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The prairie stretches out seamlessly before me as I look through the glass walls of the new Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. Past the runways, long yellow grasses ripple in the breeze and wispy clouds drift across the sky. Inside, the blue, gold and white carpet riffs on the dominant colours of the landscape. In the soaring arrivals hall, where sky-blue LEDs rim the circular skylights, I pass a mother welcoming a returning daughter. "It's been too long," the mother admonishes. So it has, I think, as it's been more than a decade since I visited the Peg myself. And, as I'm soon to discover, the airport (designed by the Argentinian-American starchitect Cesar Pelli, in collaboration with Winnipeg-based David Essex) is just one playful part of the city's post-millennial makeover.

5468796 ArchitectureStrength in numbers: The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada recently awarded the firm 5468796 Architecture its Emerging Architectural Practice Award.

On my first morning in town, I jog toward the Forks, the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers that shapes the downtown core. I'm shocked by the Great Pyramid scale of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights rising just beyond. One side is a series of stepped levels clad in yellowy, veined Tyndall stone, quarried nearby and used on Winnipeg's important buildings. On the other side, arc-shaped swathes of glass lead up to the Tower of Hope, which looks like a giant pilot light. Slated to open in 2014, the museum has been igniting many questions: Will architect Antoine Predock's building draw crowds to Winnipeg like Frank Gehry's Guggenheim drew them to Bilbao? Will media baron Izzy Asper's dream prove worthy of its $350-million-plus sticker price? Whatever the answers, the structure is not the only big architectural development poking the skyline; it's just the tip of the iceberg, which, come to think of it, is what it resembles.

Canadian Museum for Human RightsNight view of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Luckily, the museum I'm visiting today is open for business. Entering the new home of the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art on Portage Avenue is a bit like stepping through the looking glass. One of its designers – tall, fuzzy-haired Neil Minuk – is every bit the busy White Rabbit as he whizzes toward me, past a stack of 27 TVs showing dancers in Dalmatian-spotted bodysuits. The building is covered in industrial freezer panels and sliced diagonally by a ground-floor passageway. "We wanted all these diverse sightlines, like you have in a medieval Italian hill town," Minuk says, pointing out different vistas of colours that fade and brighten along hallways and staircases. "It's all about hybridity." Indeed, Plug In houses an odd collection of things: four cutting-edge galleries (where I catch a surrealist exhibit, largely by Royal Art Lodge members, on the subject of Winnipeg), Stella's Café @ Plug In, an art bookstore and the University of Winnipeg's business and economics faculties. From the gallery, you can see the backs of cooks working away in the café's kitchen. "We wanted everything exposed," Minuk says, gazing up at some ducts. "Because that's Winnipeg: direct, gritty."

Winnipeg International AirportWinnipeg architect David Essex collaborated with Cesar Pelli on the soaring design for the city’s new airport.



Comments… or add another

Dennis Bruneau

Saturday, June 1st 2013 12:23
Great article. The author did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the city as it relates to architecture and design. The list of travel essentials at the end is also spot-on!

Peter ORourke

Monday, June 3rd 2013 19:35
I am an ex-Winnipegers.

The museum is superb and the airport will bring new excitement to the city. When I lived there there was a proposal to build a symbol of a gateway to the west like the arch is in St. Louis. That arch has put St Louis on the map. Now with all the excitement surrounding the city it is time to build an exciting gateway to the west.

Peter O'Rourke


Sunday, July 7th 2013 12:48
The 5468796 Architecture picture in hanging chair shoes are intriguing I would like to get a some

Slobodan Mitrovic

Monday, April 28th 2014 22:47
Bravo Johanna & Sasa!!!
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