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River-hut designs revealed

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Etienne Gaboury's Voyageur Hut, an elaborate Festival du Voyageur homage which will be situated where the Red River and Assiniboine River meet.

Pool noodles, long pieces of red fabric hanging from a bridge and an upside-down pair of pants.

These are a few of the warming-hut concepts that will dot the frozen Assiniboine River when Winnipeg's river trail opens this winter season.

Officials at The Forks, along with architects on the warming-hut committee, unveiled five of the six projects Tuesday -- all from Canada -- that will serve as both art and structures on the outdoor trail.

Three of the warming huts were chosen by a jury of local architects from the open submission process (which saw nearly 200 entries from around the world), with another hut commissioned from a separate University of Manitoba competition.

As in past years, the beauty of the huts is in the eye of the beholder. All range in design and accessibility, with each containing an important element of artistic licence and vision.

"When you put the world together and you ask them to solve a problem -- like building a warming hut -- I'm always amazed by the response you get," said Peter Hargraves (Sputnik Architecture), who oversees the hut competition. "Some of the ideas, some of the designs, have such imagination, it's incredible."

This is where the fifth hut, âtienne Gaboury's design, comes in.

Gaboury, an internationally respected local artist and architect whose resumé includes the Royal Canadian Mint and the Esplanade Riel, is the invited architect to the project this year.

His concept, Voyageur Hut, is essentially a large pair of pants (complete with leg sashes) held upside-down by a large nylon helium balloon shaped like a voyageur carrying a canoe on his head. This blue balloon is expected to fly above the ice some 60 metres and will be tethered to the giant piece of clothing. The legs of the pants will sway in the wind.

People will enter the warming hut through the zipper of the upside-down pants, of course.

"I hope it's going to fly," Gaboury laughed.

Gaboury wanted to mark the 45th anniversary of Festival du Voyageur this February. He said the bizarre warming hut is based on two things: an anniversary celebration and keeping a voyageur warm.

The balloon part (the celebration) came to him right away, he said, but the warming aspect proved more difficult. Gaboury first thought of long-johns as the subject, but soon gave up on that idea as it was difficult to incorporate wool into possible designs. He simplified his position: What about pants with the famous voyageur sash?

But how will it hold up? There's the obvious issue of wind, and its tendency to blow quite strong during a Winnipeg winter.

"That was indeed a challenge -- the wind," he said. "When you have a concept you don't think of all the difficulties that you can encounter, wind being one of them. A challenge is an opportunity, and it gave us an opportunity to change the character of the pants so they could float in the wind."

The leg work that has gone into Voyageur Hut has been underway for awhile. A call to the Winnipeg Airport Authority helped them determine how much clearance they would need at the location of the forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. The city was consulted in terms of possible bylaw restrictions. Those on the project even bandied around the idea of using hydrogen instead of helium, though that suggestion was deemed a little too risky.

"When we first saw the idea, we said 'This is brilliant. Now how do we build it?' " Hargraves said. "I can't wait to see it on the ice."

The river trail, now dubbed the Red River Mutual Trail due to a naming-rights agreement, traditionally opens around the time the calendar flips to a new year. Construction on the huts is scheduled to start in January.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2013 B1


Updated on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 8:30 AM CST: adds slideshow

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