As the Scotiabank Saddledome meets its probable demise, the man who designed Calgary’s iconic arena says he’s comfortable if his building is torn down to make way for a new hockey rink.
An agreement between the City of Calgary and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. — which owns the NHL, WHL and lacrosse teams that call the Dome their home — includes plans to demolish the aging 19,000-seat arena to make way for a new NHL facility.
Barry Graham, lead architect of the Saddledome, said he’s at peace with seeing it go.
“I’ve been around a long time,” said Graham, 80. “So I’ve seen a lot of them demolished. I’ve been in the architecture business for a long time, so it’s part of the world these days. There’s not much you can do about it. They get old and they need to be replaced.”
Graham, who has been retired for about two decades, said the Saddledome has served the Flames and the city well.
“It’s been a pretty good building for the city, I believe,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that these things happen. It’s like anything else. It wears out and it doesn’t suit the needs of what people are looking for right now, so I guess you just tear it down and start all over again.”
The Saddledome, which opened in October 1983, is now almost 36 years old. It’s the oldest NHL arena that hasn’t undergone major renovations.
Despite its association with western culture, Graham said that wasn’t the original intent when the Saddledome first started taking shape. His firm, Graham McCourt Architects (now GEC Architecture), actually settled on its now well-known design to satisfy a variety of technical and budgetary requirements.
“You’re looking for something that’s somewhat unique,” said Graham, who still lives in Calgary. “I can’t remember exactly what generated the shape of the building, but it was part of the process of developing various ideas and seeing how they look.
“It was fairly appealing in its shape and its purpose. It’s an iconic kind of shape.”
Graham called the Dome “certainly a building for its time.” Like all buildings, he said the arena had its shortcomings but has served its purpose for close to four decades.
It’s unclear what Calgary’s proposed new arena would look like, as officials say the city and its partners are still months away from discussing a design for the $550-million facility.
But Graham said it’s time for a “fresh look,” one that won’t be associated with the exterior of the Saddledome.
“I think it should start from Square 1. I don’t think anybody wants to repeat anything about the Saddledome. It was good for its day.
“The process is different for every building. You have to respond to the location and the program and, of course, there’s a major budget consideration, which you must allow for.”
If approved, shovels won’t be in the ground to build the new rink before 2021, according to the city. Construction is estimated to last three years, so the Flames won’t be moving out of the Saddledome before 2024.
“It was fun while it lasted,” said Graham. “There’s a lifespan and then you have to start all over again.
“I think everybody should be reasonably satisfied with how it turned out and how long it lasted. It was kind of an iconic building for the City of Calgary, which is nice to see.
“It’s too bad it has to go, but everything has its time in the world.”
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