Glass, steel, concrete, stone… and sweat

Canadian Museum for Human Rights coming together in its myriad shapes


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WINNIPEG - For the last seven years, Todd Craigen has been on the run.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/10/2010 (4324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WINNIPEG – For the last seven years, Todd Craigen has been on the run.

The senior construction manager for PCL Constructors Inc. oversees construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And in so many ways, that job has unfolded like a relay.

Concrete foundations and primary structure were poured. Then comes the installation of structural steel. And finally, a gigantic web of secondary steel will be hung to support more than 1,100 plates of glass. While most people look at the construction on Waterfront Drive at The Forks and see an exercise in mayhem, for professionals such as Craigen, it’s a controlled mayhem. With a bit of luck, it will come to fruition sometime late in 2012, the deadline specified in the original 36-month, expedited construction plan.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Once you get beyond its complex geometry, modern design and unusual profile, the museum can be understood by examining its principal elements: concrete, steel, stone and glass. Of course, it will still take hundreds of individuals employed by more than a dozen of the world’s most accomplished architects, engineers and craftspeople to mould those base materials into one of the most exotic and ambitious buildings ever constructed in this country.

"If you look at what we’re doing, it is like a relay race. Whoever has the first baton has the critical path. That was us. We do the foundation and the concrete. And we’re racing as fast as we can to hand off the baton to Walters, the structural steel people. They will go hard for six to eight months and then they hand it off to (glass manufacturer) Josef Josef-Gartner to install all the glazing. And if all goes well, we’ll be able to finish up, hand over the keys to the Chevy and we’re out of there. At least, that’s the plan."

An oversimplification to be sure.

But it’s still an accurate description of the process used to erect the CMHR. Once you get beyond its complex geometry, modern design and unusual profile, the museum can be understood by examining its principal elements: concrete, steel, stone and glass. Of course, it will still take hundreds of individuals employed by more than a dozen of the world’s most accomplished architects, engineers and craftspeople to mould those base materials into one of the most exotic and ambitious buildings ever constructed in this country.


That is a fact not lost on the people pouring the concrete and swinging the hammers. Craigen noted that everyone from the guy who sweeps the floors of the trailers to those who guide the massive construction cranes is aware that this is a once-in-a-lifetime project, something so unusual that it makes all that has come before more than a little mundane.

"On a lot of jobs, when you get about 14 months into a job, it’s all repetition," Craigen says as he strolls through the site.

"An office tower for example, when you get to the fourth floor, then you get into a pretty repetitious cycle. You’re doing the same things over and over again until you reach the top floor."

Craigen pauses, looks up at more than 30 metres of unsupported black concrete and smiles.

"That has not been the experience on this building."


— — —


I have always loved construction. I grew up in and around Toronto in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Toronto went from being Hogtown and the second-largest city in Canada to "People City" and the country’s largest and fastest-growing metropolis. I saw the waterfront transformed into a jagged wall of condominium towers, watched as new theatres, museums and sports facilities sprang up. The Toronto of my youth was one giant construction site.

My father, a stockbroker, worked in the downtown financial district at the TD Towers, a complex of three foreboding black towers of slightly different heights built in the late 1960s, stunning in their own minimalist way.

The Bank of Montreal weighed in with First Canadian Place, a smooth stone and glass structure that, at nearly 300 metres, remains the third tallest structure in Canada and the 11th tallest office tower in North America. The Royal Bank took a different route. Rather than go higher, the last major chartered bank to the office tower dance sought to be the most striking building in Toronto’s skyline. It is only 112 metres high, but its more than 14,000 windows are tinted with more than 70 kilograms of real gold. It is so intensely reflective that a setting sun on a clear day makes it clearly visible all the way to the western regions of the city.

Having grown up among tall office towers, the absence of same was one of the first things I noticed when I moved to Winnipeg in the fall of 1986. The architecture of the turn-of-the-century buildings was remarkable, but the city’s tallest office towers, all conveniently located at Portage and Main, are pretty modest by continental standards. Unaware of the nuances of the city’s history, I wondered why there was not even one building to rival Toronto’s towers.

As I learned more about the city, I learned that economic reality was part of the explanation. Winnipeg’s heyday was the turn of the last century, and its most significant buildings do not compete with today’s behemoths. However, some were considered the skyscrapers of their generation. When Winnipeg was the Chicago of the North, the Royal Bank Tower on Main Street was the tallest and grandest office tower in Western Canada. But in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when the skyscraper began to live up to its metaphorical moniker, Winnipeg was a city in economic and social decline. It had no reason to build gigantic monuments to commerce.

