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Manitoba Modernist Architecture 1945-1975 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery


September 3, 2006
by Canadian Architect

What do the Winnipeg Clinic, City Hall, and Rae & Jerry’s Steak House have in common? They are prime examples of Canadian Modernist architecture. So are the Centennial Concert Hall, the Bridge Drive-In, and even The Winnipeg Art Gallery itself, the site of this exhibition which runs until October 29, 2006. The public opening and book launch takes place at 7:30pm on Thursday, September 14.

Although most Winnipeggers are familiar with the Exchange District, now a National Historic Site, very few are aware of our city’s other period buildings.

“Modernism is now defined as a historical period,” says co-guest curator Serena Keshavjee. “It is important to realize Modernism represents a crucial portion of Winnipeg’s architectural heritage. Winnipeg is a crucible of Canadian Modernist architecture. The Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba graduated some of the most important representatives of Canadian Modernism. Many of these graduates remained in Winnipeg, producing one of the richest stocks of Modernist architecture in Canada. Winnipeg maintains more high quality Modernist buildings than any other Canadian city outside of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.”

International Modernist architecture refers to certain styles of 20th-century architecture characterized by flat roofs, smooth facades, cubic shapes, and open, flowing floor plans—the complete antithesis of traditional historic ornamentation. Design and construction techniques were also new: for example, the use of steel as the structural skeleton of the building, concrete floors, and a wide expanse of glass for the faade.

Many of Winnipeg’s Modernist buildings are in the International Style, directly influenced by Mies van der Rohe, founder of the Bauhaus style of architecture. However, several local architects deviated from these strict geometric characteristics, introducing regional and organic design elements. Examples of this new style are Precious Blood Church and St. John Brebeuf Church.

Through interior design, drawings, photographs, and city plans, this rich and exuberant period in Manitoba’s architectural history is brought to life in this exhibition. Lifestyle dioramas, recreating a portion of a building’s interior, will incorporate period furniture, clothing, advertising, and other products reflecting issues and trends of the day. Emphasis is on documenting the vitality and “life fullness” of these extraordinary buildings, showing how they have served the Manitoba community faithfully for many years, forming a backdrop to Winnipeg’s dramatic post-war economic expansion.

The accompanying publication presents the new historical scholarship invested in this exhibition. Published by the University of Manitoba Press, it includes essays by eight Canadian scholars as well as biographies of the major architects.

This exhibition has been guest curated by Dr. Serena Keshavjee, Art History Program, Department of History, University of Winnipeg, and Professor Herbert Enns, Faculty of Architecture, and Director, New Media Program, University of Manitoba.

The exhibition is sponsored by Stantec Architecture/GBR Architects; Smith Carter Architects and Engineers Incorporated; Number TEN Architectural Group; LM Architectural Group; MMP Architects Inc.; EQ3; KGS Group; Faculty of Architecture, University of Manitoba; Manitoba Hydro; Al Wiesman; Gerald A. Libling; Mel P. Michener. Supported by the Canada Council for the Arts Promotion of Architecture Program. Media sponsor: Winnipeg Free Press.

A Modernist Home Tour will take place on Sunday, September 10, offering the opportunity to explore and discover more about Winnipeg’s unique post-war homes that demonstrate the direct influence of international architects Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer on Winnipeg architects.

At the public opening on Thursday, September 14 at 7:00pm, meet guest curators Dr. Serena Keshavjee and Professor Herbert Enns. Special musical guests are Dan Donahue and Friends, featuring folk and pop music of the ’60s.

An outdoor walking tour (weather permitting) will take place on Wednesday, September 20 at 12:10pm.Exhibition co-curator Serena Keshavjee takes us on a walk around the WAG, discussing the merits of Modernism with examples drawn from out immediate neighborhood.

A panel discussion on Architects on Architecture will take place on Thursday, September 21 at 7:00pm.Modernist architecture is often criticized for its sterility, its “institutional” anonymity, and its lack of ornament. A panel of local architects speaks informally about the Modernist landscape in Winnipeg, sheding light on this misunderstood movement. Audience Q and A will follow.

On Wednesday, September 27 at 12:10pm, an exhibition tour will allow you to take a closer look at Manitoba Modernist ephemera, photography, drawings, interior design, and city plans with exhibiton co-curator Herbert Enns.

Another exhibition tour happens on Thursday, October 12 at 7:00pm, and guest curators Serena Keshavjee and Herbert Enns begin with a basic primer on the fundamentals of Modernism, followed by an exhibiton tour.

Finally on Thursday, October 19, Winnipeg Video Artists on Architecture allows local artists to introduce their works, with an opportunity for questions and answers following the screening. All works belong to the collection of Video Pool, and the program is curated by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan.

For more information, please visit www.wag.mb.ca.



Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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