'Like a circus clown on steroids': Warming huts taking shape on Winnipeg's river trail

If you're walking, skating or running along Winnipeg's frozen rivers, you'll soon be able to warm up inside hollow snowman-shaped huts, a box that seems to hover above the ice and an H.R. Pufnstuf-inspired shelter.

Step inside hollow snowmen, a floating box and the funhouse of your dreams (or nightmares)

Chris Pancoe stands with Huttie, his psychedelic funhouse warming hut. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

If you're walking, skating or running along Winnipeg's frozen rivers, you'll soon be able to warm up inside hollow snowman-shaped huts, a box that seems to hover above the ice and an H.R. Pufnstuf-inspired shelter.

The architectural teams behind the winners of this year's warming huts competition were at The Forks to work on their creations Thursday and Friday. The huts will make their way to the icy river trail by early next week.

This is the 10th year for the creative design competition, which sees designers from around the world craft unique warming shacks to populate the Red River Mutual Trail in Winnipeg.

This year's three winners will join some of the previously built warming huts on the trail, which is now open on the Assiniboine River from the Hugo Docks to The Forks, and along the Red River from The Forks to the St. Vital Bridge.

The three winning warming hut submissions — Weathermen, Hoverbox and Huttie — beat out hundreds of other potential projects, and were selected by a blind jury of artists and architects that met in October. 

Haemee Han and Jaeyual Lee stand inside one of the huts that's part of Weathermen, a series of interactive sculptures at The Forks. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Weathermen is a series of interactive sculptures designed by Jersey City architecture studio Jaemee — a portmanteau of the names of designers Jaeyual Lee and  Haemee Han.

The installation is comprised of hollow snowman-shaped huts of various sizes scattered throughout The Forks, the largest of which are large enough to fit a few people standing up.

"Our inspiration was a familiar object in winter scenery," Lee said at The Forks Friday. "We thought snowmen were very typical, and we wanted something that's contrasting to the serene scenery of the Red River."

Weathermen, from New Jersey architecture studio Jaemee, is one of this year's winning warming hut selections. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The colourful snowmen huts pop out on the white background of the river, drawing attention to their smooth and unique shape and warm hues.

Hoverbox is a winning submission from Berlin-based firm NAICE Architecture.

The project was originally conceived as a hovering cloud, but the team found that a box would be simpler to execute.

Those aren't human legs sticking out of NAICE's Hoverbox — those are the warming hut's supports. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Steel columns secured in the ice to support the box are obscured by human clothes — making the supports look from the outside like the legs and feet of people inside a floating box.

"From the outside, people passing by have no clue what's happening inside," Wilko Hoffmann, co-founder of NAICE Architecture, said Friday. "It looks like six people are carrying a huge box."

Inside the box is a labyrinth to explore, with sitting areas where people can rest with what Hoffmann calls his "fake visitors."

NAICE Architecture co-founder Wilko Hoffmann and junior architect Frieder Vogler pose in front of Hoverbox. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The third winner, Huttie, looks less like a warming hut and more like something out of your dreams — or perhaps nightmares.

"It looks like a circus clown on steroids that's having a bad day," said Winnipeg's Chris Pancoe.

He and Jennie O'Keefe were behind the funhouse-themed submission, and Huttie's selection marks only the second time a Winnipeg-based team has won a spot in the warming huts competition.

The duo took inspiration from the retro cult children's show H.R. Pufnstuf. Enter its mouth past glaring white teeth, and you'll find a waggling tongue to sit upon.

Jennie O’Keefe and Chris Pancoe's design for Huttie. (

"The inspiration for it is the vintage funhouse that you would have seen at the Red River Ex," says Pancoe. "It's interactive and anthropomorphic."

The hut is hard to miss on the Red River Mutual Trail, with its colourful design and lights powered by a hand crank that you can turn while Huttie "licks" you.

The three selections are accompanied by a piece from the Winnipeg Art Gallery to celebrate the 2020 opening of the Inuit Art Centre, which is slated to be the largest exhibit of Indigenous art in Canada.

Named Arctic Topiaries, the warming huts are made completely of sculpted snow. They were designed by Los Angeles firm Michael Maltzan Architecture — the same firm that developed the WAG's Inuit wing.

Tim Williams is the managing principal at Michael Maltzan Architecture. He stands in front of the Arctic Topiaries. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The huts draw inspiration from the surrounding landscape of the Red River, and from trips taken to the Arctic when the Inuit Art Centre was being developed.

"What we really wanted to do was take some of the inspirations from the North and marry it with some inspirations from the south," said Michael Maltzan Architecture's Tim Williams.

The development of the huts was a collaborative process. They're currently being crafted by a Winnipeg-based snow sculptor, Jakobi Heinrichs.

According to Forks CEO Paul Jordan, the huts will, as usual, stay up as long as the ice underneath them is solid.


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