But that was not the only reason. Winnipeg is on a flood plain, a flat expanse of clay that features, beneath its surface, a high water table and an inconsistent mix of rock and silt. This unstable mix means Winnipeg is the least likely city in the country to welcome modern skyscrapers. The geology makes it virtually impossible to dig foundations deep enough and stable enough to support looming structures above. It can be done, but at a cost that is simply prohibitive.

Those are the economic and geological explanations. Social analysis suggests that Winnipeggers, a people who willingly live among the clay and the mosquitoes and the stoicism that comes with several generations of decline, are just not comfortable when a building rises too high above their flood plain. This is a city that eschews excess and embraces convention. There is a treasure chest of fascinating architectural expression in Winnipeg, but it all exists within a fairly modest scope in terms of size and shape.

It is for all these reasons that great intrigue surrounds the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This is a building that is, by all measurements and descriptions, completely out of step with the community in which it is being built.

It is loud and ambitious and wildly futuristic. At $310 million, it is among the most expensive developments ever seen in Winnipeg. Its most dramatic design feature — the glass "cloud" that envelops its north facade — seems utterly impractical in a climate that regularly surges between -30 C and +30 C.

It is being built on a geologically unpredictable patch of land near The Forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. It is politically untenable, the progeny of an unlikely union between a family with deep Liberal ties and a Conservative prime minister with a penchant for breaking tradition. It is an exotic fundraising project, a unique blend of public and private money the likes of which Canada has never seen before.

Yet as you read this article, the relay race that is the construction of the museum is one-third finished. PCL has completed most of the concrete work and Hamilton-based Walters Inc., steel fabricators extraordinaire, are rapidly erecting enormous steel trusses and beams. While that work unfolds at the site, Josef-Gardner Steel and Glass from Wurzburg, Germany, is producing more than 1,100 panes of glass and the steel that will support it, and waiting its turn to hoist the baton.

Visitors to the site will already notice the sprawling stone and concrete "roots" are clearly visible. The black concrete wedge canyon strikes an imposing profile for people driving into downtown across the Provencher Bridge or walking across Esplanade Riel. Construction is expected to be completed late 2012, with an estimated opening date spring of 2013.

For now, the site remains a beacon for all those who, like me, flock to construction projects for the scent of freshly poured concrete and the undeniable sense of progress that comes with it.


— — —


It might be an overly obvious point, but a great building starts at the bottom.

The basic technology used to create the museum’s foundation is tried and true.

The plan for the museum was to anchor it with 370 preformed concrete piles and another 142 caissons as they are called in the construction industry. The caissons are made with a nearly two-metre-diameter coring barrel that drills down into the muck and silt at The Forks and keeps drilling down to bedrock. A metal sleeve was lowered into the hole while it was being cored, to be used as a form for the concrete.

Bedrock is the Holy Grail for foundations. All the great buildings of the world start, at some subterranean point, on bedrock. The Empire State Building in New York City, for example, was constructed on the largest and most stable bedrock anywhere on the island of Manhattan.

Drilling down to bedrock is a fairly standard and, based on modern geology and construction technology, a fairly mundane and predictable process. It is, however, an expensive process, and the deeper you need to go to reach that bedrock, the more expensive it is.

For this project, it was very expensive. Consider that the caissons for this project varied in price between $40,000 and $400,000 apiece. That variance in price is the result of a Manitoba geology that is diabolically unpredictable. The flood plain is very flat, but the bedrock underneath is quite undulating. That means you can reach bedrock very easily in places such as Winnipeg’s northwest quadrant, but in other areas, the bedrock is elusive, if it is there at all.

PCL found this out when the coring barrels bored deeper and deeper into the ooze which surrounds The Forks. The soil is silty and even when the coring barrel reached rock, it was not stable.

"We usually find bedrock in Winnipeg about 17 metres below the surface," said Craigen. "In this instance, the bedrock was much, much deeper. And even when we did hit rock, it was fractured or crumbling. Or it had clay or sand seams running through it and was unstable."

PCL and its foundation contractor, Subterranean Manitoba Ltd., eventually hit solid bedrock at 38 metres, more than twice the typical depth.

