University of Calgary

Oval Pioneer

It’s no coincidence that Bob Johnston, MEDes’81, has made a career out of designing large sports venues.

Born from his love of sports—and particularly lacrosse which he played for nearly three decades—Johnston decided to specialize soon after earning his master’s degree. “I decided that combining my interest in architecture and passion for sport would be the way I approached my career.”

e returned to his hometown of Edmonton to be a member of the design team for the U of A’s Butterdome complex for the Universiade Games. He later came back to the U of C as the university’s main project manager and sport architect when the site for the Olympic Oval was confirmed to be at the University.

“Most people don’t realize that the indoor speedskating building was invented in Calgary,” says Johnston. “Prior to the ’88 Games, speedskating had to be staged in an outdoor stadium like track and field. Getting that rule changed and putting a roof over the oval was a key plank to the idea of locating it on campus.”

Since the Calgary Games, Johnston has contributed to a long list of major event bids and projects ranging from Olympics to Commonwealth and Pan American Games. “I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve travelled the world being involved in the design of sport and recreation facilities for international games.”

As principal in charge of the Richmond Oval with his company, Cannon Design, Johnston says the building will be “cutting new ground” once the Olympics are over as a multi-use community sporting complex that can host major speedskating events, but won’t do so regularly. “The Calgary Oval still is arguably one of the best speedskating ovals in the world. And it’s got all sorts of great things associated with it like the kinesiology buildings, the sports sciences work and laboratories. So a different approach was needed in Richmond.”

Johnston is also proud of the Richmond Oval’s aesthetics and sustainability—lumber from pine beetle-killed wood is used in the construction of the roof. “It’s a very functional yet aesthetically pleasing building and people want to be in it. To me, that’s the key for buildings that are based on participation and voluntary activity—you have to create an environment that people want to experience. The Richmond Oval hits on all those targets.”