Michael Acht wins the Prix de Rome in Architecture for Emerging Practitioners

University of Manitoba architecture graduate Michael Acht will have the opportunity to research the architecture of Portugal, Switzerland and Germany as the winner of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Prix de Rome in Architecture for Emerging Practitioners.

The $34,000 Prix de Rome in Architecture for Emerging Practitioners is awarded to a recent graduate of one of Canada’s ten accredited schools of architecture, who demonstrates exceptional potential. The prizewinner is given the opportunity to visit remarkable buildings across the world and to intern in an architecture firm of international stature.

Over the next year, Acht will investigate the perception of materials as it relates to understanding and making architecture. His focus will be on the practice of architecture that insists on continuous experimentation and exploration. He will research the origin, the influences, the ways of working and the intentions of the practitioners Alvaro Siza from Portugal, Peter Zumthor from Switzerland and Gunter Behnisch from Germany. The research will first compare one very seminal project with a mature work of each architect, observe their methods first hand, as well as examine the sources of their material and construction sensibilities. As he points out in his application for the prize, he is looking for the means to “make architecture that is discrete, calm, unobtrusive and well crafted.”

He will do an internship in the office of emerging German architect Regina Schineis. Her firm’s philosophy and practice reflects an interest in material and perception, and she will ask Acht to work on the detailing and construction of an ongoing building project. Upon his return to Canada, Acht plans to share his findings and analysis through a series of lectures.

Acht was selected by an assessment committee consisting of Michael Heeney, Executive Director of Bing Thom Architects in Vancouver; Victoria Baster, architecture curator and art historian from the University of Lethbridge, Alberta; Jack Diamond, founding member of Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. in Toronto; Elsa Lam, architecture critic and doctoral candidate at Columbia University in New York; and Jon Tupper, director of the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Charlottetown, PEI.

The jury found his student work to be nicely grounded, well-tempered and effective. They valued his experience in object fabrication and his interest in gaining first-hand exposure to buildings and construction detailing. As University of Manitoba Architecture department head Nat Chard wrote in his recommendation letter: “The theme of this proposal a striving for an exceptional architecture through modest means is a recurrent one and worthy of support.”

Michael Acht received his Master of Architecture degree (2004) and his Bachelor of Environmental Design (2001) from the University of Manitoba. He also completed a Master Foreign Studio at the Technische Universitt Berlin in Germany (2001).

His entire undergraduate and graduate schooling were supported fully by his employment, working in a factory that manufactures metal fireplaces. He started as a labourer and advanced to programming CNC (computer numerical control) machines and design. This experience led to Acht’s final thesis project that looked at rethinking the factory with an emphasis on humanizing the worker’s environment.

Since September 2004, Acht has been working in the Winnipeg firm, DIN Projects. DIN is a small critical practice that focuses primarily on residential, but also cultural, social service, and institutional work. Among the projects that he has worked on are a work facility for mentally challenged adults (Versatech Industries), and the transformation of an old meat shop into a permanent centre for MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art, a national not-for-profit artist’s collective). He also worked on two projects for artists including an underground building for experiencing the work of video artist Alex Poruchnyk.

In addition, Acht has entered a number of architecture competitions, designed and built many furniture prototypes and carried out a variety of material investigations. His Intshe Unit was presented in Toronto in 2003; installations LOT-EK and Perfect Scenes were shown in Winnipeg in 2003 and 2002 respectively. Acht lives in Winnipeg.