Warming Huts 2014

Feb 11, 2014

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Every Winter, Winnipeg’s Red and Assiniboine Rivers freeze over, transforming them into the Red River Mutual Trail – the longest naturally frozen skating trail in the world¹. Of course, in true Canadian fashion, locals have found more than one way to put this stretch of ice to good use. Events like ice bike races, curling bonspiels, Winter Bike to Work Day and RAW:almond all celebrate and capitalize on the city’s cold northern climate.


But, perhaps, the coolest event to take place on the river trail is Warming Huts: An Art + Architecture competition on ice. The international competition was first held in 2010, and has since become an annual tradition. Each year, the Manitoba Association of Architects invites architects from all over the world to submit a Warming Hut design proposal. Winning designers travel to Winnipeg to construct their Warming Huts right on the ice, and visitors of the trail are encouraged to use and interact with them.


We recently visited the trail to check out a few of this year’s designs. It was bitterly cold that day, so we really got a taste for their warming effect. Here’s a few of the Warming Huts that caught our attention, along with short interviews introducing you to the designers behind them!



Red Blanket 


Winnipeg-Warming-Huts-Red-BlanketRed Blanket, Workshop Architecture Inc. (Toronto)






Workshop Architecture (workshoparchitecture.ca) was established in 2010 out of a desire to create buildings and spaces for communities and with community input. “We work collaboratively with our clients and the people who use the buildings and have a particular focus on education spaces,” says Helena Grdadolnik, BES, M.Arch of Workshop Architecture.



EQ3  What’s the concept behind Red Blanket?


Helena Grdadolnik  The idea for Red Blanket was to make something that is visually exciting to skate towards from a distance (a visual marker against the surrounding white winter palette), but that would also be warm and inviting when you arrived close to it. The wall of thick felt sways in the wind and will protect skaters from the gales. Each of the nine panels is sized to be the width and length of a single roll of bright red felted wool. The bottom ends of these monumental-scaled panels will act as a warm blanket for people to wrap themselves in, one or two at a time.



EQ3  What challenges did you encounter in designing a structure that works in Manitoba’s harsh climate conditions?


HG  We enlisted the help of a Winnipeg-based engineer, Roy McPhail, to ensure that the design of the structure would work in the climate, particularly the high winds. Another big challenge was to try to simplify the sequence of the outdoor construction. We designed the piece so that most of the finicky handwork for hanging the blankets could be completed indoors. Nonetheless, hanging the panels from the underside of the bridge was still a big feat, especially in the extreme cold and high winds we encountered that week. Our office worked with the building crew at the Forks Corporation, Dave and Colin, who were very skilled and amazing at working under Winnipeg winter conditions.



EQ3  How do you envision people using and interacting with your design?


HG Our warming hut is hung from a pedestrian bridge near the Forks market. People skating and walking the trail can use the red blankets as a visual marker against the surrounding white winter palette for miles in each direction. When people get closer, they can skate through the blankets and cocoon themselves in it from head to toe. There are two rows of blankets, so they create an outdoor “room” which will be a slightly warmer microclimate and an intimate space along the trail. People can snuggle up in the blankets one or two at a time or if it’s a larger group, they can pull the large blankets closer for warmth.





Winnipeg-Warming-Huts-Nuzzles-1Nuzzels, Raw Design Inc. (Toronto)






RAW Design Inc. (rawdesign.ca) is a young architectural office based in Toronto. “We work in a variety of building types and scales, but like to participate in competitions like this one to challenge ourselves to think outside the box and experiment with new materials, scales, and types of structures than we normally encounter day-to-day,” says Aaron Hendershott of RAW Design.



EQ3  What’s the concept behind Nuzzles?


Aaron Hendershott  The concept behind Nuzzles emerged from wanting to invert the prototypical hut. Moving away from the idea of an introverted enclosure, Nuzzles was designed for users to nestle into a structure encompassed by a multitude of insulated appendages, all while remaining connected to the outside and its elements.



EQ3  It’s sort of cheeky and ironic that Nuzzles – a structure intended to be used during the winter – is constructed with pool noodles. What inspired this playful approach?


AH  It’s funny, there doesn’t appear to be anything more out of season than a pool noodle in the dead of winter. But they also happen to be perfect for what we wanted to achieve: they have insulating properties, come in bright colours that stand out in the snow, and they are flexible and soft. Perfect for nuzzling!



EQ3  How do you envision people using and interacting with your design?


AH  Our goal was to provide an engaging experience by creating something playful and interactive for the visitors of the Forks. We hope that people of all ages will be delighted to play in and around them, climb them and jump into them. I’m sure people will find new ways to play with them that we hadn’t thought of.



Little Red Library



Little Red Library, David Penner Architect (Winnipeg)






David Penner Architect (www.davidpennerarchitect.ca) is a 4 person architectural office that works on custom residential, multi-unit residential, commercial, educational and cultural projects. “Of late, our work has explored areas of transparency, opaqueness and layering, social engagement and education, and minimalist constructions,” says David Penner, MAA, RAIC. of David Penner Architect.


Little Red Library is David Penner Architect’s second Warming Hut design. They did a ‘rogue’ hut called Corogami in the first year of competition, which received a lot of international attention and went on to win a Prairie Design Award of Excellence. This year’s design was not part of the competition, but rather it acts as a peripheral installation to the other Warming Huts.



EQ3  What’s the concept behind Little Red Library?


David Penner  We were searching for something iconic on the one hand, which is challenging with a budget of $1000. The concept was to develop a simple but powerful enclosure to house a conventional, semi-nostalgic and easily identifiable bookcase. We were very excited by the prospect of creating a miniature interior environment of the fantastical, of the surreal. We’re pretty happy with the results.



EQ3  Your design combines, what appear to be, two very distinct structures (ie. the ice fishing shack and the little free library). How did you make this connection?


DP  The traditional ice fishing shack can in fact be a reading room, the fisherman skimming outdoorsman magazines while waiting for that elusive tug on the line. I think it was only natural for us to consider the ice fishing shack when we first started thinking about a ‘hut’, reinforced by experiences we had on a frozen Lake Winnipeg. Upon reflection, the refinement of the shack into an archetypal model, an expression of the purist form of our design philosophies, was an opportunity we couldn’t resist.



EQ3  How do you envision people using and interacting with your design?


DP  We’re hoping that one’s movement from outside to inside will be like travelling to another place, like what happens when reading the descriptions of place in a good book. We hope it will encourage people to read.



Thanks to all of the designers we interviewed! Visit WarmingHuts.com to see all of this year’s Warming Hut designs. You can also check out photo galleries from previous competitions here.

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