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Brent Bellamy of the firm Number Ten embodies the city's new-found confidence. Blond, with a rugby player's build, he picks me up in his silver Porsche convertible, white loafer working the accelerator as we drive to Assiniboine Park to see its recent transformation from chain-linked duck pond. His low-slung Qualico Family Centre has a slanted roof, all covered in prairie grasses, with an elm striving to reach through a circular hole. Integrated into the forest, the building houses a café that looks out over the pond and a playroom that puts kids at eye level with the forest floor. "They recently saw a deer from that angle and were rapt," Bellamy says. On chilly days, one side of a big fireplace warms the inside while heating a little patio outside. The modern style is a radical departure from the half-timbered neo-Victorian look of many other buildings in the park – a new design idiom for a new day. "The fundraising was so successful, people kept saying, 'Do more with the building!' How often does that happen?" he asks.

5468796's warming hut5468796’s entry in Winnipeg’s 2012 warming hut competition

Provencher Bridge is a spiny white structure connecting downtown with the thriving francophone ward of St. Boniface, from where the bridge's high-profile architect Étienne Gaboury hails. It has become such a widely photographed symbol of design-forward Winnipeg that it's easy to forget it was controversial when it first went up a decade ago. It's here that I meet Peter Hargraves, an eco-oriented architect who sees the landscape with fresh eyes. He gestures over the water to get me to imagine when the surface becomes the world's longest skating rink, the site of his eureka moment. "I thought we should have places to go into along the path, to warm up a bit and to tighten up our skates. And the architect in me thought, Why not make these structures interesting?" In the winter of 2010, five warming huts went up, including Hargraves' own solar-heated, off-kilter Gothic arch. "Each year, we invite a world-renowned architect to participate. In the first year, Antoine Predock signed on, and in 2011, Canada's Patkau Architects came onboard. When Frank Gehry's office in Los Angeles accepted our invitation last year, we knew we'd hit a nerve," Hargraves says. The results have included a shocking pink hut; another shaped like an egg made of ice that the sun eventually melted; and one from Tel Aviv with walls of logs piled in a wire frame, which could be pulled out to feed a firepit.

The Avenue on Portage building by the firm 5468796The Avenue on Portage building puts it best face forward, thanks to a makeover by the firm 5468796.

That evening, I meet Hargraves and a group of architects for mussels and sweet potatoes at 7 1/4 in Osborne Village, the inner suburb where many of them live. They compare notes and gossip about which local and international firms have tendered submissions to design an addition for Inuit art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which, to my mind, is the nicest small gallery in Canada. (Michael Maltzan Architecture from Los Angeles and local firm Cibinel Architects won the commission.) A couple – he from São Paulo, she from Winnipeg – teach at the University of Manitoba's perennially strong architecture program; they talk about having just finished an interesting parking garage, the York Parkade, downtown. There's a real esprit de corps among the city's design crowd, reflected in their monthly practice of putting early designs before each other and seeking feedback, even from practitioners at competing firms.

Before leaving town, I join Paul Jordan, the chief operating officer at the Forks Market, an old stable converted into a covered market, in the lineup for Yudyta's superb perogies. ("When people ask for the recipe," Yudyta says, grating some potatoes with a shrug, "I give it to them since the main thing in them is hard work, and very few people are willing to do it.") Jordan is enthusiastic as he discusses the city's architectural renaissance. "It used to be if you wanted to see great Winnipeg architecture, you had to go to Vancouver, Calgary or Toronto because that's where our architects would go once they finished their training," he says. "Well, not anymore. There's enough gravity here to keep creative types in the city."

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Travel Essentials

The grand Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Conference Centre is centrally located for a day of downtown archi-touring. In the morning, toqued chefs cook breakfast in the Broadway Room; come evening, a pianist plays jazz in the oval Palm Lounge.

The archi-tourist will want to survey Antoine Predock's rising Canadian Museum for Human Rights in advance of its 2014 opening.

The striking, recently completed Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art exhibits the best – and quirkiest – working local, national and international artists.

Join the design crowd on their breaks at Parlour Coffee.

Get up close with Étienne Gaboury's sculptural buildings on a tour that also takes in his 10-year-old and already iconic Provencher Bridge. (204-254-3170)

Deer + Almond

Don't miss the rumpled, wild-haired diners at Deer + Almond; they look like figures from a Marcel Dzama drawing come to life.

Or eat mussels and sweet potato fries in Boho Osborne Village at Bistro 7 1/4.



Getting There

Air Canada and Air Canada Express operate non-stop service to Winnipeg from a host of Canadian cities.

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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