Heavy in review: A year of evolution

Reflecting on the ‘experience’ with company president Ryan Bessant

As 2020 comes to a close, the world looks quite different to Heavy Industries president Ryan Bessant. As we sit down and reflect, he notes the obvious: A global pandemic that has shifted people’s focus, priorities and, often, budgets.

Yet he’s also candid that every year looks quite different for Heavy lately. After all, “be the change you want to see.” Right?

Despite more than a decade in creative placemaking business, the Heavy team entered 2020 like it did the year before: focused on evolving the company’s story. Bessant concedes art and architectural fabrication has largely defined his company over the years – thanks in large part to its role in world-class pieces such as Wonderland at The Bow in downtown Calgary and the Glacier Skywalk near the Columbia Icefields. Yet the next chapter for Heavy has always been addressing shifting needs. Specifically:

Clients want more from their public art – more of a story that has more meaning, more dynamic and interactivity qualities, more community ownership . . . basically an engaging community-enriching experience

And often for less – less expense, less wasted time.

To that end, Heavy’s genesis from fabricator to integrated experience piece facilitator hit warp speed this year, says Bessant.

“A lot of the seeds we’ve been planting for two to three years finally sprouted,” he says. “our clients experienced the end fruit of some big projects that were started some time ago. And perhaps most importantly, these projects reflect who we want to be known as moving forward: a project partner that can come in early and seamlessly create something meaningful that’s both on time and on budget.”

The highlights from Heavy’s catalogue of experienced-focused installations over the past 12 months illustrate this shift:

The “birdhouse-inspired” Coming Home installation at the heart of Dream Development’s landmark Brighton community in Saskatoon furthers an earlier collaboration between local schools and Ducks Unlimited, and maintained that connection with the surrounding wetlands.

“The first time I saw it, when the crane pulled away, I was like, ‘Wow! You guys nailed it,’” says Jayden Schmiess with Dream.

Similarly, the Iini Bison Heart 14-feet-tall bronze sculpture designed by celebrated artist Adrian Stimson in the new northwest Calgary community of Trinity Hills pays homage to the surrounding land and the Blackfoot’s deep historical connection with the bison. 

“It’s encouraging to see … efforts being made to understand these sites, connect with Indigenous people and reflect the history of this land,” comments artist Adrian Stimson.

Meanwhile, the Inverted Lake installation at the celebrated Daniels Waterfront development in Toronto found a way to illustrate something that was otherwise invisible. The canopied collection of flappers located more than 20 feet above ground level between two new condo towers not only deflect wind coming off nearby Lake Ontario, but also creates a ripple-like effect in the sky above.

“For a long time, we spun our wheels on how we were going to bring this project to life. But by bringing Heavy onto the project early on, we were able to leverage their experience working on projects like this and allow them to bring it all together while still capturing the original vision,” says Brock Stevenson of The Daniels Corporation.

With 2021 on the horizon, Bessant expects Heavy’s story will continue to evolve. He teases a “once-in-a-lifetime” project along one Canada’s most amazing sites along the historic Halifax waterfront with Armour Group that will tell the story of Canada’s beginnings. 

In Heavy’s own backyard, an 80-foot long interactive and experiential installation for Royop in its south Calgary-based Development Township community promises to become part of the city’s fabric and rival landmarks such as the Peace Bridge.

He also touches briefly on Heavy’s work to integrate an actual Boeing 747 into a West Coast urban development. “I never thought we’d be buying an airplane. This is something people are definitely going to want to pay attention to.”

Lastly, Bessant points to our communities – or better put, what we expect from them. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how and where we work, “perhaps forever,” and creative placemaking features will take on added significance.

“People have never cared more about where they live than now,” says Bessant, noting Heavy’s long-standing history in community-focused projects such as Harmony, Grasslands and Carrington, to name a few.

“We are spending more time at home than ever before. And as a result, people’s values have shifted. We’ve seen that first-hand with developers, specifically, who are doubling down on the importance of creating meaningful experiences to enrich outdoor spaces.

“At Heavy Industries, we’re purposeful in everything that we do. We ask the necessary questions from the outset to understand the intent, the challenges and, most important, the opportunities to make something that can help people connect with places. Great things start with an understanding of the story looking to be told.”

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