Arthur Erickson Memorial Award 2011: 5468796 Architecture
A Winnipeg collective finds innovation in scarcity.
Winnipeg’s Central Park neighbourhood holds many of Manitoba’s most poverty-stricken immigrants, and the architecture is that mishmash of styles that signifies a community where bare functionality is about as much as anyone can hope for. But within the hodgepodge, there’s a new, stark-white multi-unit dwelling, defiant of its surroundings. It’s called Centre Village, and it’s the product of 5468796 Architecture, the design collaborative that is this year’s recipient of the Arthur Erickson Memorial Award.
It’s impossible to know what Erickson himself would have made of the project. Its multi-windowed style is more reminiscent of Alvar Aalto; the budget ($2.5 million for 25 units) would have been totally unsuited to his quest for perfection; and, while he was a legendary teacher, he wasn’t a collective type. But we like to think he’d tip his hat to 5468796’s belief, in designing a structure to house the Prairie’s poorest folk, that architecture can change people’s lives. Judge James Cheng puts it best when he says. “Their styles are different, but their souls—finding new ways of doing things—are the same.”
Centre Village is not a one-off project; it’s emblematic of an idealistic ethos that permeates the group. On a typical project, the team of 13 sits around the office’s single giant table and seeks to understand what the project is really about. Lest anyone think that all this talk of collectives and social utility produces a doctrinaire approach to building, rest assured they’re just as comfortable designing a lake cottage as they are a community centre. Just don’t expect your average cabin. The Webster Cottage, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, is a case in point. A family of four wanted something modest, but functional for all four seasons. The result is a flowing blend of habitable space that expands via screened-in porches and covered decks in the warmer months, and retreats back into its core when the snow flies. All in only 1,200 square feet. 5468796’s recent selection (with the U of M’s Jae-Sung Chon) as Canada’s representatives at the 2012 Venice Biennale in Architecture is likely to bring this quirky group a whole new level of exposure and, probably, some deep-pocketed clients—a concept heretofore foreign to founding partner Johanna Hume: “I don’t know what we’d do with a generous budget,” she chuckles. She’s about to find out.