Delugional Calgary



SPECTACLE was invited to exhibit flood mitigation research and strategies at the University of Cambridge UK on March 17 and 18 2015 at Urban Emergencies : Emergent Urbanism.

The floods that inundated Southern Alberta during the spring of 2013 caused the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history. Fortunately only five people were killed, and strong community spirit contributed to mutual recovery. Still, it seems that “once in a century” flooding events are occurring approximately every 5 years now; we live under this annual threat and the associated disruption of civic activity, extensive economic damage, and endangerment of life. As the affected cities move forward there is a great deal of public interest and investment directed towards flood mitigation. What if we could open a public debate to discuss questions and issues revealed by the flood, as well as propose beautiful potential futures - essentially hack this disaster as an opportunity to enhance the debate around our urban spaces, buildings, planning and landscapes?

In a self-initiated project in response to this strategy, SPECTACLE aims to address dilemmas such as environmental degradation, sprawl, public abandonment of responsibility under the assault of neoliberal privatization, housing shortages due to the slashing of social housing programs and etcetera with the primary purpose of asking several important questions. Who is responsible for flood mitigation? Should the public sector abandon its responsibility for disaster mitigation in favor of private developers and insurance companies? Can flood reconstruction provide a unique opportunity to address issues such as urban sprawl and ecological decline? Why not expand imminent investment in flood mitigation as an opportunity to include resilient and beautiful infrastructures that celebrate our rivers and create public spaces for all to enjoy?

Urban Emergencies : Emergent Urbanism (UE:EU) is an independent research and consulting group exploring international and interdisciplinary perspectives on the implications of emergent risks on cities and their inhabitants. It emerged from Cambridge Design Research Studio, a research group within the University of Cambridge.



Reception Akinyi McMenamin



Exhibition Opening at the Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge


Reception Akinyi McMenamin

Urban Emergencies lectures inlucded, rom top left, clockwise: Philip Vandermey and Jessie Andjelic presenting Delugional Calgary, Andreas Papallas presenting Re-imagining Terra Nullius, Pierre-Alain Trevelo and Yannick Beltrando presenting Learning from Vulnerability: Environmental Shock strategies in Chile, Elizabeth Wagemann presenting Designing for Adaptation: Transition from Shelter to Home after a Disaster, Koen Schaballie and Laura Coma Fuste presenting Resilient NL Political Shocks and Strategies, Louis Sullivan presenting The Living Dam.



The Flood by Carlo Saraceni

“A flood myth or deluge myth is a symbolic narrative in which a great flood is sent by a deity, or deities, to destroy civilization in an act of divine retribution. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth.”

Comparing Canadian Natural Disasters - Loss of Life


Comparing Canadian Natural Disasters - Cost


June - July 2013 peak flow rate of the Bow River was 1458m3/s - 5 times the normal amount

Antagonist #1 - Jet Streamed

Typically an east-to-west jet stream passes over the mountains from the direction of Vancouver. Before the air continues to Alberta from British Columbia, the humid air rises, cools and condenses, creating the abundance of rain that supports ecosystems such as the Coastal Rain Forest. When the jet stream descends into Alberta as a warm and dry wind, creating a dry, semi-arid climate.

In the week before the flood the jet stream becomes blocked, creating in an “upside-down” system that pushes humid wind, drawn to the low pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico, into the mountains. As a result, Southern Alberta experiences a Vancouver-like weather pattern; on the foot of the mountains upstream from the affected cities, clouds released tremendous amounts of precipitation, resulting in a flash flood and inundating cities across Southern Alberta.


Antagonist #2 - Post Disaster Amnesia

Calgary previously experienced major flooding events in 1902, 1915, 1923, 1929, 1932 and 2005. In 1973 a report created by Montreal Engineering Company outlined the areas of the city that would be inundated in the case of a 70 year flood.

The 100 year flood map created for the City of Calgary after the 2013 flood is a map of the actual flood. Since the actual 100 year flood was less severe than the 70 year flood predicted in 1973, but for which appropriate infrastructural precautions were never taken.


Antagonist #3 - Flanking Maneuvers

Two neighborhoods in Calgary that were designed to be protected by the flood experienced some of the heaviest damage.

Sunnyside is protected by a raised river pathway berm that runs the entire length of the neighborhood. However, river waters entered the neighborhood through the storm water system, which lacked backflow prevention valves.

East Village was recently provided with a new pedestrian pathway and associated flood protection berm. Unfortunately, the system only follows the Bow River, and water flooded this emerging neighborhood via the Elbow River.


Antagonist #4 - Living on the Private Edge

1/3 of Calgary’s river edges are lined with private space, with little to no public buffer for flood mitigation strategies.


Antagonist #5 - Privatization of Responsibility


Antagonist #6 - Driven to Fail

The number of cars outnumber the number of people in the province of Alberta by 4.8 million to 4.1 million. As a rule of thumb, 400 persons per hectare are required for a functional rail based transit system, with density concentrated at the stations. An express bus system requires 250 persons per hectare. Calgary has an average density of 13. Extended infrastructures spread the tax base over a large area, making ambitious and necessary infrastructural upgrades, including flood protection mechanisms, difficult to achieve.

In order to qualify for future financial support in the case of a flood under new flood relief rules, property owners were required to initiate at least one flood mitigation technique, placing the emphasis for flood mitigation at the property line. Those located within the flood fringe were required to initiate flood mitigation techniques on order to be eligible for future aid. Shortly after the flood waters receded, there was a rapid shift in the class mix of neighborhoods adjacent to the river - those who were able to upgrade their private property and those who couldn’t afford to do so. When the next flood arrived, the disparity was quickly revealed.