Uniting nations: A look at the design submissions to replace the iconic Peace Tower
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/08/2016 (2241 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the southwest corner of Manitoba, nestled within the rolling hills of the Turtle Mountains is a grand, formal garden dedicated to global peace. Its manicured geometric layout, aligned with the international border, is an image one might expect to find cascading from a medieval European castle. The backdrop for this garden, however, is hills, forests and lakes that sprawl north into Canada and an endless horizon of glistening wheat fields stretching into the United States.
Dedicated in 1932, the International Peace Garden is a formal Renaissance-style plan with a symmetrical composition of pathways, terraces and planter beds, centred on a primary axis running for 1.5 kilometres along the international boundary. In 1982, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the park, Number Ten Architectural Group of Winnipeg was hired to design a Peace Tower that would complete the formal axis at the western end of the garden.
The scheme proposed a monument of four columns, each 37 metres tall, representing people from the four corners of the Earth. Seen on an axis, the four towers appear as two, with the border running between them, a representation of two distinct nations built on shared ideals. The towers have become the iconic symbol and focal point of the formal garden.
Regrettably, over the last number of years, the concrete towers have developed an issue with moisture infiltration that has begun to degrade their internal structure. The concrete has started to crack, and the structural base is crumbling. After exhausting all solutions to save them, the difficult decision was made to demolish the iconic landmark, set to happen this winter.
The hope is to replace the towers with a modern icon that will fit the garden’s esthetic, symbolism and budget, standing as a tribute to peace and defining the image of the park for decades to come.
Funding for the project will be raised through a public-capital campaign, to augment the $1.5 million already pledged by the North Dakota Government. Manitoba has yet to commit support for the initiative.
To begin the discussion about what a new icon might look like, an invited design competition was recently held to solicit ideas and create an image that will inspire the public as fundraising efforts begin. Designers were asked to consider how peace and friendship should be represented in a modern context, forcing some difficult introspection.
When the previous towers were designed, it was at the height of the Cold War. Two superpowers dominated the political world. The nuclear arms race and differences in political ideals were the source of global tension.
Today, the tensions feel more personal, more tenuous, and closer to home. From our living rooms we watch 24-hour news channels broadcasting horrific cellphone video of attacks on people with whom we can identify. We see images of helpless refugees packed into tiny boats, hoping to find a better life for their families. A small lifeless boy washed up on a foreign beach makes every one of us ask, what if that were my son? Xenophobia, racial tensions and nationalism dominate political headlines, exemplified by the endless American election debate and Brexit vote in the UK.
How can all of this be represented in a single landmark? What will it look like? How does the experience evolve from different vantage points within the garden and from distances outside?
Six design firms responded to the challenge, five from Winnipeg and one from California. Each team presented a unique response and individual representation of what peace and friendship between nations means to them.
A personal interpretation of each entry is presented below, including the winning submission ‘Interwoven’, by GPP Architecture of Winnipeg, which was felt by the jury to best represent the ideals of the garden, providing a creative and inspirational image for the new landmark.
Interwoven — GPP Architecture, Winnipeg
On a hot summer day, under a prairie blue sky, visitors stop to gaze over a panorama of gardens that stretch to the horizon below. At the end, stands the silhouette of a great spire, centered on the garden composition, launching itself into the sky against the crisp horizon.
The spire is a thousand year old architectural icon, reminiscent of the point of a spear. It has come to represent strength and hope. It is a symbol of our heavenly aspirations, at its base, powerfully rooted to the ground like a tree, delicately piercing the endless sky at its tip.
Approaching the monument, the elegant shape becomes more articulate. The earth begins to elevate and pathways transform into roots pulling up from the ground in tension, spiraling together to form the walls of a tower, as if two nations are coming together to achieve a single goal.
The tower is seen as a rope, created by many strands, representing people from every walk of life, every history and every generation. Each strand is vulnerable and equal in strength, but when woven together they become united and powerful. The tension creates strength in their unity, as the individuals depend on each other, overcoming challenge and rising together as one.
