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Competition challenges architects to create dwellings for the Venice Biennale

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/3/2012 (3147 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Architecture professor and co-curator Jae-Sung Chon during installation of the Migrating Landscapes exhibition.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Architecture professor and co-curator Jae-Sung Chon during installation of the Migrating Landscapes exhibition.

If you landed in a totally unfamiliar place as an immigrant or migrant, what sort of home would you design?

Would it echo your culture of origin while adapting to a strange new landscape, climate and construction materials?

Would it open up confidently to its surroundings, take a protective stance, or express the tension between settled and unsettled that newcomers feel?

Some of the brightest minds in Canadian architecture are asking questions of that kind as they gather in Winnipeg this week.

Migrating Landscapes has a free opening tonight at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and is on view until April 29. It's an exhibition of imaginative dwelling designs by 26 finalists in a high-profile national competition.

Sasa Radulovic (left), Johanna Hurme and Jae-Sung Chon conceived and curated Migrating Landscapes.

Sasa Radulovic (left), Johanna Hurme and Jae-Sung Chon conceived and curated Migrating Landscapes.

The winners -- likely 12 or 13 of them -- will be announced tonight at 7:30 at the WAG. They will represent Canada this fall at the three-month 2012 Venice Biennale in Architecture, the most prestigious international event in contemporary architecture.

The national jury includes famed Toronto architect Bruce Kuwabara, who designed Manitoba Hydro Place, and Vancouver's John Patkau, whose firm designed Winnipeg's Millennium Library addition.

Competitors submitted scale models to be "settled" onto a "plot" in a "new landscape" made of wood. They were asked to draw upon their own cultural memories and migration experiences.

There's a three-minute video for each entry that tells the entrant's story. The videos are projected continuously on five screens surrounding the "landscape." A printed guide provides more information and helps visitors match the videos with the models.

The 26 finalists include Canadian architects born in Iran, Romania, Mexico, Hong Kong and Israel, as well as Canadian-born entrants of diverse heritage, such as Mennonite and Métis.

Some entrants got creative with the migration concept, like the quirky entry from British Columbia based on a child's relocation from an established neighbourhood to a new house in a bland subdivision, confronting "the frontier of an unfinished basement."

Winnipeg  installation by Andre Silva, Chris Gilmour and Kory  Kaspersion.

Winnipeg installation by Andre Silva, Chris Gilmour and Kory Kaspersion.

Migrating Landscapes is a Winnipeg project, conceived and curated by the award-winning firm 5468796 Architecture (led by partners Johanna Hurme and Sasa Radulovic) in partnership with University of Manitoba architecture professor Jae-Sung Chon. Jointly, they call themselves Migrating Landscapes Organizer (MLO).

Last May, the Canada Council and Architecture Canada chose MLO's ambitious proposal as Canada's official entry for the Venice Biennale, often called the Olympics of architecture.

"To have a Winnipeg group of architects represent Canada is huge," says WAG director Stephen Borys, who describes Migrating Landscapes as "an amazing sculptural installation."

The MLO team was surprised to win, says Chon, because typically, what's exhibited at the Canadian pavilion in Venice is structures that are already built. There's usually either a showcase (in photos and models) of one prominent Canadian architect's buildings, or a group exhibition of buildings on a theme.

MLO wanted to reach out to young architects and designers like themselves (entrants had to be under age 45) and exhibit regional entries across the country.

"It's never been done this way before," says Chon. "We didn't have the answers. We just had a lot of questions about migration stories and how that affects (Canadian) architectural work."

MLO put out a national call that drew 120 entries. Regional competitions were held in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Winnipeg (at The Forks last month), narrowing the field to 26.

The project's budget is nearly $1 million (including more than $100,000 worth of unpaid time by the curators). About $226,000 has come from government and foundation grants, and $392,000 from sponsorships and donations. Organizers are still fundraising.

The fragrant, vertical lumber pieces that are packed together to form the modular "landscape" reflect diversity themselves. They were sourced from several provinces and include fir, poplar, hemlock, spruce, pine and maple.

The idea for Migrating Landscapes came from the shared experiences of Hurme, Radulovic and Chon as immigrants in the 1990s. Hurme, 36, is from Finland. Radulovic, 39, fled the former Yugoslavia as a war refugee.

Chon, 42, was raised in South Korea and came to Canada as a 20-year-old student. He arrived in Toronto on a Sunday and thought it was a "ghost town" compared with Seoul, a dense city of 12 million. "I had a really shocking landing experience," he says.

Chon recalls that when he started doing residential design, he found it very unsettling and un-homelike that Canadian wood-frame houses have hollow exterior walls.

"You're supposed to enclose a room with solid walls," he says, chuckling. "I felt there was something wrong."

As he writes on the Migrating Landscapes website, "The walls I knew from Korea were solid cement.... This sense of wall-less-ness lasted for a long time, and still lingers."

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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