They may be taking some flak at home, but the architects who designed the Exchange District's new outdoor stage are garnering high praise internationally for the controversial, cutting-edge project.

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The Cube stage at Old Market Square has attracted its share of criticism at home.

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The Cube stage at Old Market Square has attracted its share of criticism at home.

They may be taking some flak at home, but the architects who designed the Exchange District's new outdoor stage are garnering high praise internationally for the controversial, cutting-edge project.

5468796 Architecture Inc., owned by architects Sasa Radulovic and Johanna Hurme, has become only the second Canadian firm to win a prestigious Emerging Architecture Award from the London-based Architectural Review magazine and the Royal Institute of British Architecture.

The company will receive its award at a gala awards ceremony next month in London, and Hurme said all 11 of the firm's employees will be attending.

The international accolades are a refreshing change from some of the criticism The Cube has received since its high-profile unveiling last summer in Old Market Square. While some Winnipeggers immediately fell in love with its ultra-contemporary design, others have loudly criticized it, saying it doesn't fit in with the overall "heritage" feel of the Exchange District.

Even Mayor Sam Katz waded into the fray earlier this week, telling a mayoralty candidates' forum that while it "looks really nice," the $1.2-million stage is functionally flawed because it doesn't provide enough room for lighting and sound equipment.

So how big a deal is it to win an Emerging Architecture Award? Very big, according to Manitoba Association of Architects president Art Martin.

Martin said the EAs, which were founded in 1999, are considered one of the world's most popular and prestigious awards for young architects. He said this year's competition attracted about 300 entries worldwide.

"For a Manitoba firm to get this award is really something. All (Manitoba) architects can share in that pride."

He said the only other Canadian firm to win the award was a Quebec company, and that was in the early years of the competition.

Hurme said EA officials didn't say in their letter why their project was selected for an award, or exactly what kind of award they'll receive. She presumes they'll find out at the ceremony on Nov. 25. She said they were also told all 19 winners will also be featured in the December issue of Architectural Review.

"It's great. It's very exciting."

As for the flak they've been getting here at home, Hurme said much of the criticism has been premature because they had assumed from the outset that problems would arise and that adjustments would have to be made.

For example, she said the aluminum chain-mail curtains have been adjusted so they retract further to address concerns that there wasn't enough room overhead for the performers on stage.

An open area at the back of the stage also is being covered with a grate to create additional room for lighting and sound equipment, and adjustments are being made to the computerized internal lighting system so the stage stands out more at night.

"I hope that all will get resolved... and hopefully people will see there is real thought and consideration behind it (the design)," she said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca