When old meets new Architects employ different strategies to change look of Exchange District
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/04/2019 (1260 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg’s Exchange District was named a National Historic Site in 1997 because it is a uniquely cohesive historic neighbourhood. The area was preserved by many decades of slow growth and, since the 1970s, preservationists have worked hard to maintain its cohesion by protecting heritage buildings from demolition.
The Exchange’s rich character has attracted growth and, with the area booming today, a new challenge has arisen for the heritage district. New buildings are beginning to fill some of the empty spaces between the old, leading to a question that is often polarizing: what should a new building in an old neighbourhood look like?
Cities are living and evolving ecosystems. Change is inevitable. In the case of heritage districts, however, it is important that contemporary architecture celebrates and enriches the special character of its context. This relationship between new and old can be established in many ways.
An important publication in 2007 by the American National Trust for Historic Preservation, called Differentiated and Compatible, outlined four strategies that designers can use to create modern additions to historic areas. Later this summer, examples of three of these approaches will be under construction in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.
The first strategy is known as “literal replication,” which takes the design elements of historic styles and reproduces them. This concept is often preferred by the public, but is commonly met with disapproval from architects and preservationists who feel that replicating past styles can diminish the importance of true heritage buildings.
The craftsmanship, construction techniques and materials that make historic buildings unique are often too expensive or not available today, meaning reproduction can become pastiche, lacking the integrity and authenticity of the originals.
The second strategy is called “invention within a style.” This concept maintains a sense of continuity between old and new by borrowing historic design elements, language or materials, and reinterpreting them in modern ways. The Richardson Innovation Centre, under construction on Lombard Avenue, might represent this strategy.
Designed by Number TEN Architectural Group (disclosure, I was the lead designer), it will incorporate Tyndall stone and large, regular “punched” windows along the Exchange District facade to replicate the rhythms, texture, material, colour and visual heaviness of the surrounding historic buildings. To further increase neighbourhood compatibility, the massing of the design is organized to have a similar height and proportion to the adjacent warehouses. Large cantilevers and glass elements help to modernize the appearance.
The third strategy, known as “abstract reference,” engages the historic setting without having literal resemblance to the architectural style. A dramatic new insertion, that will soon be built between two historic facades at the corner of Princess Street and Bannatyne Avenue, represents this idea well.
The residential development called Warehouse 1885, designed by 5468796 Architecture, will feature a grid of large steel beams and columns that appear to weave together the two adjacent facades. The horizontal beams align with the cornice and brick banding of the adjacent heritage building, visually extending its lines. The beams become slightly smaller as they move up the facade to respect the fact that the historic horizontal lines also become less pronounced.
The vertical columns in the grid are located to create five equal bays that match the spacing of the lost facade that once stood there and continue the window rhythm of the existing streetscape at the pedestrian level. The dynamic design has no literal reference to historic styles, but the new facade preserves the spirit and intent of the historic buildings, creating a compatibility with the heritage district, while retaining an honesty about it being a modern intervention.
The final design strategy called “intentional contrast” is often the most controversial but can also have the most effect. This concept accentuates the character and cohesion of the surrounding buildings by serving as a counterpoint to their style. This summer, a striking new building that incorporates this strategy will begin to rise across from Old Market Square on the triangular lot formed by the intersection of Albert and Arthur streets. Designed by AtLRG Architecture, the building will stand in stark contrast to the heavy, rectilinear and symmetrical facades of the surrounding warehouses.
The design will introduce a dramatic wedge-shaped building that maintains the height and street edge of its neighbour, coming to a sharp edge at its point. The second and third levels, which house residential suites, will float above a glass commercial ground floor that connects interior spaces to the sidewalk and introduces a new lightness and transparency to the pedestrian experience in the area.
The upper floors will be clad in a sparkling brass skin that will beautifully patina through time, allowing the building to gracefully age and grow into its site. In places, the brass will create a perforated veil, billowing in front of large windows and balconies, introducing a softness and unique layering of opacity on the facade. The design will create a dramatic new neighbour for the equally modern Cube Stage. The lightness, materiality and shape of the building will contrast its context. It is intended that through this contrast, the cohesion and visual strength of the surrounding historic buildings will be reinforced and intensified.
The Exchange District is changing and new buildings represent an opportunity to enrich, reinvigorate and inject new energy into the area. The Market Lands development on the Public Safety Building site will continue this evolution on a large scale. Each of the four strategies to find architectural compatibility can be done successfully, if the fundamental goal for all new buildings in the Exchange District is to maintain and enhance the special sense of place found in Winnipeg’s most unique urban neighbourhood.
Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.
Updated on Monday, April 15, 2019 6:49 AM CDT: Corrects reference to Arthur Street