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Ascend: Public Art at Rocky Ridge Recreation Facility

Help name an artwork

The artists behind the artwork with the working title of Ascend would love to consider your ideas for a title. To name the artwork:

  • Email your suggestion to with the subject line "Rocky Ridge naming contest".
  • If you include your name and home address you will qualify to receive one of five gift cards to the YMCA.
  • Maximum of five suggestions can be submitted per person.
  • All suggestions must be received before March 1, 2019.
The new name will be announced in the Spring of 2019.

Ascend – Artists’ concept rendering. Photo credit: Haddad|Drugan. Used by permission.

The Project

The Ascend artwork was commissioned as part of the Rocky Ridge Recreation Facility construction project. The artist team of Haddad|Drugan applied to an open international call in 2013, and was chosen by a project-specific selection panel.

As of October 2, 2018 (at the beginning of the installation phase), the cost for the Ascend artwork is approximately $911,000.

Note that:

  1. The estimate includes what the artist has actually spent on the project to design and fabricate the artwork.
  2. The total cost also includes estimates for what will be spent from October until the end of the project on the shipping and installation of the artwork.
  3. This means that the final cost may be less than the estimate.
  4. The total does not include administration costs, such as engagement and communications.

As with other public art projects, approximately 90% of the artists' contract for Ascend will be spent on the design, fabrication, shipping and installation of the artwork. What the artists are paid is about 10% of their contract, which started in 2013.

The total budget for the Rocky Ridge Recreation Facility Public Art Project, including administration costs and contingency (which may not all be spent) is $1.49 million for two artworks. The first artwork, entitled Flock, was installed in 2017 near the facility's south entrance. About two-thirds of the project budget went to Ascend, and one-third went to Flock.

The Artists

Haddad|Drugan is artist team Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan, who specialize in conceptually-driven, site-specific art. The artists’ projects combine an aesthetic concept with a site’s unique dynamics with inspiration from a curiosity of nature, science, sustainability, community and history.

Their artworks are often designed to respond to natural phenomena such as sun, sound, light, wind and water. These artworks engage people in a variety of experiences at different scales, vantage points and conditions which create an experience that is deeply felt and memorable.

With over twenty public art commissions throughout North America, Haddad|Drugan’s work is widely published and honored with a variety of awards. Their most well-known works include:

  • Emerald City, an environmental artwork at the entry to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport,
  • Sun Spot, an iconic set of sculptures for the Denver Animal Shelter, and
  • Water Mark, large-scale sculptures and earthworks that both control and enhance perception of flood events in Scottsdale, Arizona’s Indian Bend Wash.

Both artists hold Master’s degrees in landscape architecture and have taught at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and University of Washington.


The Concept

The artists were asked to create an artwork that would:

  • Be responsive to the natural environment, and
  • Create memorial, iconic experiences that reflect the identity of the community, landscape, and facility.

The site chosen for Ascend is the large natural park east of the recreational facility, at the top of the knoll. The parkland is covered with grasses and other plants, with several gravel walking paths meandering through the area. The knoll is one of the highest points in elevation in Calgary.

The artwork consists of two monumental sculptures, each about 14 metres (45 feet) high, 6 metres (20 feet) wide and 10.5 metres (34 feet) long. The two sculptures are mirror images of each other. They will flank the walking path, marking the knoll high point at an area that also has boulders and a log for seating.

The artwork is composed of an open matrix of welded, stainless steel tubes set on larger stainless steel columns. The open matrix creates visual structure that is both strong and light. The bead-blasted finish will reflect and absorb light in different ways, depending on the angle of the sun. The structure will cast interesting shadow plays onto the ground. At the end of some of the tubes will be acrylic prisms which will break the sunlight into spectrums of iridescent colour; seen from a distance, the prisms will appear as icicle-like sparkles.

As people move around or between the sculptures, the two forms will appear to combine into a whole and then separate, depending on the viewing angle. Each sculpture on its own may evoke the shape of a cornucopia - the horn of plenty - to some viewers. Viewed from another angle, the sculptures merge into a shape reminiscent of bison horns, or mythical creatures. This form was inspired by the changing shapes of flocks of birds ascending and descending; horns; the movement of herds; the curves of Chinook clouds; and animal nests and dens.

Community Engagement

To develop the concept for this artwork, Laura and Tom met with the community to discuss their research and thoughts about the site.

A survey asked the community their opinion about:

  • Significant or unique features of the area,
  • Outdoor activities they would likely engage in at the recreation centre
  • Favourite seasons, and
  • Favourite outdoor spaces in Calgary.

More whimsical questions asked people to imagine if a movie was made at the centre, what genre it would be, and to draw or describe a mythical creature that might be discovered there.

The community response affirmed the artists’ ideas about locating the art outdoors, and embracing the site’s unique topography and natural environment, engaging views, sunlight and weather. From the input received, there was a strong consensus that the art should embrace the natural environment, especially the striking views to and from the nearby hills.

The artwork designed for the Rocky Ridge Recreation Facility connects people to the unique natural features and wildlife of the site, and creates memorable, iconic experiences that reflect the community’s identity and values.

Paul Sinclair was a community member who took part in this process as a member of the public art selection committee, and he says that he is "pleased to see this vision of the community rise up and become an iconic part of Calgary." He feels that the artwork will "not only enhance the facility but will also draw people to different locations around the entire site, to appreciate it from various viewpoints."