Lift stations are used to lift wastewater from low-lying areas to higher areas where it can flow by gravity to a treatment plant. As technical structures in our city lift stations are constructed to serve a purpose, a need, in as cost effective and as functional way as possible. They form part of the fabric of our communities, but they are often camouflaged, dismissed or ignored (as best they can) by the public.

Their place in the much larger network of city infrastructure is rarely given a second thought and yet they hold the capacity to connect us to our environment. Although a wastewater lift station is perhaps not the natural place to intrigue and fascinate the public, the Forest Lawn lift station location made it an ideal situation to consider its utility as more than purely functional, as a place to talk about the wider system of water infrastructure throughout the city, to enrich our understanding and pleasure in the hidden world of urban water.

Having been in commission since the 1960s, the Forest Lawn Lift Station had reached the end of its life-cycle and capacity. We were integrated from the beginning in the design team for the new lift station as a pilot project for WATERSHED+.
As a hint to the usual approach of trying to hide such structures, the envelop of the lift station is carefully simplified and toned down. Through the perforated metal cladding, the minimized building becomes the canvas to feature a map of LED bar lights, an exact representation to scale of the pipe system leading to the lift station. Connected to sensors that monitor the flow of wastewater in the pipes, the lights change colour based on flow levels of the invisible system.
The lift station becomes an example of the capacity of technical and factual information to communicate, engage and intrigue citizens about the hidden infrastructures at work in our cities.


This project was undertaken as part of our role as Lead Artist for the pilot period of WATERSHED+

City of Calgary
Associated Engineering
Nemalux LED Lighting

NextCity article: Finding the Poetry in Infrastructure Design, by Jen Kinney, 2015