New or Renew?

CB |

facelift header

A vision for King Edward School [1] .

The sixth installment in our Face Lift series, exploring the new face of our city.


mC:t    2015.07.21




My vote is for renew, what is yours?


As a city continues to grow, it is important for the spaces within to grow alongside it. Abandoned buildings play an integral part in this conversation. Do we tear down old buildings to make way for new and better things or try to alter those existing buildings to suit an entirely new purpose? This revitalization of old buildings is called adaptive reuse. In the highly disposable culture that we live in today, adaptive reuse is becoming increasingly important, despite additional costs.

This is especially relevant when discussing the fate of historic structures. Often, institutional buildings of the early 20th century were built to stand the test of time. Why not exploit the level of quality and craftsmanship that still exists in this type of architecture? To explore this concept further, we have dug into the urban adaptation project taking place at King Edward in Marda Loop. For those of you who don’t know, the sandstone school is being restored, taking shape as an Arts Hub which will provide affordable spaces for artists and entrepreneurs to work and learn.


Photograph of Deeter Schurig in King Edward School. [2]


When it comes to underutilized buildings with a vibrant history, such as the King Edward, often the answer of “new or renew?” is mandated by a heritage board. But it then becomes a question of how to renew it? To gain more insight on this, I sat down with Deeter Schurig, project manager for cSPACE King Edward, to pick his brain about the revitalization of the school. We chatted for a while about the ways in which adaptive reuse altered the outcome. Here were some of the highlights:


How was the King Edward school chosen as the site for this project?

It’s a long story but the word I would use to summarize it is serendipity. In a lot of ways, the pieces just fell into the right place at the right time. There was my own connection, based on doing my thesis work about art spaces in Calgary and living 2 blocks away from the King Edward, simultaneously wondering what do you do with an old school that has been vacant for so many years? The other piece of the puzzle is that the school had been closed since 2001, already experiencing 2 failed purchase attempts. Third time lucky, it came up for sale again and by that time Calgary Arts Development Authority and the Calgary Foundation had taken an interest in it as a potential Arts Hub. So they took a stab in the dark and put in an offer. That was the purchase offer that was accepted, cSPACE was born to receive the project, I was brought on as project manager and the rest is history.


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Two of the many design iterations for the site. Due to a variety of factors, including funding and community input, the final product is continually changing. [3] & [4]


What benefits has working with a historic building provided?

The sensibilities of cSPACE, true of both Reid Henry and myself, is that heritage buildings provide a tremendous opportunity for characterful space. A building that has been around for such time has a story to tell. In this way, it has already succeeded in creating a sense of place, which is in line with the vision of cSPACE. However, heritage buildings also tend to be marginalized and undervalued spaces that require a tremendous amount of investment to revitalize them. In this way, taking them on becomes an opportunity to alleviate the liability that they are. In these ways, the incorporation of a heritage building wasn’t a necessity for this project but it certainly was of interest.


The boilers are one of the many character elements that are being maintained. While they are being removed to make way for cleaner and more cost effective energy sources, they are to be set into the floor on the lower level and encased in glass. [2]


Keeping in mind the history of the building, in what way is the new purpose going to pay homage to the building’s original use?

For a good part of it, we see the reuse of King Edward into cSPACE King Edward as a learning institution, retaining that sense of purpose. So while it’s going to provide affordable space for artists, nonprofits and social enterprises, it is also going to have an incubation function which is focused on delivering entrepreneurial support to emerging artists. This ongoing learning component to the school certainly feels sympathetic to the original use.

The other critical part of it for me from an early point was that it had been a public building for 90 years. There have been endless students, parents, teachers and events that have called that place home or that have been touched by it. Its publicness is the key piece. So even though the classrooms are occupied by organizations and artists, for the most part the facility is open to the public.


A piano rests alone in the music room of King Edward. [2]


In terms of renovating historic buildings, are there any major roadblocks or challenges that you have encountered?

There are challenges in terms of what available trades and skills exist in the workplace. Sandstone masons and so forth are sort of a dying breed. Finding trades for certain things, even window refurbishment, is quite challenging.

Like any project, there certainly are challenges with finding and securing funding. But the benefit is that there’s also the opportunity to build a compelling narrative that people might care about. Not everybody cares about providing affordable space for the arts, but there are those who care about heritage preservation, those who care about environmental sustainability, those who care about social purpose and those who care about the legacy of the school. Recognizing this, we positioned the project in different ways to speak to different audiences.



Temporary art exhibition held in the King Edward prior to construction. [5]


Later this week we’re writing an article about the face lift of the East Village. This revitalization is occurring at a different scale but some of the projects include adaptive reuse and a focus on the arts. What are your thoughts on the plan for the East Village and how it will alter our city’s image and culture?

Their efforts to brand the redevelopment around the arts isn’t new and novel, but what I appreciate is the commitment to allowing this to inspire the urban realm. Having come to Calgary almost a decade ago, I have seen a real transformation and enhancement of the urban realm, including Poppy Plaza, River Walk, St. Patrick’s Island and the East Village, which speaks to Calgary as a city that is coming of age. However, there’s a profound flip side to revitalization that impacts those who are marginalized. Supporting social needs is a necessity within the context of this sort of redevelopment. The challenge is how services for those people, like everyday shopping and groceries, don’t become tailored to those that have the means and affluence. That is going to the be the challenge for the East Village, just like Vancouver’s East End, where low income people need low income services to support them.

This aspect of providing for the marginalized relates back to the King Edward project in that South Calgary is seeing a tremendous amount of redevelopment. This results in gentrification, causing artists and the creative sector to leave because they can’t afford to stay. In some small way, that is the work of cSPACE, working to counter gentrification, allowing those organizations and artists that have minimal means the opportunity to stay in that area. Our mission is to develop affordable, sustainable and compelling spaces for the arts and arts individuals. These individuals happen to be on the lesser scale of means and certainly in such an expensive city, it becomes a critical need to support these people in order to avoid talent flight. Instead, we aim to continue to foster a place that is vital, attracting artists and social entrepreneurs to our city and adding to the richness of city life in Calgary.



A render of the project at a previous design stage. The appearance of the final outcome is still continuing to morph. [1]


Check back later to read the full interview.


For more information on cSPACE, find them online at:







Next: Coming Soon…

Previous: A Search for Personality in Calgary’s Homes



[1] “cSPACE Projects.” Saskatchewan Craft Council. Accessed July 19, 2015.

[2] “Classrooms and Ghosts”. Stuart Grandon Multimedia. (Images credited to Calgary Herald) Accessed July 15, 2015.

[3] “New Uses for Old Places – King Edward School, Calgary.” Retroactive: Blogging Alberta’s Historic Places. Accessed July 15, 2015.

[4] “King Edward Arts Hub and Incubator Receives Government Funding.” Avenue. Accessed July 15, 2015.

[5] “Transforming the King.” Calgarious. Accessed July 19, 2015.



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