Friday, April 9, 2010

The Ever-Changing Face of Edmonton: The Crane as the Constant

Is the Crane our Constant in a Changing World?
Blog Post By: Lauren Capozzi
The University of Alberta Campus area is in a constant state of growth and development. This is represented through the continual presence of massive building machinery, specifically the crane. The image of the crane has become a consistent sign of growth and prosperity, contributing to our perception of the campus itself. In his book The Image of the City, Lynch discusses the urban environment as being composed of many scenes in operation, and states, “while [the city] may be stable in general outlines for some time, it is ever-changing in detail” (1960, 2). This statement stands as a perfect description of the University of Alberta campus.

Growth on Campus...

1908 2008

The University of Alberta was founded in 1908, and built on the bank of the beautiful North Saskatchewan river. As the first president, Henry Marshall Tory states, the U of A was built with the intentions for “uplifting of the whole people” in Alberta, across Canada and around the world (University of Alberta Website, under “Dare to Discover”). Just over one hundred years later, it is more than just the people at the University of Alberta and across Canada, who have been uplifted. The campus itself has endured significant uplifting, and has been redefined by the many structural advances. According to Lynch, “there is no final result, only a continuous succession of phases,” and this cannot be truer for the University of Alberta campus (1960, 2).

The campus now covers about 50 city blocks, and is comprised of over 90 buildings (University of Alberta Website). One of the latest additions is the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, towards which the Government of Alberta has donated $285 million dollars over the next three years (University of Alberta Website). This new state-of-the-art facility has been referred to as “essential, visionary, and innovative,” as it will allow for the collaboration between interdisciplinary research teams and the space for and additional 1100 undergraduate students and 500 graduate students at the University of Alberta (University of Alberta Website, Faculty of Science). See Video:

Crane at work, building the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science

The History of the Crane...

The crane is a simple piece of building machinery, first invented by the Ancient Greeks as a device used to help lift and build beyond human capability (Coulton 1977, 144). These machines continue to grow to this day, into massive construction equipment, creating buildings far beyond sizes ever thought possible. As the crane itself changes, so does our perception of its ability, yet what persists is the understanding of growth and development in our surrounding environment.

The Crane as a Sign...

Over time, growth is expected, but when it becomes a large part of our community identity, features of that growth impact our perception and understanding of the world around us. Meaning in the surrounding world has developed from interactions between humans, their environments, and the objects within these surrounding environments (Tweed and Sutherland 2007).

Sturken and Cartwright (2009) state that, whether consciously or not, each time we interpret an image, we are using the tools of semiotics to understand it’s meaning. Signs can be seen as the basic units or building blocks of our society (Wiley 2006). It is these building blocks that allow us to communicate with the world around us, and understand objects in their specific cultural contexts (Halton 2008; Struken and Cartwright). The image of the crane has become a consistent sign of growth and prosperity, due to human awareness of the crane’s meaning within the environment.

Charles Sanders Peirce emphasized the way in which signs mediate our observations and interaction between the represented and the interpreted (Bakker 2009). These derived meanings are negotiated over time in the semiotic process, and utilize semiotic rules (Vannini 2007). These rules allow for established relationships between referents and signs (Vannini). For example, interpretation of the crane is linked to our understanding that it must come with a project plan, funding for that project, and construction workers who can complete that project. The image of the crane is linked to the building process because of our ability to realize the impact of the crane’s actions. Our understanding of the relationship between building and growth allows us to derive meaning of prosperity and opportunity from the crane’s image.

A Sign of Growth...

As you direct your gaze from the foreground to the background of this image, notice how the crane is the barrier between the old and the new. Our understanding of the crane as a mediator between the raw earth and advanced architecture, allows us to interpret this image. We can also note the change in light and perspective in the direction of the pointing arm of the crane. In the foreground, shadows scatter parts of the ground, and as we look past the crane’s arm at an increasing angle, sunlight seems to highlight the buildings in the distance. This image works to emphasize and confirm the image of the crane as a sign in our environment.

Building Logos...

Aware of this sign of growth, companies choose to use the image of the crane as a marketing logo. Companies assume our understanding of the crane as a mediator between our interpretation of the crane’s function and it’s representation as building force in our environment.

Looking Up...

The crane: our constant in a changing world. This grand building machine, which has been with us since ancient Greek civilization, stands tall with an optimistic presence. As the crane towers over us with confidence, we look up, impressed with its ability. Take a few minutes to look at these images. You may find yourself looking up to the sky, inspired and questioning what is to come in our changing world.

Links of Interest:

Building at the University of Alberta:

Cranes in the news:



Bakker, J. I. Hans. 2009. Peirce, pragmaticism and public sociology: Translating an interpretation into praxis. Current Perspectives in Social Theory 26:229-257.

Coulton, J.J. 1977. Greek Architects at Work: Problemts of Structure and Design. London: Elk.

Halton, Eugene. 2008. Mind Matters. Symbolic Interaction 31: 119-141.

Lynch, Kevin. 1960. The Image of the City. The Joint Centre for Urban Studies.

Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: University Press.

Tweed, Christopher, and Margaret Sutherland. 2007. Build cultural heritage and sustainable urban development. Landscape and Urban Planning 83: 62-69.

University of Alberta. University of Alberta: Dare to Discover. University of Alberta,

University of Alberta. University of Alberta: Edmonton and the U of A. University of Alberta,

University of Alberta. University of Alberta: Faculty of Science, Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science. University of Alberta,

Vannini, Phillip. 2007. Social semiotics and fieldwork: Methods and analytics. Qualitative Inquiry 13: 113-140.

Wiley, Norbert. 2006. Peirce and the founding of American sociology. Journal of Classical Sociology 6: 23-50.

Group Member: Lauren Capozzi

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