But that was not the only problem. Albuquerque-based architect Antoine Predock’s design called for the building to start below grade so that visitors would have to descend into the entrance between the giant concrete roots. This was a major design element, and the architect insisted it be part of the final design. The big problem is that once excavated, this brought the foundation level to the same level as the Red River, which runs along the site’s eastern edge. The depth of the foundation and its proximity to the river mean the site’s natural water table is very high. Thousands of litres of water were pumped out of the excavation hole to allow the foundation work to proceed. It was a long, messy, muddy process.

The foundation took 11 weeks longer than expected to complete.

"We did start off in a bit of a hole with that part of the project," Craigen said. "But we’re making it up in other areas."

Total cost for the museum foundation, including all piles and caissons, was $15.1 million.


— — —


The thing about concrete is that typically, it can only rise so high before it needs some sort of support. In your run-of-the-mill office tower, the poured concrete only has to rise a single floor before structural steel ties into it at right angles, supporting it before the next level goes up.

Thanks to Predock’s obsession with complex geometry, that wasn’t going to be possible with the CMHR. Concrete was poured in five-metre forms made from plywood sheets and special hardware. Several distinct design features of the interior of the building required concrete to be poured in odd angles or shapes, or to extraordinary heights, without permanent supports in place.

One of these is the "wedge canyon" as it called by the design team. It’s a 56-metre cavern of black concrete created by two angled walls. Graphite was added to the concrete mix to create the dramatic black effect. Eventually, the canyon will be criss-crossed by a series of illuminated white alabaster ramps that will allow patrons to rise through the building while visiting the various galleries.

It was one of the most ambitious elements of the building, and it presented a huge challenge to PCL, the structural engineers and the architects. The design called for the canyon to be open save for the ramps. That meant it could only be supported by temporary measures until the ramps and supporting steel on the exterior of the ramp could be installed. The solution was to string a series of temporary metal super studs across the expanse of the canyon. Dozens of these expandable metal poles were used, creating an eerie web-like effect.

This was not the only structural challenge. Predock had designed a series of ramps that criss-crossed the canyon, and staggered the size and position of the openings up and down the canyon. Unfortunately, not all of his original design was acceptable to the city’s building code, which has specific requirements for the size, angle and distance between ramps which are also the main exits for many of the galleries. Local architects Smith Carter, who were brought in to help refine and translate Predock’s original design, worked for months with three-dimensional models and structural engineers to find the best way of preserving the canyon’s design elements while meeting the city’s building code and still preserving the structural integrity of the building.

"Every time we moved something to meet code, the engineers would tell us, ‘that’s great, but the wall is going to fall down’," said Jim Weselake, a senior partner at Smith Carter. "So we went back to the drawing board and looked for another solution."

Another major challenge was an element known as the east wall of Route D. Not only is it cone-shaped, but it’s an upside down cone and it’s tilted at a 23-degree angle. "For the most part, everything is known about pouring concrete: the process is known, the material properties are known in advance," Craigen said. "It’s all about execution.

"However, this was a much different challenge. A normal curved concrete wall is just a flat piece of a cylinder. Because this was a section of an upside cone, the wall was smaller on the bottom than the top. That made the form work exponentially more difficult."

Again, the solution was to use dozens upon dozens of super studs to brace the wall until the steel could be installed. Three-dimensional modelling helped enormously with the design and execution of these unique concrete structures, Craigen said.

Additional concrete will be poured after the structural steel is erected. At completion, it will have taken 17 months to pour concrete from the foundation on up, at a total cost of $25 million.


— — —


Oddly enough, Canada no longer manufacturers the wide-flange steel beams needed to support the museum. The last factory to make that product, Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., stopped rolling beams in 1991. Canada still makes steel plate, but that wouldn’t meet the needs of this project.

But that did not stop Walters Inc. from Hamilton, Ont., from getting in on the action. Walters has developed a reputation for designing and fabricating structural steel for some of the most ambitious buildings in Canada. These include Toronto’s magnificent new airport terminal and the derided and celebrated Royal Ontario Museum addition designed by starchitect Daniel Libeskind.

Employing steel beams milled in Belgium and the United States, Walters developed a plan based in large part on a fantastically elaborate three-dimensional rendering of the steel structure.

"We actually built the entire building in 3-D before we made a single piece of steel," said Peter Kranendonk of Walters. "This helped us not only determine the number of pieces, but also the sequence for the installation of the steel."

Starting last month, the first of 275 trucks of structural steel began arriving in Winnipeg. In all, more than 14,000 individual steel members weighing more than 5,000 metric tonnes will be built into the museum. If all the steel were laid end to end, it would reach from Winnipeg to Portage la Prairie.

