EnCana's new Calgary office tower - The Bow

EnCana's $1-billion tower to be the tallest in Calgary

DAVID EBNER,  Globe and Mail Update

Calgary — EnCana Corp. and one of the world's top architects are building a $1-billion tower in downtown Calgary, which at 59 storeys will be the tallest office project west of Toronto and the most significant office development since Toronto's First Canadian Place in the 1970s.

Civic leaders in Calgary also said it underscores the city's new role as a global energy capital, being the corporate hub for the oil sands in northeastern Alberta, which are recognized as the second-largest source of crude oil on the planet and where a $100-billion building boom is underway.

“We have emerged as one of North America's leading cities,” Mayor Dave Bronconnier told reporters at a packed press conference in Calgary Thursday Morning.

EnCana, the country's largest producer of oil and natural gas, is working with Foster + Partners, the renowned London-based architects behind the Millennium Bridge in the firm's hometown, as well as the Swiss Re building, better known as the Gherkin. Internationally, Foster + Partners designed the new Reichstag (Parliament) in Berlin and is working on the Beijing Airport, set to be the world's largest.

The EnCana headquarters, which will bring together the firm's 3,500 workers now scattered in five buildings, is dubbed “The Bow,” after the river that runs beside the city's downtown. It is being built east of Centre Street, which for years has been an invisible barrier in the core, separating the rich westside of downtown from the downtrodden eastside. It is hoped the building revitalizes the area.

Construction is expected to begin next summer and the facility is set to be fully occupied in 2011. The main building occupies most of one city block and includes a major plaza but the project covers two blocks, including an adjacent 7-storey building that will house community and arts groups. Retail space will be featured in both buildings.

Foster + Partners incorporated advanced design, choosing glass and steel engineering that should be 30 per cent lighter than a typical building of such size. Almost every office will have a window and two floors will feature extensive gardens, which Foster senior partner Nigel Dancey called “gardens in the sky.” He added the extensive use of glass will provide for fantastic views of Rocky Mountains west of Calgary.

The Bow is the largest North American development yet for Foster + Partners.

Across the street from The Bow is the Petro-Canada complex, a two-tower development built a quarter century ago when Petrocan was owned by the federal government. The taller of the two towers is 52 storeys, which until today was the highest structure in Calgary and caused consternation among Calgarians in the early 1980s when it eclipsed the Calgary Tower.

Petrocan was derisively dubbed “Red Square,” a reference to complex's colour but also to the company's creation and state ownership under the Pierre Trudeau Liberals. (The firm is now publicly held, with Ottawa selling its last stake two years ago.)

EnCana's building is seen as a home-grown icon, “a landmark that defines Calgary,” Mr. Bronconnier said.

EnCana plans to sell the project to a pension fund or other investors before it is completed, not wanting to itself own real estate long-term. It hopes to sign a 25-year lease with a buyer. EnCana said it led the project until now so that it could get a building designed to its specific needs.

Calgary has the lowest downtown office vacancy rate of any city in North America after the energy boom of recent years followed a decade-and-a-half of tough times. EnCana's building will be 1.7-million square feet, adding to more than 10-million square feet of space under development or construction. The company currently occupies about 1.5-million square feet.