Greenhouse Project





Two weeks ago while visiting Mikhail Miller in his studio at 809, he showed me this enormous greenhouse two doors down that I must have walked by many times before and never noticed.  I knew right there that this was the space I wanted to bring into focus. It had intrigue and the materials to work with.  The structure had arched ceilings that provided plenty of natural light, as well as having a concrete sub basement that felt like a mine shaft.

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After negotiating the use of the space, John Webster the original builder and owner of the greenhouse stopped by and I learned that he would grow food all year round, piping in hot water from the house boiler.  He would grow seedlings in the greenhouse and move them to a farm where they would grow to maturity and then get donated to charity.  It became my focus to pay homage to a place that provided so much growth, and once again transform it into a lively environment before it’s demolition.

I felt a great kinship with Mr. Webster, because the greenhouse was built using as much recycled material as he could use, giving the structure an eclectic sensibility that reflected his personal touch. I set out on the challenge of collecting material limited to the greenhouse and surrounding neighbourhood, in the end building a relationship to materials that are specific to this particular place.


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The process began with tearing up the existing structures (shelves/planters) and mining materials from the concrete underbelly in order to cache the usable material suitable for my needs.  As I broke down the material my idea shifted into what it exists as now; a giant tree house that contains a mezzanine platform that opens up to the outside.  The night when I cut a hole into the back wall I felt instantly more connected to the neighbouring houses, and when the platform was installed there was no hiding the fact that this mark drew new attention to the greenhouse.

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The life of this greenhouse installation stems from the experience of growth and metaphorically symbolizes the inner workings of how a plant grows and how we might take example from this system, relating it to how we build our communities. As Wreck City progresses I see diverse approaches to to how one might see a bunch of old buildings, but to me Wreck City is a temporary surrogate of how we might see Calgary progressing. Our installations are intended to inject life back into the seemingly forgotten relics that unite us as Calgarians.  In the final legs of the journey we will hope to see a sense of community emerging from our experimental neighbourhood, rebuilding with no standards and no rules.  Making our city out of the wreckage of an old paradigm.

~ Lane Shordee, Artist, WRECK CITY






Photo credit Tom Reynolds


8 thoughts on “Greenhouse Project

  1. Oh man! It’s so great to hear this story. I’d noticed the corner of the greenhouse from 809 last summer and been really curious about it. I love how it was used and will be highlighted in wreck city. Such a cool space. Thanks for the post and pictures.

  2. These images are very poignant for me as I too worked and owned this greenhouse. John, myself and our 2 children, grew tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc., to feed our family in the early years of the greenhouse (built 1983). By the way the soil in the backyard and the property north (811) is all organic, no fertilizer has ever been put in the soil, just leaves and compost. The accordian like structure in the foreground of the first photo is from one of the oldest elevators in the city, and may still have the stamp of Turnbull Elevator Company Limited on it, we used it as a trellis. I feel sad to know the house that my children grew up in will be demolished soon, but that is progress. Best of luck with the rest of your project. One other point, the radiators that were attached to the growing bed in greenhouse are cast iron and came from an old house that was being demolished in Fish Creek Park in 1982. (sorry can’t remember name of the famous owners of that house) Lots of history hidden everywhere. The inside of the house at 815 has been heated with the same radiators.

  3. Pingback: Wreck City: Lane Shordee | The Chapel

  4. I lived in 815 for three years, and it’s still the best house I ever rented in. John and Lorraine were always back there in their greenhouse and would pop around front now and then to offer us a head of lettuce, a bundle of greens… it’s lovely to see the place put to such use. If I could have made it back to Calgary during Wreck City’s dominion, you bet I would have loved to hang out on that platform. 🙂

    Also, hi Lorraine, from Kat and Terry Lynn! I hope things are going well for you two. It’s sad to see 815 go, but what a bang it is going out with!

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