The cupid of construction

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IT'S a question of building the ideal relationship.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/02/2007 (5714 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IT’S a question of building the ideal relationship.

The history of Winnipeg’s architecture is full of love stories. Tales of matches made and kept go along with tales of matches lost and matches that will never be. As with all stories of love, chance, circumstance and time come together to nurture, change and grow the city’s constructed relationships.

Susan Algie of the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation believes one of the most loving “built” matches can be found at the city’s centre. There, the 1913 Bank of Montreal at one time looked lonely among the surrounding towers that overshadowed its past prominence at Portage and Main. In 1981, the bank added another tower, next to the original building, that brought the old temple back to life.

“There is great contrast,” says Algie, “but they did keep the McKim Mead and White bank, and the new tower is respectful in design through its slenderness and colour.”

North of this pair, the old buildings of the Exchange District exude romance from a past era. They all share a bond of place and enthusiasm — most notably, Algie says, at the neighbourhood’s north end.

The 1904 Union Bank Building set an impressive standard of construction in Winnipeg, but it stood alone for almost a decade. Then, in 1912, the Confederation Life Building was built on the other side of Main Street. With a similar but more ornamental Chicago-style façade, the “wedding cake of Main Street” rose tall enough to match and complement the bank tower. Now, they stand together, greeting visitors from the north to downtown.

At the south end of Main Street, builders put up another pair fit to support each other and welcome guests together. Completed only five years apart, around 1910, the Union Station and the Fort Garry Hotel on Broadway fulfilled each other’s needs, as people arriving by rail had a place to stay nearby.

Nevertheless, the station kept close ties to another partner far down the street, the 1904 Canadian Pacific Railway Station.

“The two train stations gave birth to the bustle on Main Street,” says Wins Bridgman of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture. “It’s amazing to see in pictures how every inch of Main Street was so full of life, how the street was created by the two of them at either end.”

Though the southern rail station and the hotel still share a happy history, as rail traffic faded, so did the connection between them. Bridgman suggests that pragmatism marks the Victorian-styled hotel’s latest built relationship with the much younger and flashier Fort Garry Place. “Fort Garry Place looks like a bit of a tart next to the Hotel Fort Garry,” he says. “It looks like a shotgun wedding.”

There’s another spring-fall romance in the heart of the city. At Smith Carter Architects and Engineers, Scott Stirton, Jim Yamashita and Rick Linley suggest a strong esthetic bond between the 1913 Legislative Building and the hip 1970 Winnipeg Art Gallery. As he was designing the WAG, Gustavo da Rosa set out to reinforce the view of the 1913 government building while making an edifice that shines in its own light.

But the Legislative Building may not need contenders for affection that it spends on itself. With a statue of buff Hermes (father of Hermaphroditus) standing atop the dome, “it’s flagrantly sexual in itself, almost auto-erotic,” says Bridgman.

Before the WAG, and despite other nearby contenders, the legislature could only pine for a soulmate that resided clear across the city in St. James — the Women’s Tribute Memorial Lodge, on the Deer Lodge Centre grounds. “They have a similar shape and similar materials,” says Bridgman. “I think the two are real buddies.”

Bridgman notes that additions to buildings should have a harmonious relationship with the original structure. He praises the recent Movement Disorders Clinic addition to Memorial Lodge by Cohlmeyer Architects as “an astounding example of companionship.”

“In my mind, it’s like the older woman and the younger man,” Johanna Hurme of Cohlmeyer Architects says of the firm’s work at Deer Lodge Centre. “And the addition is copper-clad, so it will age as the time goes by, and they’ll be closer together as time proceeds.”

Spencer Court of LM Architectural Group says another good example of a loving addition is the 1991 expansion of the 90-year-old Pantages Playhouse on Market Avenue. “The glazed connection between buildings is like a delicate kiss,” he says. “It’s a wonderful contrast — a pair of opposites that attract and draw appreciation toward each other.”

ian.tizzard@freepress.mb.ca

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