Winnipeg: Metropolis of Architectural Delights

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This article has been published 05/25/2014 (2638 days ago) the information contained therein may no longer be current.

opinion

In the few decades leading up to 1914, Winnipeg was transformed from an isolated trading post into a cheeky, cosmopolitan metropolis.

When a new train station had to be built, the architects of New York’s Grand Central were hired. When Union Bank needed a new building at the bend on Main Street, they built Canada’s first skyscraper, the tallest in the Dominion. Some of the best architects in the country designed elegant bank halls, majestic terracotta towers, and grand theaters like the Met, Capitol, Walker, and Pantages.

Although the beginning of World War I heralded the beginning of the end of that golden era of design, two events from that time laid the foundation for the city’s architecture in the future. The University of Manitoba had just opened the first architecture school west of Toronto, and the profession was organized under the regulatory umbrella of the Manitoba Association of Architects.

A hundred years away from these formative events, the creative confidence of this pioneering era returns to Winnipeg. Something special is happening again with the architecture of the city, and the world is starting to take notice. Most people in our city don’t know, but on the international architecture scene, Winnipeg has gotten cool.

Many of the city’s new buildings are recognized around the world for their superb design. Several have received prestigious international awards, from large projects like Manitoba Hydro Place and the Millennium Library to smaller works like the Cube Stage in Old Market Square and the shipping container washrooms in Assiniboine Park.

The unique quality of Winnipeg’s architecture has even started to spark mainstream interest in the city as a potential tourist destination. Last May, Air Canada’s En Route magazine celebrated “Winnipeg’s Architectural Renaissance,” and Maclean’s is currently running a promotion listing Winnipeg’s architecture as one of the top ten must-see places in Canada (www.placestosee.macleans .ca). The Travel Channel recently named Richardson International Airport one of the most famous terminals in the world, and influential travel writers at Vacay.ca named Winnipeg one of the top five travel destinations in 2014, thanks largely to the opening of the iconic Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

In recognition of the Manitoba Association of Architects’ centenary, Winnipeg will host the National Conference of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) this week. As 400 architects from all over the country enter the city, this is an opportunity to retreat and celebrate this new design atmosphere with our guests and with each other.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Washrooms for shipping containers in Assiniboine Park.

Storefront Manitoba, a non-profit group committed to promoting awareness and appreciation for architecture and design, invites the public to attend this celebration and has organized an Architectural Fringe Festival in parallel with the RAIC conference. The festival aims to connect the residents of Winnipeg with the architecture of their city. The events include a range of fun, urban experiences that take place in unique locations in the city center. You can find the event schedule at www.storefrontmb.ca.

Festival highlights include: a screening of two locally produced documentaries that will be screened in the cobblestone tunnel under the tracks of The Forks, a preview on the boards of the work of four internationally renowned Canadian architects currently in the design phase, a party with the WSO Brass Ensemble in a centuries-old courtyard in Osborne Village, urban golfing in the Exchange District (with tennis balls), a ‘Design Jam’ brainstorming session and an exhibition at the RAW Gallery.

Over the course of the week, the Here and Now, Architecture in Winnipeg 2004-2014 exhibition shows a snapshot of the creative eruption of the city’s architectural energy over the past decade. Projects from 20 local offices are paired with the work of University of Manitoba students and represented through a series of physical models and projected images. The exhibition will highlight the innovative ideas that inspire Winnipeg’s emerging architectural scene.

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The festival ends with an explosion of activity as 1,200 people gather around the world’s longest dining table (365 meters) in a prominent but secret outdoor space in the city center. The participants of the Table for 1,200 event are informed about the location one hour in advance and scramble their own chairs for a pop-up dinner, construct a unique centerpiece as part of a design competition and then receive a formal prairie – themed dinner with a discussion about architecture and design. The event will be a spectacle that reinforces the world the fact that something special is happening in the Winnipeg design community.

The grand event will be the culmination of the Table for 12 initiative led by the prestigious local firm 5468796 Architecture. Last year, the innovative, young office was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome of the Canada Council of the Arts Artists and discuss the catalysts that have fostered a strong design culture in every city. We hope that the information can be translated into a Canadian context and used to strengthen and develop our own design culture within the wider community.

The unique events taking place this week are a manifestation of the new creative energy in Winnipeg. They celebrate the innovative ideas that have brought our quirky little town onto an international stage for art and architecture. If we as a community are able to nurture a pervasive design culture and increase our appreciation for the built environment, we could ignite that new creative spark that will leave a transforming legacy, just like the architects of the golden era of City 100 years ago.

Brent Bellamy is Senior Design Architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

[email protected]

Brent Bellamy

Brent Bellamy
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Brent Bellamy is Senior Design Architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

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