Feb. 12, 2024

UCalgary breaks the ice at Chinook Blast with bold new installation

SAPL plays role in annual event Feb. 9-19 that aims to draw Calgarians to engage in winter activities
SACDOT installation

“Winter is coming” is a phrase many people dread hearing as the days become shorter and the temperature begins to drop; there’s a reason why it was so ominous a phrase in Game of Thrones

Well, winter is here and, as it settles in, many struggle to be as active as they were during the summer. Chinook Blast, Calgary’s annual winter celebration, aims to provide an alternative.

Chinook Blast is Calgary’s annual winter festival celebration that brings together the best of outdoor arts, culture, sports and music, encouraging Calgarians to foster new winter experiences with family and friends. The festival, launched in 2021, aims to reignite the community connection that Calgarians used to enjoy in the colder months of old. Patti Pon, chair of Chinook Blast and president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development, emphasizes the excitement of this year’s festival.

“We want people to get outside and celebrate what makes this city so unique and magical, even when the temperature drops!” says Pon, BFA’87. “Chinook Blast 2024 is not just an event; it’s about getting folks out at the height of the winter months to witness the boundless possibilities here in Calgary.”

This year, more than 80 partners, including the University of Calgary, came together to create more than 200 winter experiences.

Introducing SACDOT: A bold new installation

UCalgary has partnered with Tourism Calgary not only as a sponsor of the festival, but also through providing engaging activities from different faculties. The Schulich School of Engineering provided 3D-printed snowflake keychains to be distributed at various locations during the festival. Other winter activities include the ISU World Speed Skating Championships (Feb. 15 to 18) hosted at the Olympic Oval, and the Crowchild Classic that took place Jan. 24 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) is showcasing its latest interactive art installation, SACDOT, from Feb. 9 to 19 at the Olympic Plaza next to City Hall. The installation was designed and built by 12 Master of Architecture students and led by their instructor, Khalid Omokanye, BA'11, MArch'13, as part of a work-integrated learning studio held in the school’s City Building Design Lab located right across the street from Olympic Plaza. In addition to being a regular sessional instructor, Omokanye is principal of the design build firm KO&CO Inc. 

The installation is composed of a series of interwoven, lightweight, yet durable high-density polyethylene plastic-layered forms attached together with rivets to create an amorphic squid-like shape that hovers overhead, lightly touching the ground in several strategic places. 

Omokanye led the students through a computation design exercise where they used an advanced graphic engine to visualize their design. The final shape was automatically converted into a mesh of linear strips which were then unfolded in the computer to create a flat pattern of forms that were cut out with a laser cutter. Each three-foot strip is unique and numbered so that the students could re-assemble the design in real life. 

“It was a lot more work to put it together than the students expected,” says Omokanye. “That’s the real value of a design-build exercise, to learn that every decision you make during design can have some very big impact when it actually gets built.”

Connecting with Calgarians

“The Chinook Blast festival is a fun way of getting Calgarians out of their homes to experience Calgary in a new way during some of our coldest days of the year,” says Dr. John Brown, dean of SAPL. “I think it’s a wonderful way to help communities reconnect with each other in public spaces they may not have beento  before or haven’t visited in some time.”

Brown says he believes in the importance of creating inclusive spaces for our communities to socialize, learn and interact — a notion embraced among his fellow faculty, students and staff. 

“As architects, planners and landscape architects, we’re committed to making vibrant, equitable public spaces,” says Brown. 

“That’s why we have located many of our teaching and research activities downtown, across the street from City Hall. In the same way a medical school is located in a hospital, we believe a design school like ours needs to be embedded in the heart of downtown.”

Brown is aware of the importance of keeping a city alive during winter, especially when it can be a challenging time for many in the community.

“In our programs, the idea of work-integrated learning and design-build projects is paramount,” says Brown. “Our students are regularly engaged with practicing professionals as part of their studies and we are constantly seeking opportunities for them to design and build something on a bigger scale, where they can explore design and fabrication elements and engage with the community's response. It’s even better when those projects are located outside of our school and can have an impact on the experience of being downtown, even if it is only temporary, as with Chinook Blast.” 

Over the years, Chinook Blast’s mission to create a heartwarming winter celebration has only intensified, further advancing existing cultural and sports offerings through partnerships with UCalgary, Tourism CalgaryThe City of CalgaryCalgary Arts DevelopmentCalgary Municipal Land Corporation, and Calgary Downtown Association, among others.

Chinook Blast festival runs until Feb. 19. Explore what’s happening at Chinook Blast