ARCHITECT 5468796 Architecture Inc.
LOCATION Winnipeg, Manitoba

youCUBE is a housing development that explores the potential for density and affordability on a narrow 264′ X 63′ urban lot. Located on the north end of a street being redefined by high-priced waterfront condominiums, the project occupies a seemingly unremarkable site with limited visibility of the river and neglected industrial surroundings.

The project’s name derives from the concept that, despite the visual uniformity of the dwellings, each has an individual personality defined by its inhabitants. With 18 vertical units arranged to capture views beyond the site’s immediate context, along with expansive public space for residents, youCUBE becomes an anchor point for a transitional area where the converging conditions of history, industry and small-scale housing have an uncertain future. As the project emerges, it has the potential to act as a catalyst for future growth, encouraging expansion of housing and the existing park system along the full length of the street.

youCUBE consists of two-, three- and four-storey townhouses clustered together along an elevated community plaza, with resident parking and a new driveway for vehicular access sheltered below. All units are accessed off the plaza, which, at six feet above grade, suggests privacy and security without disengaging from the streetscape. The plaza raises occupants above their industrial surroundings, capturing formerly inaccessible views and carving a permanent, communal space into a transitory setting.

The units vary in size and orientation to fully engage with the site and views beyond, culminating in a series of rooftop patios with panoramic views of the city skyline. The condominiums’ vertical design leaves more room for permeable public space, eliminating the hard edge between building and landscape that typifies most block housing design. At grade, the earth is peeled back to further soften this boundary, exposing a concrete base with entrances to commercial spaces that offer live-work opportunities for residents. Green pockets between the units provide an additional level of comfort and privacy, reconnecting the site with the Stephen Juba Park corridor.

youCUBE’s design methodology reflects the client’s experience with conventional house-building, as well as his desire for units that are accessible to a broad demographic; currently, other developments on the street are unaffordable for most individuals. As such, each cube is manageable and modular, with a standardized size of 18′ X 20′ or 18′ X 28′ . Similar to a house, the basement level is cast-in-place concrete, while the upper levels are traditional wood-frame construction. Variety is introduced through four different unit types–two for each size of cube–that place living spaces on the upper floors to maximize views to the city skyline and the waterfront.

Each unit is an open living cube defined by an architectural “wrap”–an element that delineates floors, mezzanines, and storage units as it weaves through the space. The wrap reacts to and engages with the cube’s vertical confines by folding back onto itself, or travelling upward to form window openings. Touching only two walls at a time, the open edges of the wrap create dramatic overlooks to the spaces below. Ceiling heights soar up to 36 feet, filtering daylight from the top level all the way down to the ground floor. The wrap becomes the mediator between the simplicity of the building’s shell and the complexity of living that occurs within.

GH: I love the playful nature of this townhouse project. It works 100% for Winnipeg and is a very cutting-edge development in its context. It would also work well in Los Angeles, with its clever integration of surface parking below an elevated commons. I want someone to build me one in Vancouver.

PR: It has a refreshingly simple character. I love the simple dumbness of the stucco and wood boxes, and the lack of any elaborate articulation. It would benefit from further design development, especially of the common spaces and circulation. The design to date seems a bit constrained by its own concept of “youCUBE.”

Client Mark Penner, Green Seed Development Corp.
Architect Team Sharon Ackerman, Mandy Aldcorn, Ken Borton, Michelle Heath, Aynslee Hurdal, Johanna Hurme, Cristina Ionescu, Grant Labossiere, Colin Neufeld, Tu Ngoc Phan, Sasa Radulovic, Shannon Wiebe
Structural Hanuschak Consultants
Mechanical G.D. Stasynec & Associates
Electrical Woods Engineering
Civil MEC Consulting
Contractor Denver Kroeker, Artisan Homes
Area 15,000 ft2
Budget $4 M
Completion 2010