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Kananaskis Village


Alberta, Canada


The first project where all aspects of the firm's practice came together was Kananaskis, a 10-year project that created a resort village in an undeveloped valley in the Canadian Rockies. This project was a culmination of thinking and practice and it fulfilled many of the conditions of Legacy Design. It is presented here in retrospective analysis to show its formative influence on the evolution of the firm.


View of Glacier Lake


As foreign visitors began to overwhelm Alberta's national parks in the 1970s, provincial officials turned to an undeveloped area to create recreational venues for local citizens. Analysis of the site revealed serious environmental and economic hazards, which were complicated by political pressures when Calgary won the bid to host the 1988 Winter Olympics.


Legacy Goals

Community - Develop a resort aimed primarily at Canadians that would give easy access to both summer and winter recreation; configure accommodations as a village that will encourage social interaction; create a central hub where people come together to meet.


Environment - Analyze all ecological aspects of the entire valley to choose the most appropriate site; design the resort and recreation offerings so that they lie lightly on the land; decrease pollution by making the village auto-free and walkable.


Economics - Let analysis guide the sizing and number of villages and recreation stops; site these in a

way that minimizes infrastructure costs; combine accommodations, retail and restaurants in a village

layout that encourages foot traffic.


Art - Tuck the village into the landscape in a way that keeps the focus on the spectacular mountain environs; build a trail system that leads people through the valley and gives them a direct experience of nature; create a central plaza waterfall to draw visitors.



A deep understanding of the land and the economics of the situation will help people make appropriate choices in creating a resort village in the Kananaskis Valley. The process will work best through active collaboration among citizens, officials, special interest groups and developers. It will become a legacy

for future generations if the design and construction process are guided at all scales by the firm's

holistic approach.



In the mid-1970s in an effort to increase recreational options for provincial residents, Alberta officials used oil severance tax revenues to begin planning skiing, golf and accommodations in the Kananaskis Valley. Canadian cabinet ministers had a vision of scattering European-style alpine resort towns up and down the valley, but Design Workshop, in collaboration with LandPlan Associates of Calgary, demonstrated instead the wisdom of thoroughly vetting the almost completely undeveloped 100,000-acre valley and creating a regional plan to guide development decisions.



The planning and design team began in 1978 with the goal of structuring a logical, reasonable, sensitive and just decision-making process to direct development of recreational resources in the valley while preserving its waters, wildlife and scenic views, using comprehensive land analysis. One of its first discoveries was that the sites being considered for resorts were completely impractical, for View of Kananaskis Valleyreasons ranging from prohibitive utility costs to ground that was too steep, areas that would disrupt wildlife migration routes and places with too little sun, too much wind or a complete lack of views. The designers also found that the initial plan of scattering three small alpine villages across the valley ignored land conditions, lack of infrastructure, access and support issues. They focused on determining the suitability of the land for limited, sensitive development.


This high-altitude inland region was so remote that its analysis required a satellite survey. Located at 52 degrees north latitude, the valley is completely shadowed by mountains in certain areas. In winter, sunlight is at a low angle. Most of the valley is bedrock, not soil, which is difficult, expensive and environmentally detrimental to build on and does not readily lend itself to re-vegetation. But the ancient glacier that carved out the valley had created depressions called kettle holes, where giant blocks of ice had been left behind and melted. These were 10 to 12 feet deep and as wide as 300 to 400 feet and sheltered lush landscapes in which soils had had a chance to build up. Other factors included natural hazards such as wildfire and the harsh, warm, unpredictable Chinook winds, which had had a strong effect on the building of soils, on microclimates and on plants and animals.



Satelite View of ValleyThe team completed a wide array of studies of everything from habitat and scenic vistas to infrastructure costs and recreational preferences and created predictive models that interwove this information. In thinking that was advanced for the pre-computer era, the team devised innovative methods for interweaving land data, creating more than 40 hand-drawn analyses of such things as aspect, slope, views and wind, and weighting these according to officials' expressed values and objectives. This identified the site most favorable for human comfort year-round, at the lowest construction cost, with the most attractive features, least natural hazards and lowest impact to the site's ecology and views. They presented this information to a broad spectrum of interest groups, including public and private natural resource officials, environmentalists, forest service and other agency representatives, and political officials ranging from the provincial level to the Canadian prime minister. The in-depth research and analysis created a powerful logic and a defensible regional plan that guided 10 years of development decisions in the valley and later stood in stark contrast to the self-interest efforts of those who wanted to profit from creation of venues for the 1988 Calgary Olympics.


another view of valleyPlan/ Design

The focus of the plan was to create accommodations in a single village plan on a site on Ribbon Creek not far from the mouth of the valley and about 20 miles east of Banff. Here, a village could lie lightly on the land but still be a place of comfort and such surpassing beauty that it would have a natural and authentic appeal. Provincial officials committed first to the extension of roads and

utilities and then to construction of a 27-hole golf course and finally to creation of the Kananaskis Village, which featured nearly three times the original number of overnight accommodations. In 1980, Calgary was chosen as host for the 1988 Winter Olympics, a decision that would have a galvanizing effect on the creation of Kananaskis Village. Canadian officials hired Design Workshop to help site and configure skiing event venues in the valley. Later, the province would commit to facilities for fishing, water-based recreation and a handicapped recreational outdoor program to complement Kananaskis Village.

The design allows the village to look like it has been dropped gently onto the landscape. The team gave it the feel of a destination by keeping it auto-free and configuring a village of four hotels around a central gathering area that preserves major features of the landscape. They also created trails that lead out from it into the wilderness and persuaded individual restaurant and retail venues to locate around this hub, to enliven the space.



Wrangling and jockeying delayed major decisions for five years, leaving only 30 months to construct the village in time for the Olympics. The team managed the construction process in adherence to the original design, working with four developers and architects of four different hotels, preserving the auto-free zone and core village concept, with its sheltering of central spaces, architectural unity, focused plaza, the perimeter of dining and commercial uses and scenic views. 


View of finished Kananaskis VillageOutcome

This 10-year effort was a landmark project that deepened the firm's expertise in organizing the elements of recreational resort villages to create a successful whole. Kananaskis advanced the firm's thinking in regard to the elements that are critical to a holistic approach and made clear the necessity of managing construction so that the built work remains consonant with the design intent. The designers worked at all levels, from regional planning to the tiniest details of landscape architecture, and also solved the problems of economic and market viability and established governance of the village, ski area and golf course. Kananaskis Village continues to enjoy success over and above its original purpose of serving local residents. In addition to helping host the Olympics, the village has been the site of several prominent events, including the G-8 conference of the world's leaders in 2003.

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