I love the city and province where I was born. I especially love the glorious heritage architecture that speaks symbolically to where we've came from, and hopefully where we're going.
Although of late I fear what the latest architectural tweak to our most important heritage building suggests about our future. Especially when it was the provincial government, which is supposed to safeguard the integrity of our heritage buildings, that was behind the defacing.
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If ever there was a piece of architecture that symbolizes both our past and our future, it's the Manitoba Legislative Building. But that vision carved symbolically and literally in stone, that represented the grand turn of the 20th-century hope for the province, wasn't always so easy to see. Not until seven years ago, that is, when a young University of Winnipeg undergraduate taking a course in magic in ancient Greece and Rome happened to... Well, Frank Albo explains it all in fascinating detail in the recently re-released Free Press book, The Hermetic Code.
This summer, he's also giving personal tours that decode the 91-year-old neoclassical building. Tours that begin outside the front of the edifice, where he recalls how a "casual glance" seven years ago revealed a seeming architectural anomaly on the front of the building — a pair of sphinxes, of all things — that led him on an obsessive search to decode the structure's hidden-in-plain-view story.
Last week, it was another curious glance that uncovered another architectural anomaly that Albo hadn't seen seven years ago.
Because it wasn't there.
It wasn't there because it didn't belong there in an architectural sense.
"It" is a black, curved-metal canopy that's supposed to turn away falling ice and snow at the top of a wheelchair access ramp installed last year at a budgeted cost of $1.8 million.
The canopy was installed only a few weeks ago.
Wins Bridgman, the local architect who designed it, describes the $175,000 canopy as a "sheltering hand."
I think it looks more like a claw.
A modernesque one at that.
Albo, the man who co-wrote the aforementioned book on the architectural history of the building, simply calls it "hideous."
Other critics think it looks more suited to a bus shelter than to the face of the province's signature building.
Over the years, Bridgman has won six awards from Heritage Winnipeg, including one for sensitively and seamlessly blending the new wheelchair ramp with the grand old edifice.
But he'll get no awards from Heritage Winnipeg for the little black roof that tops off the wheelchair ramp .
"There was no public consultation," Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, told Free Press legislative reporter Bruce Owen this week.
Bridgman told me the process of deciding on a canopy was done with great care and sensitivity by a committee that included provincial civil servants charged with protecting the building's architectural integrity.
One of Bridgman's most important considerations in creating the claw — I mean the sheltering hand — was something he called "reversibility."
He had me getting hopeful until he explained that "reversibility" is his term for how the whole project is designed to never actually touch the building.
It doesn't mean removable.
Tugwell at Heritage Winnipeg may yet have something to say about that, though.
"We're fielding a lot of calls about it," she said.
Depending on the public outcry, Heritage Winnipeg may lobby the Doer government to have it reversed, removed, whatever.
Actually, I prefer another more architecturally descriptive term.