Sitting down with Heavy’s Senior Designer to discuss his journey from fracking to public art design
Growing in the heart of Alberta’s oil and gas country, you would think that Anthony Felix was destined for a life in bitumen. And you would be partly right.
While starting in the world of tracking, his journey has since taken Anthony deep into the heart of public art. We recently sat down with Heavy’s senior designer to discuss his path so far, where he finds his creative inspiration and why he’s a “dog with a bone” when to comes to his job.
Q: You’ve been at Heavy for seven years now. But what was your ‘origin’ story before arriving here?
Anthony: I grew up in Lacombe and later studied mechanical engineering technology at SAIT. After graduating, I started working in oil and gas designing fracking trucks. It was a great opportunity right after school, but that design process has remained relatively unchanged over the past 40 years and I wanted an opportunity to really innovate. Heavy had been on my radar since school, and a position opened up. I was originally hired at Heavy as a junior designer, which later got changed to designer and, eventually, senior designer today.
Q: What does a designer’s role entail at Heavy?
Anthony: We take drawings from either the artist, architect, engineer … basically, whoever we’re working with, and find a way to construct them. It means everything from interpreting the design, choosing the hardware, specifying the lighting, creating the drawing package, determining an order of operations for assembly. Take the Wonderland installation in downtown Calgary, for example. It was originally a surface 3-D model. Our job was to take that and figure out how to mold the bars that would take that shape.
Q: With that being said then, is it fair to say it’s more consultative than a piece of paper being pushed across the desk?
Anthony: Some jobs are fairly straight-forward where a lot of the details of the project have been figured out. But even then, once it’s modelled, we’ll often find issues – especially with the order of operations. Others though that come through Heavy’s Plan-Build process might come through as a rendering and will need to go through conceptual development that includes a lot of collaboration with the artist – often dozens of back-and-forths – as well as interactions with engineers, lighting designers, the client and others. And that’s all before Heavy’s design team gets its hands on it to oversee fabrication.
Q: Do you have a favourite approach?
Anthony: I actually don’t have one. Sometimes it’s nice to step up to the plate and have what should be a home run. Other times, I yearn for the opportunity for creative freedom and to experiment with our processes.
Q: I’m glad you brought up creativity. Are there other skills or traits that you think is needed to be a successful designer?
Anthony: Tenacity! You really have to be willing to tackle whatever is in front of you. Sometimes, it’s trial and error. Other times, it’s trusting your instincts and sticking with a certain path. But going back to creativity for a moment, I feel it can be a learned skill. There have been moments in my life where I have discovered certain things just by spending some time in the carpentry shop, for example, and learning the right way to do things.
Q: Is there a catalyst that will encourage you to learn something new? To spark creativity?
Anthony: It can be a challenge that’s come up that forces me to take a step back. And I usually find that once I do that, the creativity that results brings me back to my centre and stops me from tipping either which way.
Q: So seven years with Heavy, hundreds of projects later, which projects have allowed you to be the most creative?
A: One of my favourites is definitely The Bone. This was a project by Inges Idee at a building just south of the South Health Campus here in Calgary. It’s a cast aluminum purple dog that’s looking up at a bone. It’s one of those quirky little projects that looks so whimsical on the outside, but the internal structure is very complicated because we knew it would be something that people would be touching a lot. We first cast the components and then cut them open to weld extra plates inside to make it extra rigid. There were a lot of details we had to figure out along the way.
Learn more about Heavy’s design process, including how it collaborates with owners, developers, architects, artists, creatives and art consultants to facilitate world-class art, architecture and placemaking experiences. Connect with us to start the conversation.