The towering elm trees and gentle meadows of Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park have for generations formed an inspiring backdrop to the city’s collective memory. The Qualico Family Centre connects to the temporality of this landscape, evolving, growing and decaying in harmony with the natural rhythms of its surroundings.
As time passes, materials that age and weather allow the architecture to mature, growing into and out of its site. The zinc fascia will patina to a soft grey over time. A permanent record of local weather patterns will be imprinted distinctly on facades clad with weathering steel. Wood soffits constructed of diseased American elm trees salvaged from across the city will elegantly grey and weather. A full vegetated roof, planted with local grasses will grow to become a raised piece of the forest floor.
The structure’s temporal connection to its site is reinforced by shadows of leaf filtered light animating its irregular facades, directed by the rhythms of the sun and moon. As the seasons pass, the reflected colours of the forest transform the building’s external expression and redefine the experience of interior space. The angular forms channel harsh winter winds in unique ways, shaping snow into extensions of the structure itself. Warm summer raindrops chase each other slowly down the face of sloping glass walls.
Set into a ridge running along a woodland edge, the Family Centre first appears from across a shallow pond. Enveloped by the forest, an angular roofline mimics the dynamic silhouette of the tree canopy set against a prairie blue sky. A new focal point and gathering place for visitors, the multi-use pavilion offers the modern amenities that have long been absent in the century old park.
Like a snowdrift or an outcropping of rock, the building reveals itself in diverse ways, every vantage point offering a varied and unique expression of its form. Planned as three great arms reaching in and grasping the forest, every tree was carefully located and the building’s shape positioned to maximize the use of natural clearings, minimizing the number of trees lost to construction. Those that were lost were salvaged to become hardwood flooring on the interior. The building’s psychological heart sits at the apex of the composition, a two sided fireplace made of local limestone. Internal volumes are defined by a fractured roof geometry of heavy timber. Transparent glass walls, blur the distinction between inside and out, allowing the trees to define the boundaries of each internal space as if the rooms were carved from the forest itself.
The architecture of the Qualico Family Centre is intended to encourage a spirit of discovery through its form. The sights, sounds and smells of Assiniboine Park permeate through every room, reinforcing the visitor’s relationship to place, responding to the dichotomy of celebrating the natural environment while injecting an unnatural object into it.Location: Winnipeg, Canada Architect: Number TEN Architectural Group Engineering Consultants: Crosier Kilgour & Partners, MCW/AGE Engineers Landscape Architecture: Scatliff+Miller+Murray Year: 2011 Area: 1000 sq.m. Photography: Brent Bellamy