Reimagining Winnipeg: What these fearless architects can teach the rest of Canada

By Alex Bozikovic
June 13 2014, The Globe and Mail

It was Saturday night, and 1,200 people were dressed in white and sitting down to dinner on the Esplanade Riel above the Red River, where 150 tables showcased food from the city’s top chefs. The people behind the event, a group of architects who call themselves 5468796, were there, too – each hosting a table, and drinking in the atmosphere of a city that’s come alive in recent years. Johanna Hurme, a partner in 5468796, was sporting big purple sunglasses and mingling with out-of-town architects. “It really was a success,” she says. “It felt like the true spirit of Winnipeg came out.”

Many Canadians, even some Winnipeggers, might be surprised at that cultured confidence. But 5468796 is leading a new generation of local architects to invent a new city, and perhaps a new Canada, that gives innovative architecture a seat at the table. Manitoba’s capital city, after decades of stasis, is seeing an architectural rebirth, and 5468796 is at the centre of it. The firm is just seven years old, and its three partners relatively young: the Finnish-born Hurme is 38; the Bosnian-born Sasa Radulovic, 41; and Colin Neufeld, 38.

Yet they’ve managed to realize a remarkable set of projects. Among them are a condo building with units that fit together like a 3-D puzzle.

As well, there’s been a renovation that added sleek steel balconies to a historic facade on Portage Avenue, and a bandshell with walls made from 20,000 pieces of aluminum chain mail. They’ve won Canadian and international architecture awards, consistent attention from design blogs, and a partnership with a New York think tank.

And they’ve done so while smashing preconceptions about what is possible for their city and their profession. “I think we’re a bit naive,” says Radulovic, “and we work not to let go of that. If the answer is ‘No,’ we ask, ‘Why not?’” Read more…

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