Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 04/24/2014 2:04 AM | Comments: 0
Some musicians call it the Cheese Grater. Most Winnipeggers know it as the Cube.
Now, the hypermodernist stage in Old Market Square is also known as a medal-worthy piece of architecture after earning national honours for its creators, 5468796 Architecture co-founders Sasa Radulovic and Johanna Hurme.
On Wednesday, the Canada Council for the Arts and Royal Architectural Institute of Canada named the Winnipeg firm one of 12 winners of the 2014 Governor General's medal for architecture.
It's all because of the Cube. The Borg-like box in Old Market Square is "a small urban gesture but a large contribution to the city," the GG medal jurors wrote in their comments.
"This building works on many levels: as sculpture, performing stage, folly and meeting place," according to the jury statement.
"Its innovative and flexible design allows for constant transformation to accommodate a variety of programs and activities, year-round. It expands the realm of possibilities associated with a band stand and is a shining reminder of the architect's responsibility to animate the public realm."
Formerly known as the Masseys, the GG medals are handed out every two years and are considered among Canada's highest architectural honours.
The decision to recognize the Cube, officially known as the OMS Stage, comes as a vindication for Hurme and Radulovic, given the notoriety of their $1.1-million, concrete-and-aluminum creation.
Originally envisioned as an artwork-cum-stage that would serve as a four-season replacement for an underutilized Old Market Square bandshell, the Cube has served as a lightning rod for criticism since it opened in 2010.
Heritage purists decried the presence of a hypermodernist structure in the middle of Winnipeg's Exchange District, a national historic site known for neo-classical warehouse buildings.
The Exchange District Business Improvement Zone and the City of Winnipeg -- who commissioned the structure -- had more pragmatic concerns.
During the stage's first summer, the aluminum curtains that comprise its chain-mail "skin" could not be retracted high enough to give performers enough headroom or allow access to the stairwell that leads to the stage's upper level.
Tweaks were made for 2011, but haphazard operation of the curtains led to problems with rivets, pulleys, cables and winches and an early end to the 2012 season due to safety concerns.
Renovations in early 2013 largely solved the problem. So did a decision to leave the curtains open for the entire summer rather than attempt to constantly raise and lower the heavy metal skin.
"Before we built the Cube, the stage at Old Market Square was used maybe 20 times a summer," Radulovic said Wednesday in an interview. "Now, they're up to 100 events. They would be lifting it three times a day. That's a lot of wear and tear."
Complaints from performers and festivals evaporated in 2013, said Brian Timmerman, executive director of the Exchange BIZ.
He's now looking forward to installing the final missing piece of the structure -- electronics that will allow it to be illuminated all winter as well as motion sensors that will allow colour schemes to change as pedestrians pass by.
The programming was supposed to be installed this winter but that was scuttled by the severe cold. With the installation coming this summer, Timmerman said he's finally satisfied with the stage.
"It's definitely an innovative, cutting-edge structure," he said Wednesday. "There is nothing else like it."
The city has formally taken possession of the stage, a move that signals it, too, is satisfied all the original design deficiencies have been rectified.
The question of whether the Cube fits into Old Market Square should be considered in the overall context of the Exchange District, said John Kiernan, the city's urban design manager.
"It highlights the heritage of the area rather than detracts from it," said Kiernan, noting the nearby presence of other modernist structures, such as city hall and the Public Safety Building.
"We talk about legitimacy and authenticity. Well, rather than create faux-heritage, the creative thing to do is build something of its own."
In 2010, the Cube earned 5468796 Architecture a commendation from the London-based Architectural Review magazine and the Royal Institute of British Architecture. Radulovic and Hurme are more heartened by the GG.
"This is gigantic. It's something that confirms hard work pays off," Radulovic said. "Usually, people who get this have been in the business for eons."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2014 A5
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