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'You'll realize it's another world. It will be an adventure': Public invited to let CMHR speak to them

Museum's creator prepared for the bricks and bouquets

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Antoine Predock is a vibrating mass of creative energy.

Dressed in a grey sports coat, black T-shirt with scull graphics, black Ducati cap and black motorcycle riding pants, Predock is making a slow, meandering path through the very nearly completed Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the steel, stone and concrete building he designed.

The walking is slow business; Predock stops to meet, sample and experience everything and everyone that comes across his path. He appears, in all respects, to be a man who doesn't want to miss out on anything.

True to form, just an hour earlier during a photo shoot on top of The Forks parkade, Predock was asked to sit on the wall that encircles the top deck, the glorious profile of the museum right behind him. Instead, to the horror of a CMHR handler and his wife, visual artist Constance DeJong, the 78-year-old leapt up to stand on the wall, centimetres away from a 12-metre drop.

Predock, however, had the last laugh -- the photo was spectacular.

It is hard to fault the Albuquerque-based Predock for being in a good mood. The museum he started working on 11 years ago is scheduled to open to the public in September.

Ostensibly, Predock came to Winnipeg this week to accept an honorary fellowship from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, which is holding its festival of architecture this week in Winnipeg. Symbolically, however, this marks the last intimate moment Predock will have with his creation.

He will most likely be in attendance when the building and its galleries are finally, mercifully opened to the public. But by then, he will be sharing it with the world and dealing with the inevitable fallout.

In an interview, Predock said he fully expects a wide array of reactions, positive and negative. And that's OK.

He said he has done his best over the past decade to explain the "journey" the building is supposed to represent -- from the stone roots that spread out from the base, to the stone mountain, the glass "cloud" and the steel Tower of Hope. It's a mass of metaphors that takes the concept of human rights from its earthy origins to its highest ideals.

Now, Predock said, it's time for the public to find its own interpretation.

"I have all these notions about what the building is trying to do, but you don't have to be force-fed all that," he said about those who will visit this fall. "This is a love-hate building. You have to experience it with your mind and your body. Take it on and see what happens to you."

Predock admits this is not only the most geometrically complex building he has ever conceived, but also the most controversial, both due to the unusual design and the inherently incendiary nature of its content.

To be sure, there have been strong, often negative opinions about both, uttered by navel-gazing cynics, media commentators, ethnic-community advocates and self-described architecture experts who all share a single quality: None has actually experienced the building or its content.

There is some irony in the fact Predock is receiving a prestigious award from a Canadian architecture organization. His selection as the winning architect in the 2003 design competition was hardly embraced by the Canadian architecture community, both because he was an American chosen to design the first national museum built in Canada in decades and because of his improbable design.

Many architects in Winnipeg and across the country complained loudly about the building's ostentatious sensibilities. Taxpayers and politicians howled and wept about the cost, which ratcheted up significantly from its earliest forecasts in 2001 to achieve Predock's grand vision.

He makes no secret he would rather experience only positive comments about the museum.

Of course I want a shower of praise, man," he said with a grin. "But I've been doing this for a very long time, and what I've learned is that they're all controversial."

Will the grand opening in September mark closure for the architect?

Predock agreed that once the building is open and fulfilling the mission identified by its founder, Israel Asper, there will be some sense of closure. However, it's a qualified closure.

"I have to tell you, every time I go back in one of my buildings, I see things that I want to make better. I just can't let up on that. It's in my DNA."

Predock said his most sincere hope is that regardless of what people thought about the building in its conceptual stage, they will come and experience it, for better or worse.

"This isn't a walk-in-and-I-got-it, one-liner building," he said. "When you finally get here, you'll realize it's another world. It will be an adventure."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 A5


Updated on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 7:17 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

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