Mission: CaulkGrinder (The Sun Room)

March, 2005

A purely utilitarian form, RCP is a slave to its function. Basically a reinforced concrete building block whose sole purpose is the reliable conveyance of wastewater, it was never intended for human travel or enjoyment. Bare concrete stretches underground for miles, whose featureless gray surfaces are broken only by the occasional stalagmite or mineral stain.
In such a bland environment, even the most minute differences become amazing spectacles. City workers' spraypainted inspection tags are a welcome sight, as is any tiny mineral deposit, and even the bits of garbage caught in the sand clogging the bottom of the pipe become features. Anything that breaks the monotony of the the minutely pitted, smooth grey, joined concrete sections and the stream of water is interesting.
Even more wonderful to see are marks left by previous unauthorized visitors. Whether they be simple names scrawled on a wall in chalk, satanic or dark warnings, or grammatically incorrect ramblings spraypainted along the pipe, they are infinitely more interesting than a grey concrete wall.
The best drain graffiti goes beyond mindless juvenile spraypainting to become art that requires more thought or effort. Stencils are a distinct and easy way to decorate any surface and leave a quick impression in any drain. Whimsically painted "galleries" of doodles and art are a rare but very interesting find. Larger graffiti pieces, made with several colors and spanning an entire wall, are not likely to be missed or forgotten.
But the crowning achievement, the height of strom drain art, is no doubt the conversion of the drain itself into an art piece. When a visitor enters a section of drain, and is temporarily able to forget they are indeed inside a drain, is a rare event.

Such is the wonder of Caulkgrinder's Sun Room. The drain is, for the most part, normal and boring RCP. It follows the standard drain convention of a long pipe that steadily shrinks the further upstream you travel. It has a couple large, cube-shaped manhole rooms. It has a steady stream of water that flows down the pipe and outfalls into a small creek.
What Caulkgrinder possesses that makes it unique is what I would call the Sun Room (also known as the art gallery). From the main line, a small side pipe leads a few meters uphill into a square manhole chamber. Only about 5ft square, the room is tall enough to stand in, and is well-lit by sunlight streaming in through a grated manhole.
Some art-minded soul has taken it upon themselves to elevate this tiny space beyond its original form and function. The space created is unique in Calgary's landscape of boring RCP, and certainly the most memorable feature of an otherwise standard storm sewer.

The Sun Room is covered in paint, accompanied by the leftover tools used to create the art. Emerging from the small sidepipe, you are faced with a blazing sun that rings the mouth of the pipe across the tiny room. The floor is covered by a large black roll of dense material. The walls of the room are painted, decorated in blue, yellow, and red. Small, triangular shaped shelves are attached in the corners of the room, each shelf holding one of the materials used to decorate the room. There are buckets of paint, tubes of caulk, some ropes, and a water bottle. A bulging red bag, contents unknown, hangs from the manhole rungs. The circular rim of the manhole shaft is ringed by tiny icicles that steadily drip water. The manhole shaft itself is painted as well, blues and yellows coated with a thin layer of ice. The entire room is bright, lit by daylight coming in through the grated manhole, and a strong, chilling breeze blows through from further down the sidepipe.

I'd like to thank whoever it was that took the time and put in the effort to create this amazing piece.

Photos are strange because of the tight, cramped space and the fact that I was using an unfamiliar camera that doesn't focus well (or at all!) in low-light.


The scene as you enter the Sun Room. Nancy_Drew is sitting in the sidepipe ahead, Kaos is at left. Note the little shelves.


The mystery bag hanging off the ladder.


Looking up the manhole shaft. Note the ring of icicles.


Close up on the icicles, with Kaos on the ladder. Even the walls of the manhole shaft were painted.


Kaos sitting in the sidepipe where we entered. Both pipes into the room were ringed with blazing suns. You can also see part of the black mat on the floor.


Kaos and Squeezy in the Sun Room.