The sequencing is important because each piece of supporting steel would have to be installed as temporary shoring was removed. This is a delicate and, at times, risky process, Kranendonk noted. But having the 3-D model, which was constantly vetted by structural engineers, meant that everyone could be certain the structural integrity of those exotic concrete walls would never be compromised.

The raw steel beams arrive from mills in the U.S., and then are cut into specific lengths. Holes are drilled for rivets and connecting plates. Elaborate and meticulously manufactured connectors are also fabricated. These are the joints that support two or more of the support beams and trusses when they join at a single point. These nodes or super nodes, as some of them are called, can mark the intersection of as many as two dozen different steel beams. Other nodes will connect primary steel with the secondary steel supporting the glass. Tolerances are minimal. The steel is cut and fabricated so that regardless of the temperature or weather conditions, it should not shift more than 25 millimetres. The entire web of structural steel is designed to that tolerance standard.

Among the most demanding fabrication elements is the cloud rail, an enormous steel pipe that had to be bent so that it could curve around the inside of the glass cloud and support the secondary steel for the windows. Kranendonk said this required Walters to take a piece of standard steel 2.5-centimetre thick pipe, 60 centimetres in diameter and bend it with enormous hydraulic rams. It’s a painstaking process that moves at a glacial pace to ensure the pipe does not crack or fold in half.

"It’s been a very slow process, but we’re making progress and learning a lot as we go. This is the first time we’ve tried anything like this, so it’s a great learning experience."

Kranendonk said this is without a doubt one of the most complex buildings they have ever worked on. However, the mandate of the building, and its unique design features, have made this a pleasure, he said.

"I’ve seen a lot of complex projects flounder and fail. It’s been very exciting to see this building stay on track and to see it rise so quickly. It’s a great project to be involved in. A project for humanity."

It will take 10 months to install all steel members. Total cost is $36 million.


— — —


When Stefan Zimmermann read the report on Winnipeg’s weather, he thought someone was playing a joke on him.

The report contained about 25 years of historical weather reports. In it, Zimmermann, director of operations for German-based glass and steel manufacturers Josef-Gartner, saw that Winnipeg can experience, in any given year, a fluctuation in temperature from – 35 C to +35 C.

"I’ll be honest, when I read the specifications and I saw the outside temperatures, I said, ‘There must be some mistake.’ But I learned very quickly that the climate in Winnipeg is really extraordinary."

Extraordinary, but not impossible for Josef-Gartner, a company renowned throughout the world for fashioning glazing solutions for the most architecturally complex buildings. In fact, the more bizarre, geometrically complex and demanding, the better it is for Josef-Gartner. From glass bridges to curved glass roofs, Josef-Gartner has proven all over the world there is virtually nothing that an architect can conceive that it cannot make a reality. It made hiring Josef-Gartner to do the exterior glazing for the CMHR a slam dunk. This is, after all, a company that tends to turn up its nose at the mundane, and crave the unusual.

"When we saw the first images, our immediate reaction was, ‘well, that’s a project for us.’ We love demanding projects," Zimmermann said.

"It’s always difficult to compare, to say that one is more challenging than the other. But I mean, if you group buildings into easy, middle and difficult, for sure it’s a difficult building. But it would be wrong to say that it’s the most demanding we have ever done. But it’s pretty demanding and that’s good."

The biggest challenge in this project for Josef-Gartner was the glass cloud that will envelope the museum. The geometry of the cloud is complex and inconsistent. Predock actually designed the cloud to look like five individual dove wings wrapping around the building, and then folding over one another on the southern facade. After months of three-dimensional design, Josef-Gartner produced a masterpiece in glazing design, a cloud that would be built from more than 1,100 individual panes of glass. As a testament to Predock’s frantic geometry, no two panes are alike. Each is a slightly different size and shape.

This cloud would require Josef-Gartner to spend months experimenting with three-dimensional modelling software to play with the size and shape of the glass, and the secondary steel beams needed to support the glass, to find the perfect balance between flowing profile and unobscured view. If the glass plates were too large, the flowing cloud would have too many hard angles and the supporting steel would have to be much thicker to support the additional weight. If the plates were too small, the steel would not be as thick but there would be many more beams, which could compromise the view from inside the building.

Eventually, the museum decided to go with a double-glazed unit. Each window unit is 42 millimetres thick, or roughly twice the thickness of the average residential double-glazed window. The museum window units feature a 10-millimetre fully tempered exterior glass pane, a 16-millimetre Argon gas cavity, and an interior pane that is actually comprised of two eight-millimetre heat-strengthened panes laminated together.

