Antoine Predock and the aftermath of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights competition

Months of rumours over the winner of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights design competition are over. On April 15, The Asper Foundation officially announced that New Mexico-based Antoine Predock won the competition for the ambitious public- private initiative begun by the late Izzy Asper in 2002 to build a major national cultural institution in Winnipeg. Located on the site of Winnipeg’s The Forks (see CA, Mar. 2004), the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be a national and international destination where visitors can experience and engage in dialogue about human rights worldwide. In addition to the $30 million from the federal government, the Museum has received a $20-million commitment from the Province of Manitoba and a $20-million commitment from the City of Winnipeg. The Museum has received nearly $40 million from individual, corporate and labour organization donors. The total cost of the project is estimated at $243 million, with construction costs estimated at $126 million. The museum project was initially supported by an agreement of sorts with the scandal-plagued former Chrtien government to provide the financial foundation for the project.

This international design competition included a hefty roster of 11 jurors comprising five architects and one landscape architect.1 For the second stage of the competition (which comprised 62 finalists), The Asper Foundation published a highly prescriptive and weighty three-volume series of architectural and programmatic guidelines to describe the requirements of the project. After selecting eight finalists and after further jury deliberation–all of which was recorded and none of which has yet been released–a decision was made to select Predock from a shortlist of three finalists which included two Montreal-based architect teams: Saucier + Perrotte architectes and Dan Hanganu with the Arcop Group (see p.5 for the other two finalists). According to the Architectural Review Committee, the winning design was seen as one that “exhibits the substantial presence of an iconic building.” The Asper Foundation was explicit in its desire for a tower. Those that deviated from this notion, or who attempted to reinterpret its meaning on a deeper architectural level were ultimately eliminated.

The Asper Foundation made a significant error in judgment by waiting several months before announcing the winner. International architectural competitions contribute to the image of architecture within a given country. For months, rumours had spread across the architectural community that Predock “had won.” Why did The Asper Foundation fail to announce the winner sooner? The lack of commitment by the Martin government to provide $30 million for the project was the fundamental reason. “They didn’t do the right thing by waiting for so long,” notes Hanganu. “Future international competitors will have to ask themselves if Canada is a worthwhile market to engage in design competitions.”

Certainly, both Dan Hanganu and Gilles Saucier are disappointed, but neither feel bitter that a non-Canadian won, and both architects are fully committed to the spirit of international competitions. And despite the fact that each of the three finalists was given $100,000 to defray the costs incurred in entering the competition, much more money was poured into the design and research of all three of the finalists’ submissions and presentations. “Winning means that you are good enough to win. Not winning means that you have done the research,” philosophizes Saucier.

With respect to the final presentation by the team led by Dan Hanganu, jury member David Covo remarked that “Dan’s presentation was the kind of thing we should be showing students every year. Each of the presentations was very sophisticated, but while Predock presented panels, models and materials, both Hanganu’s scheme and [Saucier + Perrotte’s] scheme indicated that they had a thorough understanding of the project.”

Predock is understandably ecstatic. He will now move toward the finalization of contract details with Smith Carter Architects of Winnipeg, who will be the Architect of Record for the construction of the Museum. And while Predock has designed many buildings in his career, none have been completed in a climate like Winnipeg. Committed to the project, Predock describes his winning scheme as being “shrouded by the piece that I call the cloud,” and that the “roof is more like a faade.” In the final jury report published by The Asper Foundation, the Architectural Review Committee refers to Predock’s scheme by noting, “Once you enter this space you know you are in a different world.”

Commenting on the structure of the jury–the six designers and the five non-designers–jury member Raymond Moriyama remarked that the “word” people are quite different from the “visual” people. “Visual people are not so easily swayed by elegant words,” he adds. To that end, is it a good idea to have the “word” people work with the “visual” people in selecting a winner? “The visual people read what they need to read. You can easily manipulate people with words. It’s much harder to manipulate people through imagery,” says Moriyama.

And while Predock’s scheme conveys imagery that is more allegorical than architectural, all the jury members have the ethical responsibility to ensure that the competition is conducted in a thoroughly professional manner. “You don’t walk out of these arenas,” notes jury member David Covo, Director of the School of Architecture at McGill. Covo adds: “When you accept to participate, you also agree to a set of rules.”

One of the major issues that has been discussed by many is managing the greater goal of the competition: is the process of the competition meant to foster design excellence, or is it meant to secure publicity for the building? Until The Asper Foundation releases the entire jury deliberations, one final comment is worth noting: another jury member remarked to this magazine that the result of the competition “is an inspiration to non-architectural thinking.”

1 The jury included landscape architect Jane Durante and the following five architects: Max Bond, David Covo, Gustavo da Roza, Roisin Heneghan and Raymond Moriyama. The six “word” people included Gail Asper, Michael Bliss, Robert Fulford, Moe Levy and Victor Rabinovitch.