Reinhabiting a Lost Landscape–Farming Fish

STUDENT John Duerksen, University of Manitoba

In an attempt to study architecture’s ability to merge rather than resist the living landscape, University of Manitoba architecture student John Duerksen set his sights on the Bergman Cutoff, an abandoned rotating bridge isolated on the Red River in the heart of Winnipeg. This bridge is replete with memories of an optimism to engage with the river. At one point, a single person within the central rotating point of the bridge determined the flow of both train traffic across the river and boat traffic along it. To access the site and experience the river, Duerksen rented a kayak with intentions to paddle to the central isolated point of the bridge. Through his experience, he recognized the volatility of the river at various points along his journey. These “knuckles”–or points where the liveliness of the landscape forces a physical reaction–represent a common dilemma between architecture and the Red River. Architecture asks to be positioned and static, and with the datum of the river constantly shifting, architecture–as most commonly seen–is not able to react.

Programmatically, Duerksen’s response was to propose a catfish farm. The channel catfish of the Red River is one of the largest species of catfish in the world, and the nutrient-rich waters of the Red River are ideal grounds for its existence.

The architectural proposition of this thesis revolves around the study of the river and its forces. Developing a physical analogue topography of the forces of river, he was able to develop an architecture that reacts to the various dimensions of the site. Seasonal changes and fluctuations determine the form and nature of the architecture as a constantly shifting environment, and provide unique opportunities for the public to access and experience the river.

WF A compelling feat of architectural modelling. This project has three-dimensionalized an exploratory design process for rehabilitating a found architectural artifact. The reinhabitation of abandoned structures is a theme of increasing relevance in the discussion of how to repurpose derelict components of the urban fabric in a sustainable and meaningful way. 

DN This was a beautifully considered, drawn and modelled building that grew from an idea developed while canoeing on the Red River. Using an existing structure like the bridge as the main frame for this commercial enterprise gives it strength. This is a labour of love that is meticulously explored and delightfully resolved. I would love to see a cluster of these on the river along with the restoration of a once-thriving industry kickstarted to a new life.

PS A disciplined critique of the imprint of urban architecture on the ecologies that it occupies, this inhabitation of the ever-active Red River in Winnipeg is a compelling and hypnotic journey into the fantastical construction of an otherwise modest notion of kinetic architectures. The intimacy and the level of authorship present in this project stands out for me in particular because much of the student work submitted was too broad in scale to fully imagine the worlds they had authored.