Sturgess Architecture, Halcrow Yolles, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. and Gensler (Encana Corporation, 2012).

In October 12, 2006, EnCana Corporation filed for a development permit application with the intention of developing The Bow, Calgary’s newest and tallest tower. Foster and its design partners then released a design for the tower as a 59 storey building that would be made of glass and steel in downtown Calgary. The building was to be configured in the shape of a bow (hence its name The Bow), and could be a striking creation that could provide its occupants not only the Bow River and Canadian Prairies to the east but also the Bow River Valley and the Rocky Mountains to the west. The building is located between Calgary’s 5th and 7th Avenues, between 1st street and Centre street S.E. Construction began on June, 2007 starting at the 6th avenue. However, construction of The Bow led to the demolition of the York Hotel to make enough room for construction (Encana Corporation, 2012).

The scope and magnitude of The Bow offers a unique opportunity to set the tone of development in Calgary; by forging new urban connections as well as expanding the boundaries of the city. The first phase of developments consisted of the tower for Cenovus and EnCana companies with retail and cultural facilities, and a podium building in the 6th and 7th Avenue. This was a truly mixed-use scheme that provides for shops, offices, leisure facilities offering an idyllic model of sustainable urban living. The building reduces reliance on transport, balances energy consumption between its night-time and day-time activities. The Bow tower reflects EnCana and Cenovus's company values and its ability to respond to its progressive approach towards sustainability issues and ability to provide unrivalled office environment. The crescent shaped bow inversely curved south that faces the atrium to the entire height of the façade, The Bow absorbs the sun’s energy creating a tempered buffer zone thus warming the tower. The Bow consists of three sky gardens that divide the building into some distinct zones forming a series of floors with meeting rooms, lobby floors, communal space and a high speed lift service that runs between the lobbies. However, The Bow has additional lifts that are at the rear of the building servicing each of its zones. The whole of the office spaces benefits from natural light, with the building’s orientation being able to maximize dramatic views of some of the natural views like the Elbow Rives, The Bow River, and Canadian Rockies (Foster + Partners, n.d.).

According to the emporis.com, the shape and the tower’s location allow maximum sunshine, views as well as effectively dealing with winter and summer conditions. Its design for the use of glass and steel makes the building lighter by 30% of other building its size. This building provides space for more than 3,200 employees who were once housed in five different buildings. This is because a typical floor of The Bow provides 32,000 sq ft with the cultural and retail space providing another 200,000 sq ft. making it Canada’s second largest in floor space (only after the First Bank Tower, in Toronto). The building covers a total site area of 190,000 sq ft covering a one full block in two block complex including an extensive park-like plaza and a 7-storey building. The three floors featuring sky gardens have indoor park like trees with vegetation whereby meeting and seating spaces are provided by express elevators (EMPORIS, n.d.). The EnCana Corporation further indicates that in total, over 84,000 sq meters (about 900,000 sq ft) of glass was used in the construction. It has a total of 1,400 parking stalls with a 6 level parkade that spans two blocks on both sides of the 6th Avenue. There are also more than 15 skywalk connections to some of its neighboring buildings including Suncor Energy Centre, Telus building and Hyatt Regency Calgary.

The artwork for The Bow was created by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa. Known as Wonderland, it begins at the foot of the building and rises over the plaza. Expected to be the main feature of the plaza, the sculpture is a 12 metre tall bent wire of a young girl’s head with another piece being a bronze sculpture that is slanted towards Alberta. To develop a design of a visual legacy of the Bow Mr. Plensa was chosen by representatives consisting of the art community. Indeed, the sculpture is a beautiful artwork that inspires people who want to experience sculpture; the architecture of a human body which Plensa termed as “…a palace of our dreams” (Plensa sculpture installations begin at The Bow, 2012).

According to EnCana president, Randy Eresman, The Bow is a reflection of the growing importance of the city’s cultural and business importance adding exceptional architecture to Calgary’s skyline. Among Canada’s high rise buildings, The Bow is known to have set standards for environmental sustainability. An example is the building’s aerodynamic design crescent shaped that reduces the wind’s load. This has the net effect of reducing the amount of structural materials required as well as the surrounding turbulence. The Bow’s south-southwest orientation also has the ability to make an efficient use of the southern Alberta sun. Compared to the conventional tower, The Bow’s energy efficient design that uses natural light and ventilation is expected to reduce energy use by about 30%. The architecture was focused on creating an efficient and a pleasant workplace that is tailored to support each of the individual businesses (EnCana unveils The Bow – Calgary’s newest tower, 2012).

It is worth noting that most of the Calgary architecture is either showy or just utilitarian, but The Bow is a sophisticated urban design. It is touted to be the first building in Calgary that knowingly approaches architectural issues, as well as tending to the corporation’s physical needs. Clearly, this is not just a tower but a piece of architecture. This can be seen from The Bow’s balanced relationship between the building’s various aspects. This is an addition to the public network of a raised second floor walkways extending through to downtown Calgary. The sculptural architecture here cannot be reduced. Add this to the footbridge that connects the Bow to the Plus 15 system and this makes the Bow an architectural tower, not just a tower (Hume, 2012).

Hume adds that The Bow did not, however, have an easy genesis. It cost $1.3 billion dollars. However, the fact that the Bow encompasses environmental features and its beauty is a clear enough rebuke of sorts to all the forces that were involved in building it. He signs off that this is economic might, architecture and a corporate enlightenment in a single economic gesture that were combined to smile on each other to have one single happy result, the bow. Most of the building has now been occupied except some sections that await completion including Plensa’s artwork in the building (Hume, 2012).


A significant mixed-use estate in Calgary, The Bow is the new EnCana and Cenovus headquarters that provides an environmentally sustainable headquarters for the oil and Gas company. For The Bow, bigger seems better. The Bow is the newest and tallest tower as well as the most accomplished architectural beauty in Calgary. The Bow reflects EnCana’s values and hence responds to its innovative approach towards a sustainable office environment. The 58-storey building was designed by Norman Foster, a UK architect, with curving lines made of glass and steel instead of corrugated iron sheets.  The building presents an impressive exterior grid of cross-bracing and sitting on the east Calgary’s downtown that evolves the city’s skyline. Plensa’s sculpture to the building also adds a new spectacle and drama to the city. The building is indeed not just a tower but an architectural beauty. 

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