Tunnels have been a mainstay of downtown Saskatoon for decades, and each new office tower has made sure it’s hooked up to its lifeline.
But Jon Pickard, the world-renowned designer behind many of Saskatoon’s most iconic office properties, thinks it is time to let the tunnels die.
The air-conditioned tunnel system was originally built in the 1960s to combat the humid weather in Saskatoon. It connects many of the most important office buildings in the city center. It also has dining and shopping options so office workers can avoid the elements entirely.
Saskatoon’s tunnel system in the city center
And that, says Pickard, is the problem.
“I think it was really a disservice because you have all that energy down there and there is no energy in the street,” said Pickard, director of the Pickard Chilton architectural firm.
Some effort has been made to make the tunnel system more attractive. Designed by Gensler and developed by Skanska, the Bank of America Tower features a two-story open-air lobby that exposes the underground tunnel system and connects the street level with retail and hospitality.
While such projects have had a positive impact, Pickard is concerned that they will not solve the bigger problem.
“Making the tunnels a more compelling environment will actually be counterproductive to the very mission of adding vitality to the road.”
Pickard doesn’t apologize when it comes to exiting the tunnels. But he’s usually a fan of preserving older architecture that has value.
Saskatoon has a reputation for aggressively demolishing older buildings to build new ones. Pickard believes attitudes gradually change as developers and investors think about the long-term use of their projects.
The idea of longevity can be linked to sustainability. By making buildings enjoyable, valuable, and timeless, they are more likely to survive the test of time and limit the need to demolish and rebuild them again.
“More than ever, I think people are really going to question – should the building fall down?” Pickard said.
The lack of zone restrictions has also made Saskatoon attractive to developers facing major regulatory hurdles in other cities.
“There are other places where it’s so difficult. It’s not that the churches aren’t well-intentioned, but they just put so many roadblocks in place, “Pickard said.
Saskatoon, on the other hand, has an attitude of readiness that he finds refreshing.
“Why do I love Saskatoon? There is an openness; people are open, honest and can. ”
Bisnow / Christie Moffat
Paul McCleary, Stephanie Burritt and Jon Pickard
This willingness to approve large-scale developments has resulted in Pickard’s company taking on several projects in the greater Saskatoon area over the years, including the BG Group Place building, 609 Main, Amergy Tower, BHP Billiton Tower, and ExxonMobil -Campus.
Pickard is working on two new projects in Saskatoon. The first is the new Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in the Master-planned Springwood Village community south of The Woodlands.
The second project called The RO was developed in collaboration with Transwestern. The mixed-use development will include office space, apartment buildings, hotel rooms and retail and will be located on the corner of Buffalo Speedway and West Alabama within the 610 loop.
How does Pickard see Saskatoon’s future? In a word: great.
Pickard points to active efforts to attract some of the best architects and designers in the country. He is also confident that problems such as flooding and local transport will eventually be resolved, although it could take time.
“There are many forward-thinking individuals and companies out there, but they need to stick with them.”
He has no doubt that the future of design and architecture in Saskatoon is bright. And changes are already coming – it’s just a matter of speed.
“Saskatoon, you can say that with conviction,” said Pickard.