So as to not appear overly cranky, I’ve always been somewhat reserved in my criticism of the yearly warming huts design competition run by The Forks, and the resultant structures that have adorned the Red and Assiniboiine rivers for the past several winters.
In theory, the competition is a great idea. It’s a kick in the pants to the design community to be creative about Winnipeg in the winter, about the cold, about ice, about the rivers. This is a winter city, after all; people do want to experience the ice, and to see the city from the unique vantage point that the river trails offer. But it can be bloody cold. The marriage of good urban design and this real-world problem seems like a match made in heaven.
But every year the winners of the competition are chosen, and every year they disappoint. Design after design overlooks the key challenge.
To keep us warm.
I understand that the budgets on these structures is limited, and given that they are temporary, design flexibility is also limited. But still, i have to scratch my head when winning entries have no capacity whatsoever to warm people.
Frank Gehry’s design from a couple of years ago achieved the pinnacle of badness for the competition. Not only did it not keep us warm, but its primary building material—ice blocks—had all but melted a few days after completion into a soupy mess. Not exactly The Guggenheim.
It’s not all bad. Many of the works are admittedly great pieces of sculptural art. And the competition does gets people out of their warm living rooms and on to the ice. On a milder weekend the ice trails become quite the scene. It’s thrilling to me to see people in this winter city enjoying the winter instead of complaining about it.
But only if they had somewhere to warm up.