A play of light and shadow through the spiral lattice allows the soaring tower to evolve in appearance throughout the day. Visitors become immersed in a journey up a spiral ramp moving through the inside of the spire under softly filtered light. The garden experience ends with views over the landscape, providing a place of introspection, contemplation and new perspectives.
Coalesce – 54687696 Architecture – Winnipeg
On a hot summer day, under a prairie blue sky, visitors stop to gaze over a panorama of gardens that stretch to the horizon below. At the end, stands a simple, glistening, geometric form, filling the six metre wide border clearing from edge to edge.
As visitors approach the monument, the simplicity of shape instills a feeling of anticipation and mystery. A mirrored skin reflects the garden back into itself. Delicate lifts in the bottom of the cube, subtlety reveal themselves, pulling visitors forward as alluring points of entry.
The land begins to undulate beneath their feet, leading into a subterranean room punctuated by delicately filtered light. The visual weight of the ceiling above compresses the space, creating an uneasy tension and feeling of vulnerability, embodying the fragility of peace. People are brought together to share a common experience in a place of contemplation, reflection and hope.
Moving up through the tower a duality is discovered. The singular mass exposes itself as a shroud for two distinct spaces. Internal walls are revealed to be constructed of a series of individual aluminum tubes, working together to create a singular expression. This architecture symbolizes that with many voices unified into one, we can enact change and overcome challenges, understanding that peace is only achieved through the power of the collective.
Ascending to the upper space, a great volume opens to the sky. At this threshold, visitors are overwhelmed by the scale and embraced by the warmth of sunlight reflecting off the aluminum tubes. The space stimulates a feeling of freedom, hope and inspiration. The strong border that once rigidly formed the exterior shape of the mass is now borderless, open and limitless. The space is one of inward contemplation, a representation of our aspirations for peace and an expression of the overwhelming scale of that challenge.
Without End – Number TEN Architectural Group – Winnipeg
(as a disclaimer, I was part of the design team for this submission)
On a hot summer day, under a prairie blue sky, visitors stop to gaze over a panorama of gardens that stretch to the horizon below. At the end, a simple form presents an image of a great wall hovering just above the treeline.
The wall is a powerful visual barrier to the horizon beyond, but it is delicate, translucent and ethereal. Sunlight streams through it, revealing different densities in the monolithic form. It appears as an obstacle that must be overcome, creating an uneasy division between the visitor and whatever is on the other side.
Walls divide us. Sixty-five nations, one in every three on earth, physically divide themselves from their neighbour with an impenetrable wall along their border. They are a symbol of barrier and division.
When a wall is turned however, it no longer divides, it becomes a gateway and a bridge. The garden wall reaches across the international border, tying the people of both nations together.
As one approaches through the garden, new perspectives of the wall begin to change its expression. Moving closer, it becomes less of what it once was. Openings begin to appear, light streams through and glimpses to the horizon beyond are revealed. The wall begins to break apart and fragment as one draws closer. Its silhouette transitions from a strong horizontal line, to a varied and undulating pattern grasping the sky.
The formal garden itself begins to break down upon approach, transitioning into a prairie grassland that roots itself in the natural history and indigenous cultures of the site.
As one steps into the monument, the idea crystalizes, the image of wall disintegrates, evolving into a series of individual towers made from a gleaming aluminum grid-work that rises up from the tall grasses. Each tower expresses its own personality in light and shadow, choreographed in an elegant dance that crosses the border as if it was not there. It is no longer an obstacle to be overcome. Visitors become part of the monument, part of the wall.
The experience demonstrates the power of unity, celebrating that when we come together and work towards the common goal of peace, we are able to gain strength in the collective, while maintaining the beauty of human individuality and personal expression.
Aurora – Werk: Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture – Los Angeles, California
On a hot summer day, under a prairie blue sky, visitors stop to gaze over a panorama of gardens that stretch to the horizon below. At the end, stands two soaring towers facing each other across the formal divide, representing the strength and friendship of two nations.
The base of each new tower sits in a ‘V’ shape that stands in the precise location of the original monument. As they elegantly rise into the sky, each tower evolves into a single piercing shape that embodies hope, aspiration and peace. They rise to the height of the previous structures, paying homage to their memory, appearing taller through their slenderness.
