Aria, a 312,153 square-foot commercial and residential mixed-use development in the University District of Calgary, AB was recently featured in Award Magazine. What makes this project stand out is that it is a unique form for Calgary that serves a new demand for urbanization and the ability to live, work and play within the immediate community. In upholding sustainable design, the project was built to achieve a Built Green Gold Standard.
February 10, 2021
As a subsidiary of Graham Group, Gracorp is rapidly cementing its reputation as a Canadian real estate developer of high-quality residential, office, industrial, and retail projects – but it’s still small enough to treat each project with hands-on care.
This is most evident in ARIA, a massive, multi-use complex of street-front retail (with Save-On-Foods as the anchor) and 288 rental apartments nestled between the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the University of Calgary.
Gracorp marketing describes ARIA as defining the heart of this lively neighborhood, with elements designed by NORR and constructed by Graham intended to give residents all they need for a convenient and walkable lifestyle.
The one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments are an amalgamation of urban elements (a bold charcoal and white color scheme throughout) and trendy features such as sliding barn doors. These units in turn surround what is arguably ARIA’s most outstanding feature: a 22,000-square-foot landscaped courtyard with private grilling stations, pickleball and bocce ball courts, and a fenced pet play area. Other amenities include a fully-equipped fitness center, a large group kitchen with dining areas, and two furnished short stay guest suites.
From a development viewpoint, ARIA is the outcome of an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model that commenced in 2017 and in which early collaboration with Gracorp, the architects, builders, and main sub-trades was crucial in bringing the developer’s vision to life within budget. “IPD was extremely beneficial because this was Gracorp’s first foray into mixed-use multi-residential in Alberta,” says Gavin Murphy, project manager at NORR, adding that development co-ordinator Shannon Quinney and managing director Novy Cheema “Had terrific ideas and enthusiasm, and we worked hard to make those ideas come alive while staying within budget.”
The development process resulted in compromises being made that didn’t sacrifice quality or appeal. For example, Gracorp was initially going to take advantage of a recent change to the province’s building code allowing for wood frame construction of up to six stories. “We wanted ARIA’s five stories of residential to be wood frame and sit on a concrete podium,” says Murphy. “However, Save-On-Foods wanted six-meter ceiling heights, and that plus other tenant requirements exceeded the code’s height restrictions.”
Gracorp and the IPD determined that compressing ceiling heights to meet building code was unacceptable. So instead of wood, ARIA’s residences were made of a light steel frame construction, with light metal decks and poured concrete that were four inches thinner than wood frame.
Another effective compromise was an atrium originally conceived as a three-story structure, whose curtain wall would glow at night and reveal a feature staircase within. “Again, we had to bring expectations in line with budget, and thanks to costing exercises and value engineering we simplified the staircase and down-sized other elements – but retained the visual impact of the atrium being a magnificent glass box,” says Murphy.
While commitment to quality was the prime consideration throughout the design and construction process, Murphy is especially charmed by Gracorp’s ability to think outside the box and incorporate elements that distinguish their projects in a fiercely competitive market. “For ARIA they augmented the courtyard with a silver Airstream trailer that can be rented for parties and other occasions,” he says. “That, along with large, loose planters, really brings the courtyard to life and imparts a playful, funky ambiance.”
Given that Save-On-Foods had a fixed move-in date, construction was dictated by aggressive timelines, with Graham first focusing on the western portion of the project where the grocer would be located. Brown and black brick was used extensively at ground level to give specific retail units a distinct identity, and long-board cladding defined the residential units. Stucco was used in large areas such as the rear of Save-On-Foods, with reveal lines for added visual interest.
As of December, the developers were anticipating a spring 2021 completion, and Murphy is pleased with how close collaboration resulted in an impressive addition to Calgary’s nascent mixed-use residential market. “ARIA will definitely please residents and retailers,” he says. “It was a very satisfying project all around.”
Read the rest of Award Magazine’s December 2020 issue here.