The glazing units, steel supports and a hot water infused radiant heating system to be installed under the glass were put through their paces by a multidisciplinary engineering team that involved local firms such as E.H. Price, arguably North America’s leading air-defusing engineers. The glass was tested for its resilience to temperature, wind and humidity. The Josef-Gartner unit passed with flying colours.

The installation of the secondary steel is, in and of itself, quite tricky. The supporting steel must intersect with the primary steel, and a lot of work goes into the connectors to ensure that as both steel structures expand and contract with varying temperature, the structures can absorb movement and keep the glass in place. Highly trained craftsmen are required to cut the steel trusses in such a way that there is a tiny extra bit of material to account for shrinkage. This occurs after heat is applied to a truss as it is being welded; a piece of steel can shrink several millimeters after being heated, enough shrinkage to pull the glass out of position.

All this meticulous planning and engineering may still not placate many Manitobans, many of whom are skeptical that a glass-wrapped building can withstand the ups and downs of the local weather. Zimmermann acknowledged that such concerns are valid. However, he noted that much of the technology involved in the design and materials used in the museum’s glass cloud were not available even 10 years ago.

"Now, with the materials we have, leakage is not an issue," Zimmermann said. "Leakage doesn’t really have anything to do with the climate. That has more to do with whether it’s a well-engineered system using the right design, fabrication and the work in the field. I think we have eliminated many of the concerns to demonstrate to people in Winnipeg that you can build a glazed building in their environment."

However, the glass itself is only as good as the HVAC, the acronym used to describe the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. A poorly ventilated building means windows are vulnerable to frost and condensation. Properly ventilating buildings, in effect, bathing windows in a constant flow of heated or cooled air, eliminates those problems.

David MacKeracher, an engineer with The Mitchell Partnership, one of Canada’s most sought-after HVAC specialists, said the geothermal dynamics of the museum are really no different than any other structure, although the size and unusual shape of the interior does present challenges. The trick is to make sure ventilation is constantly bathing the windows with a current of air. This air wash takes away condensation, and balances the transfer of heat or cold from the outside.

"Everyone focuses on the windows, but the HVAC is really where the rubber meets the road for a building like this," said MacKeracher.

The museum will be heated by radiant hot-water pipes, the heat generated by five, three-million BTU natural-gas-fired boilers. Two 100 horsepower electric fans — each more than 1.27 metres in diameter — will move 4,200 cubic metres per minute of either fresh or cooled air into the building. Duct work strung around the interior will generate ventilation currents to keep a constant flow of heated or cooled air blowing against the windows. Some of the defusing vents will have to blow air up to 20 metres to reach windows in the more remote parts of the cloud. Rain water will be captured in a cistern and used to displace heat generated by electrical equipment and other mechanical systems.

The HVAC system performance has been tested over and over again in three-dimensional models. However, MacKeracher said that will not prevent the need for weeks of trial runs next year to determine if every duct, heat exchange and floor vent is working properly.

"We won’t really, really know until we get into the building and fire everything up. With a bit of luck (knock on wood), we’ll be there."

The total cost of the glazing and steel supports is $27 million. It will take 10 months to install.


— — —


When it comes to large taxpayer supported infrastructure projects, failure to come in on time and budget can doom a building forever.

Consider the legacy of the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The Big O, as it is called, was considered an architectural marvel of its day. The Big O cost $264 million, almost exactly double the original budget. Forever more, when people say Big O, they know the O stands for over budget.

The crown corporation in charge of the construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is patently aware that failure to deliver a building on budget could be a death-knell for a facility that is already controversial by its mandate.

"We have told everyone that we will be on budget and on time and that’s what we’re going to do," said CMHR CEO Stuart Murray.

On time seems to be a fair certainty. After a nearly three-month delay spent sorting out foundation problems, PCL is on the record as saying the project will be completed in late 2012 within a few weeks of the original target date.

But what of "on budget"?

The problem with this project is that the total price tag has changed considerably over the years. Izzy Asper, who first envisioned this grand museum, saw it as a roughly $200-million project. By 2007, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he was going to make Asper’s dream a national museum, the price tag was rephrased at $265 million. When construction began in 2009, the final price tag was pegged at $310 million. It has remained there ever since.

That last figure was identified in July 2008, when the design development stage of the project was completed. At this stage, the museum had a detailed estimate of every tonne of concrete and steel and every pane of glass. That total project cost was submitted to the federal government in the museum’s corporate plan and approved by Ottawa.

