Fresh air, interesting buildings and a little bit of history.
University of Winnipeg associate professor Serena Keshavjee is leading a tour of downtown's Modernist buildings on the weekend. So SCENE asked her to tell us the story behind one of her favourites, the Winnipeg Art Gallery
Studio building at 280 Memorial Boulevard.
When Ferdinand Eckhardt, the director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, finally settled on the triangular-shaped lot on Memorial Boulevard in the late 1960s, he was unable to acquire the Mall Medical Building on the corner of the lot. Architect Gustavo da Roza creatively responded to this small building in his design for the new art gallery.
Da Roza was inspired by both the material of the Mall Medical Building and by the beautiful, sharp corner at the North end. That pointed Tyndall stone edge is repeated in the northern-most point of the Winnipeg Art Gallery building facing Portage, and is one of the defining and best-loved elements of the building.
The Mall Medical Building also plays an important role in the history of Modernism in Winnipeg. It is one of the oldest Modernist buildings in the city, and one of the earliest in Canada. It was designed by Green, Blankstein and Russell in 1947-48, one of the most import architectural firms in Winnipeg during that period.
Serena Keshavjee on the steps at the WAG. (Oliver Botar)
In 1948 the only other Modernist building in Winnipeg was The Winnipeg Clinic (1942-7) by the Lount brothers. Green, Blankstein and Russell clearly took this building into consideration when they designed the canopy which matches the tower of the Winnipeg Clinic.
So this story is partially about Winnipeg's Modernist architects connecting sites and responding to each other's achievements: The Lounts brought a highly visible Modernist building to the city, and Green, Blankstein and Russell used that building to inspire the next Modernist building in Winnipeg. 29 years later Gustavo da Roza looked at the both the Winnipeg Clinic and the Mall Medical Building to inform his late-modern contribution.
I think this gambit of referencing older, interesting building continues with the Buhler Centre (Collective of Peter Sampson Architecture Studio, David Penner Architect and Din Projects, 2010), which echoes the WAG in so many ways. Sadly the Studio Building may be demolished in the next few years as the WAG expands, leaving a void in this wonderful play of buildings.
Serena Keshavjee will lead the WAG's hour-long walking tour of the city's core on Sunday, October 14 at 2 p.m.