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Wolseley church a modernist gem

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In May, we actively celebrate our local architecture, design and planning with the annual Jane’s Walk (now completed) and Doors Open Winnipeg (on the May 31 weekend).

Special this year, and coinciding with the Manitoba Association of Architects’ centennial, is the Festival of Architecture, the yearly conference of Canadian architects which runs May 28 to 31.

Wolseleyites may delight in living in "one of the most intact pre-1930 residential areas in Canada" (as claimed by Tourism Winnipeg) but do we see our fine architectural exceptions through the trees?

A notable example is the modernist St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at 65 Walnut St.

Built in 1970, St. Peter’s was designed by Gaboury, Lussier, Sigurdson Architects, the firm responsible for landmarks such as the 1968 "tipi" church, Precious Blood (200 Kenny St., in St. Boniface) and the 1972 St. Boniface Cathedral reconstruction.

Etienne Gaboury would later design such illustrious structures as Winnipeg’s Royal Canadian Mint (1975), the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City (1981) and Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge (2004).

Longtime St. Peter’s congregant Jerry Roehr remembers the building considerations around 1970. The congregation, whose home since 1930 was today’s West End Cultural Centre, needed more space, especially for its Sunday school classes. It remains the only Winnipeg congregation offering English services and comprehensive German services every Sunday.

"It was hard to decide on the design," he said. "There was a lot of discussion. Should we go with the traditional look with a steeple? Tower? Should we go modern?"

The congregation’s bold choice has been described by the Manitoba Historical Society and Winnipeg Architecture Foundation as "spiral in plan".

The imposing red-brown brick walls curve at the structure’s east side hugging the ground, with the building sweeping to its highest elevation at the southwest wall. The most decorative exterior feature is the fenestration — sparse, deeply-set square and rectangular windows of varying sizes.

Inside, the same art glass provides milky light with waves of blue, culminating in a rising or setting red sphere at the highest window.

Pastor Bjoern Meinhardt, who joined the congregation in March, finds the asymmetrical interior "charming," yet "something to get used to."

"It throws me off a bit," he chuckles, adding it’s a reminder that life can be askew, requiring adjustment.

A design consideration for us all.

Gail Perry is a community correspondent for Wolseley.

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