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Get a glimpse into the mind of an architect at exhibit of award-winning Prairie projects

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2005 (6220 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Get a glimpse into the mind of an architect at exhibit of award-winning Prairie projects

IF you’ve ever looked at current architecture and wondered, “What were they thinking?” a free exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Pavilion Gallery Museum offers some hints.

All the Manitoba entries in the 2005 Prairie Design Awards, as well as the 11 winning entries by firms from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, are on display until Aug. 28 in the second-floor pavilion gallery.

The display boards use photos, drawings and text to describe architects’ projects. They were judged “blind” for the competition. Visitors can view the boards for 22 diverse projects, all completed within the past five years. The exhibit, presented by Partners in the Park in conjunction with the Manitoba Association of Architects, gives some much-needed exposure to the profession.

“People who don’t directly get involved with architects have very little understanding of what we do,” notes Sasa Radulovic, an architectural intern at Cohlmeyer Architects.

That firm was one of four winners from Manitoba. It received an award of merit for the design of an interpretive structure for the tall grass prairie garden at The Forks. The structure, located a few steps up from the main Forks plaza — south of Muddy Waters Smokehouse — is a T-shaped deck, with a trellis both overhead and in the form of a fence. It draws visitors into the peaceful garden, and shields it from the hectic plaza. It also shelters two interactive computer terminals that were installed in June as an educational feature of the garden.

The cedar trellis is supported by a steel frame whose design is more meaningful than it first appears. The Cohlmeyer team wanted to express the fragility and interdependence of the endangered prairie ecosystem. So they experimented with the capability of the half-inch-thick steel plate. They extended it as far as possible without support underneath.

“The structural engineer probably hated us,” says Radulovic. “We tried to minimize the number of points at which the structure touches the ground.”

They also deliberately made the materials interdependent: the thin steel would be wobbly and unstable without the wood.

Just as the prairie landscape ripens with time, the cedar is intended to change colour with age, and so is the steel. “We’ve used a special kind of steel. Once it rusts, it creates this protective layer that stops it from rusting any further. It was invented for boat hulls. You can see it going orange,” says Radulovic.

If such subtleties aren’t noticed by the average visitor to The Forks, that’s fine with Radulovic and his colleagues, Jim Wagner and Johanna Hurme. “If people don’t understand all the nuances and overlaid messages, that’s OK,” says Wagner. “Everyone can make what they will of it.”

Radulovic and Wagner took a tour of the Prairie Design Awards exhibit before it opened this past Wednesday.

The awards are supposed to be held every two years, they noted, but got off-track and haven’t happened since 2002. This year’s five-person jury included architects, an interior designer and an artist, hailing from Ontario, British Columbia and the host province, Saskatchewan.

The duo commented that only two residential projects appear in the show. One is a stunning new farmhouse on La Salle Road, southwest of the city, that features a contemporary interpretation of a metal silo. The other is the controversial Stechesen Katz condo project proposed for a former railway bridge spanning the Assiniboine River. It was actually disqualified because the awards are only for completed projects.

They also noted that while heritage conservation is a hot topic in Winnipeg, the winning projects for conservation are all from Saskatchewan: the rehabilitation of the 1912 College Building on the University of Saskatchewan campus; the restoration of the terra cotta façade of the Canada Life Assurance building in downtown Regina; and the transformation of an ornate vaudeville theatre into the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre.

Besides the Cohlmeyer garden project, three other Manitoba entries took honours. Smith Carter Architects won an award of excellence for its much talked-about new headquarters near the corner of Waverley Street and McGillivray Boulevard.

LM Architectural Group received an award of merit for the ultra-clean-looking interior design of Cangene’s executive offices at the University of Manitoba Smart Park. The architects note that Cangene, a biotech company, requested design materials “with pristine qualities reminiscent of those found in pharmaceutical labs.” LM obliged with white terrazzo flooring, glass walls and stainless-steel accents.

David Penner Architect earned an award of merit for the Manitoba Electrical Museum. The former 1931 switching station at 680 Harrow St. features a new glass vestibule that Radulovic and Wagner consider a little-seen jewel.

“Whenever we get a new young architect in our office, I always take them to see this project,” says Radulovic. “It’s so hidden away.”

The vestibule is an example of how architects are increasingly able to create glass rooms in which the panes are held together by clips.

“It’s like a glass box in a very pure form,” says Wagner, “because the framing is minimized until it’s almost invisible.”

The Prairie Design Awards exhibit is on the second floor of the Assiniboine Park Pavilion. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 28. Admission is free.

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