Re-purposing with a purpose: Treeter Totter and the urban landscape

Re-purposing with a purpose: Treeter Totter and the urban landscape

Not all projects are permanent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be given a new life. Such is the case with DIALOG’s Treeter Totter. Built last year for Calgary’s  Beakerhead 2018 festival, the playful exhibit was  the result of a collaboration between DIALOG architects, structural engineers and landscape architects. It stayed in place for the five-day festival and is now being turned into other pieces of urban landscape. We asked Tracy Liu, an associate architect, to tell us a little bit more about the project’s origins and where it may end up.


I take it we haven’t seen the last of Treeter Totter. What’s happening with it now? 

There was great curiosity on what would happen with the installation after the Beakerhead festival ended. Unfortunately given timelines, we were unable to find a permanent home for the Treeter Totter and as such had to dismantle the installation. We were able to salvage most of the pieces of the installation – the glulams have been cut down, the two beautiful trembling aspens have been planted in a permanent home, and we have been working with Kristen Forward and Hayden Pattullo, our MITACS students who work part time at DIALOG and the other time is spent in the Laboratory for Integrative Design at the Faculty of EVDS at the University of Calgary, to explore how we can give the glulams a second life as furniture and contribute to the fabric of our urban environment and within our communities.


Why is it important to re-purpose the piece?

As an organization, we place great value in ensuring our contributions to the built fabric, temporary or permanent, form part of our commitment to the environment and as an environmentally-sustainable practice. We place great care in the life cycle of materials, the potential of materials to carry its history, its story, and how that adds to the richness of the material over time.

What was the original inspiration for the piece?

It is a metaphor for the balance and harmony of our environment and an aspiration to create a dynamic landscape in pursuit of pushing the boundaries of landscape design.

How does Treeter Totter (and what it has become) fit in with modern urban design practice?

I think architecture as a design practice has evolved beyond a traditional understanding of how we can positively influence/beautify/contribute to the fabric of our environment, that we are not limited to bricks and mortar and the construction of a building. We endeavor to push and question, to continually ask ourselves, of public and the community, our critical relationship to the environment, to each other. The profession of architecture and as a design practice holds the potential to inspire new ways of thinking and understanding, beyond as a service industry.  I think the Treeter Totter was hugely successful in blurring the boundaries of design practice. Not only did we take advantage of our strength as an integrated design team of architects and engineers, we created something which was not only beautiful to behold, but it connected and inspired temporary moments of belonging between individuals.

Taking it broader, how important is arts and culture as a shaping force in modern urban design?

There is huge potential in mashing arts and culture with urban design and the role it plays in placemaking. Successful urban design has moved beyond the provision of seating and benches to a more playful understanding of public space. It involves an understanding of programmatic adjacencies and physical translation of the local context through arts and culture. Urban design is no longer generic, it needs to be adaptive to a greater demographic (think 8 80 Cities), it needs to inspire activity, foster social connections and create a healthier generation. The community wellbeing framework Dialog has developed with the Conference Board of Canada has been a huge boost to qualifying the importance of design to the health of our communities, through architecture and urban design.


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