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Glide through the artistry

Skating the river an exercise for the senses

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Imagine lacing up the skates and weaving through a scenic landscape that includes a small forest of trees driven into river ice and a musical forest of wind chimes.

Then imagine stopping for hot chocolate in "otherworldly" warming huts designed by world-class architects. To top off the day, you dine on food prepared by the city's top chefs.

You can do all this on what, not too long ago, was a barren block of ice.

It's a unique Winnipeg success story. What began as a simple skating path at The Forks evolved four years ago into the world's longest skating trail and has now morphed into a magnet for high-end artistic innovation that is attracting global interest.

On Thursday, officials at The Forks unveiled the top designs for Warming Huts v. 2013: An Art + Architecture Competition on Ice, which included the first local winners in the three-year-old, Forks-sponsored competition and drew 100 submissions from around the world.

The winning warming hut, called Hygge House, is a brilliant, fluorescent-yellow half-cabin described as a "wilderness calm that's cut in half."

Plain Projects joined forces with two other local firms, Pike Projects (architects) and Urban Ink (designers), to create Hygge House.

"It's so awesome," said Liz Wreford-Taylor, a landscape architect with Plain Projects, "and it was a totally blind competition. They (judges) had no idea we were from Winnipeg -- or Canada.

Wreford-Taylor said Hygge House is based on a Danish concept of visual warmth. "It's almost otherworldly. It's basically a feeling of togetherness."

Of the 100 entrants, more than half were from outside the Great White North, including from Norway and the Czech Republic.

"The only continent not represented this year was Africa," said Clare MacKay, The Forks vice-president of marketing and communications. "The architects who come here fall in love with this place."

The huts come in all styles and forms and are made of all sorts of things, from rope, to felt, to trees, to Tyvec (flash-spun high-density polyethylene fibres). And to think it all began four years ago with the passing notion of erecting some "crazy shacks" along the river skating trail, said Paul Jordan, The Forks chief operating officer.

The huts now total 15 and will be placed in clusters of two or three along the seven-kilometre trail.

After the trail was done, the installations followed. A group from Israel bolted trees into the ice and skaters could glide through them. This year, there's a musically inclined soundscape called Sonus Loci, some 60 vertical tubes designed by architects from the Stantec design and consulting company in collaboration with local cellist and curator Leanne Zacharias, an assistant professor at Brandon University.

"We hope to see many people inspired by the landscape, music and architecture while skating through this melodic forest of tubes to be warmed by the music," said Stantec team member Michael Banman.

MacKay said Hygge House, like Sonus Loci, represents art that attempts to be interactive with not only nature, but with the people on the trail. "They're made to be skated through and touched."

Now factor in the food -- the pop-up restaurant called Raw: Almond (a collaboration of the deer + almond restaurant and RAW: Gallery) and the Tallest Poppy restaurant's plans to run a weekend brunch.

The Raw: Almond plans to run until Feb. 13 at least and maybe beyond, based on demand. The Forks officials said more than 1,000 tickets have already been sold for the five-course meals at the restaurant on the river, which seats 20 at a time. Cautioned MacKay: "You have to wear boots and dress warmly. You're still sitting on the Assiniboine River."

Artists, chefs, designers, architects, landscapers -- all collaborating to create their own vision on a canvas of snow and ice.

"Now we've got a layer of art, a layer of architecture, a layer of music, a layer of fine dining," Jordan said.

"It's a mash-up of... nothing else in the world. Who would have thunk? I don't know what it is, but we've got it.

"But it's still very grassroots," Jordan added. "Not a lot of money is being spent. The average Joe can see some of the best architecture on the planet just by going for a skate."

It was an untouched stretch of ice, followed by a simple trail. Now it's the home of local and worldwide creativity that only appears to be snowballing.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Creativity runs wild in this winter's collection of river huts

Big City, from invited architects Atlier Big City of Montreal. Description: A true Beau Geste of a building, part mirage, part art, part air, a skeleton of everyday construction aspiring to create a place.

Woolhaus, from Myung kweon Park, New York, N.Y. Description: Emphasizes the experience of sensory contrast through its expression of a single material -- felt. Suspended dark grey sleeves of felt absorb heat, light and sound, creating an interior environment isolated from the intense cold, brightness and noise of the Assiniboine River.

Smokehouse, aamodt/plumb architects, Cambridge, Mass. Description: Inside, the layers of thick ivory felt line the walls and seating, creating a nest-like interior reminiscent of ancient gathering places strewn with animal pelts.

Weave Wave, U of M faculty of architecture. Description: Will be constructed by the social craft of knitting and weaving; 100 materials (natural and manufactured) woven together to create a dynamic multi-textured hut stretching 100 metres along the river.

The winning Hygge House entry is a simple, wood-frame structure painted a brilliant yellow and contains artifacts to stage "an authentic depiction of the comfort and familiarity of the weekend getaway." It has mounted antlers, fish, warm blankets, a working stove, old baseball hats, comic books and plaid shirts, but Hygge House is "only truly achieved when people come together," the designers said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2013 B1

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