Canadian Consulting Engineer

Feature

Beakerhead

Lisa Konopski of Urban Systems helped plan the crazy "smash up" of art, science and engineering that transformed Calgary's streets for several days last fall.


This article is from the March-April 2015 print issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer, page 42

From the March-April 2015 print issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer, page 42Lisa Konopski was one of three people at Urban Systems who volunteered to help organize a part of the “Beakerhead,” event last fall in Calgary. An extravaganza of art, spectacle and entertainment with science and engineering as its theme, the event drew 73,000 people onto the city streets and into venues over five days from September 10-14.

Q. What is Beakerhead? And why is it called a “smash up”?
It was sparked by an idea of having an engineer-focused festival instead of a solely arts focused event. Calgary has many festivals, but Beakerhead is different — it gets the community engaged in something that celebrates being smart, being a scientist, being adventurous, following your dreams, having a career. It’s about trying to build excitement around science and creativity.
The whole spirit behind it is to break down the borders about how things should be. So the Beakerhead organizers don’t necessarily want it to be called a festival, or a fair. They don’t want it to be labelled. I think that’s where the “smash up” comes from.

Q. How was Urban Systems involved?
Our involvement was with a specific portion of Beakerhead called “Little Big Street.” It was on the Calgary Stampede grounds and had around 15 installations. They all played off the idea of community — what it means to design and inhabit communities. It was aimed at school outreach, but also open to the public in the evenings and on the weekend.
Urban Systems helped Beakerhead procure the site and then helped draw up the site plan. We had to plan how up to 1,000 students at any one time would make their way through what is essentially just a parking lot. In addition to the safe movement of people, we wanted it to be an experience. So we played with how different installations and the entertainers were interspersed throughout and the order that they would be experienced in. Roberto Binda, Lee Giddens and I were on the team at Urban Systems.
We also helped Beakerhead through a lot of the logistics — things like permitting. Where do we put the washrooms? Where are all the buses going to go? How wide do the streets need to be? Fire permits, temporary development permits, and so on.

Q. Some of the installations look phenomenal.
There was a balance between local, grass roots installations, and then larger scale ones like the Flaming Octopus and the Laser Cat. Laser Cat is a 16-foot high interactive engineered installation created by Art Director’s Club in the U.S. and Hungry Castle in Barcelona. The cat projects art through its laser beam eyes and people are encouraged to submit their art work. The more art he gets, the bigger he grows. Another one on Little Big Street was the “Flaming Genome,” in the shape of a garden gnome. This guy stood about eight feet tall and shot flames 30 feet into the air — like Beakerhead itself, something that is just fun, different, crazy and bizarre.