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Architects dream up ways to breathe life into downtown spaces

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The Re-imagining Winnipeg project, a collaboration between StorefrontMB and the Winnipeg Free Press, has certainly created food for thought about what this city is and what it could be.

We've envisioned lush green parks at Portage and Main, rail lines relocated to create a dynamic new public space and even new ways of planning parking to move traffic and attract more people downtown. In short, it has done just what it was designed to do: get us talking about what could be.

In the third and last Re-Imagine Winnipeg Forum, we look at ideas to transform existing districts or neighbourhoods. The architects who submitted proposals took underused spaces most of us would not even notice and transformed them into high-density hubs of urban activity.


Canoo and the Bat Box

Sean Radford architect

The beauty behind Radford's design proposition is the use of a rather mundane object -- a metal shipping container -- to add complexity to otherwise unremarkable spaces.

Canoo is Radford's proposal to use shipping containers to establish small hubs of "usable, meaningful and engaging street-scale amenities."

His vision for the "Coffee Can" is a dramatic, cantilevered, mixed-use hub for Confusion Corner. The design brings a healthy dose of curb appeal to an otherwise bleak, pedestrian-unfriendly environment.

Radford saw other uses for the shipping containers. The "Bat Box" is a shipping-container sculpture added to the Wayward Bridge in Stephen Juba Park on Waterfront Drive. In this application, the containers become a man-made home for thousands of bats, which would be drawn to the structure by the intense heat conducted by the metal walls during daylight hours. At night, a mass exodus of bats would serve as a tourist attraction in and of itself, and bats are one of nature's best consumers of Winnipeg's most unwelcome insect, the mosquito.


Walk [IN] Winnipeg

Calnitsky Associates Architects

Although many architects focus on buildings to breathe new life into a neighbourhood, Calnitsky Associates Architects chose instead to put their energies into repurposing the spaces between buildings. It is a plan to "fill in the missing teeth of downtown," the architect said.

The result is two dramatic visions for alleys on Bannatyne Avenue east of Main Street. At 123 Bannatyne, an awning is suspended over the alley, creating a new and dynamic space for retail and food services. Cantilevered balconies jut into the air, and skywalks connect buildings for greater versatility. At 185 Bannatyne, the vision is similarly dramatic, with another articulated awning spanning a wide alley. More cantilevered patios, decks and skywalks create brand-new mixed-use space, including housing, with the ground floor teeming with food services and retail.


Colony Art Precinct

Will Bruder Architects/Peter Sampson Architecture Studio

Bruder and Sampson found inspiration in some of the must underused space in the city. In the "Colony Art Precinct," the two architects see a dramatic reclamation of Colony Street directly behind the Winnipeg Art Gallery and just south of the University of Winnipeg's new Buhler Building, home to the Plug In Gallery. An unremarkable, stunted street that goes virtually nowhere becomes a "sensual core in the city."

Colony Street would be closed to create a pedestrian mall. Adjustable, movable art containers fill out the new plaza, offering new adaptable spaces for the curation of visual art.

An added feature of the Colony Art Precinct is the establishment of "Artbus." A fleet of patron-sponsored buses travel the city to bring schoolchildren to the art precinct. The buses are also works of art, literally "portable canvases" that offer a practical way of connecting children with the arts.


Armstrong's Beach

Brian Pearson architect

Winnipeggers have struggled for years to figure out ways of making the Red and Assiniboine rivers more of a focus of recreation. Brian Pearson has devised an ambitious plan to reroute the Assiniboine River to create an oxbow lake around what is now known as Armstrong's Point.

In Pearson's design, the river would be routed west through Cornish Avenue, capping off Armstrong's Point and turning it into an island. Access would be created with bridges at Sherbrook Street to the north and one off Middle Gate to the south that would ultimately connect to Corydon Avenue.

The oxbow lake that would then be created would become a new "live, work urban environment" the likes of which Winnipeg has never seen.


These proposals will be discussed in detail at a public forum Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. at the Free Press News Café, 237 McDermot Ave. For more information on this event, or the Re-imagining Winnipeg project, please contact

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

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