Still, there is skepticism in some quarters when Murray says the project is "on budget." It certainly is on budget to come in at $310 million. But not everyone agrees that qualifies as "on budget." Among those most skeptical is Harper.

The Friends of the CMHR, the charitable organization established by the Asper Foundation to raise money to support the museum, is going to cover some of the shortfall. The province is apparently willing to step in and sources confirm that the museum corporation is seeking an additional $17 million from Ottawa to help cover the additional costs identified in 2008. To date, however, Ottawa has been cool to the idea.

Is the museum over budget? A detailed examination of the history of the museum’s design and development process suggests that the earlier, lower figures were most definitely overly optimistic.

A privately designed and constructed building need not ever publish the figure of its total cost. A publicly funded project does not have that luxury, even if it’s a project that is nearly 50 per cent funded by private donors, as this one was.

To nail down the final price, the museum board elected to go with a design-assist system when looking for trades and suppliers. In this system, prospective contractors are pre-qualified by the board, and then asked to submit their ideas for how to supply the museum with a good or service. It is, in some aspects, much riskier for both the client and the contractor. The client runs the risk that as all the tenders come in, the price is considerably more than original estimates. The contractor runs the risk that a dishonourable client will steal their ideas and shop around for a cheaper source.

On the other hand, when a developer pays a premium to a contractor to fix the total price of a project at inception, any savings achieved during the design-assist phase, or through alternative sourcing, belong to the contractor. It’s a classic risk-reward debate.

For the CMHR, the design assist process turned out to be a good one. By 2008, when the final price tag needed to be nailed down, construction inflation had subsided significantly thanks to a precipitous drop in oil prices and the global recession. This did not mean the cost of construction went down; floodway expansion and northern dam construction in Manitoba were keeping the construction industry very busy. But the cooling of the overheated Alberta oil patch meant prices wouldn’t go up considerably. There was, however, still the question of how to procure all the exotic materials and construct all the exotic features Predock envisioned.

Not surprisingly, once the total cost of everything the design team wanted was put in the mix, PCL estimated the total cost at $340 million, a 28-per-cent increase over the previous price tag. Just about everyone considered that figure to be untenable, so the museum’s board sent the design team back to find savings. This was the beginning of the value-engineering phase. It’s a term architects hate to hear, but just about every big infrastructure project goes through.

Almost everything was on the table. Susanne Robertson, the museum’s CFO, said the board was presented with more than a dozen pages of building features and elements that could be changed or eliminated and their estimated savings. Some were minor, others significant, such as the elimination of the glass-encased Tower of Hope, a feature that was part of Asper’s original proposal in 2000. This, needless to say, presented a dilemma for the board.

"We did have an option to eliminate the Tower of Hope," Robertson said. "In the end, it was felt the tower was too important to the building. It was a building that (architect) Antoine Predock always said had to stand out as a symbol of hope. We felt the tower was a key part of that symbol."

Other changes were made. Double-walled, triple-pane glazing — very similar to what was used in the Manitoba Hydro tower downtown — was abandoned in favour of a single wall, double-pane unit. Creative work by the mechanical engineers and consultants found a myriad of energy savings. Instead of using enormous plates of Tyndall stone to clad the exterior of the building, PCL found it could save a ton of money by using smaller stone plates, in three different sizes.

Suppliers and trades were told to go find acceptable alternatives to everything from toilets to light bulbs and door knobs to see if savings could be found. For example, Predock had requested that a unique fritting be applied to each of the 1,100 panes of glass in the cloud. Fritting is a pattern of tiny dots applied to the glass when it is manufactured. The design team downgraded this plan, and had a standard fritting applied to only some of the glass.

In the end, the project was trimmed to $310 million, or a 16-per-cent increase over the previous price tag. This project cost was formally approved by Ottawa, even though it did not come with additional funding. This puts the pressure squarely back on the Friends of the Museum, which has already exceeded its original target by raising $115 million to date.

In terms of public perception, it is up to the museum to ensure everyone sees value in each of the $310 million spent on this museum. That is not going to be an easy task in a city that is, because of geology and inherent modesty, more comfortable with buildings that are not too expensive, too tall or too exotic.

"Our challenge is to make sure when this building opens up, people will walk in and say, ‘Wow, that is really something’," said Murray. "We think that once people get a look at the finished product that is exactly what they are going to say. ‘Wow’."

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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