The delicate steel towers are wrapped in a shimmering white metal fabric, catching light and transforming in appearance as the sun moves through the sky. At night the fabric becomes iridescent in the moonlight and is washed in changing coloured projected light, to create an ethereal appearance reminiscent of the Aurora Borealis.
White trunked trees such as Birch and Aspen are planted around the monument, bathed in the same coloured light, unifying the surrounding landscapes of each nation.
The base of the monument is encompassed by a circular stone wall filled with ornamental plantings, representing the oneness of the garden and the connection felt between the people of the two nations. Crushed concrete from the demolished foundations of the original towers is laid as a paving material within the monument base. A reflective water feature, inspired by design elements in the formal garden, marks the international boundary and creates a quiet, contemplative space that grounds the soaring structures into their site at a personal scale.
Mitakuye Oyasin | Gaa-odinawending – FT3 Architecture, Landscape, Interior Design – Winnipeg
On a hot summer day, under a prairie blue sky, visitors stop to gaze over a panorama of gardens that stretch to the horizon below. At the end, stands the image of two similar towers in a single composition, visually connected to each other but divided by an invisible border.
In silhouette, when seen on axis from across the garden, the towers create a monolithic expression. Shadows reveal that the sculpture might poses a third dimension, but the mystery is kept hidden until visitors become more deeply immersed in the experience.
As one approaches through the garden, the appearance of connectedness begins to break apart and the two volumes reveal themselves to be made up of multiple individual towers, serving as a reminder that peace is both individual and communal.
The towers create a forest of unique shapes, a splintered landscape of light and shadow. Although each shape represents its own expression of individuality, the monument is still experienced as a singular entity, like the interdependent ecosystem of a natural forest, often sharing a root system connected beneath the ground.
The dramatic transition of the monument from a singular, unified idea into a fractured series of chaotic elements, gives visitors an impactful experience that is reflective of how fragile the idea of peace can be.
Walking amongst the towers, below ground and above, provides the opportunity to reflect, exploring the ideas of peace from different perspectives. The dynamic spaces created among the soaring chards promote an interaction with the earth, the sky and other people, creating an understanding of what it is to be connected to each other, appreciating our shared responsibilities and knowing the feeling of peace.
Seven Stone Labyrinth – Sotirioscorp – Winnipeg
On a hot summer day, under a prairie blue sky, visitors stop to gaze over a panorama of gardens that stretch to the horizon below. At the end, a rolling green hill connects the formal garden to the natural landscape beyond.
The Turtle Mountain area is a sacred site and ancient gathering place for local Indigenous People, dotted with ceremonial turtle shaped landforms. The turtle itself is considered an important cultural symbol in local Indigenous traditions.
As visitors walk along the garden axis, the land begins to rise and the formal procession transitions into a planted labyrinth in the form of a turtle shaped mound. The labyrinth slows the journey, builds anticipation and instills visitors with an introspective sense of pilgrimage. The narrow alleys provide shade and moments of respite and reflection in the hot prairie sun.
Spaces within the maze widen to create courtyards that become a series of powerful galleries displaying international sculpture, donated from countries around the world, presenting visitors with an opportunity to engage in an artistic dialogue about the fragility of peace and human rights.
To expand the discourse inspired by the international sculpture garden, the Seven Council Stones, spiritual artefacts currently stored in a Boissevain gallery, are also placed within the labyrinth as a gesture to reconcile the land’s sacred Indigenous history with the European garden experience. Reconnecting Indigenous People to the site and bringing their story to the discussion of peace between nations is a vital new dialogue in the garden’s interpretive mandate.
Curated moments of views and vistas are embedded within the winding journey through the labyrinth. At its peak, the mound rises to an elevation above the tree line, opening up to a dramatic full-circle panorama of the surrounding landscape and down the border cut that reaches to the horizon. This vista connects the garden to its natural surroundings and provides an inspirational moment of contemplation and enlightenment for visitors.
Brent Bellamy is creative director at Number Ten Architectural Group.
Updated on Monday, August 8, 2016 2:39 PM CDT: Adds map