Building A Winter City

Learning to embrace the coldest season rather than avoid it.

Edmonton is a “winter-city,” yet we hibernate for most of it and don’t come out until the spring. MADE (Media, Art & Design Exposed! in Edmonton) hopes to change that through its new exhibition, Sheltered + Exposed. The exhibit offers a discussion on the duality of shelter from and exposure to winter conditions, while challenging architects and designers to build with winter in mind.

“There’s a tendency to isolate people from the outdoors [in the winter] – pedways would be an example of that – and you stay inside as long as possible,” says Shane Laptiste, lead curator for the exhibit. “There have been design ideas which have been imported from elsewhere and inserted into this environment [that] don’t respond well to this environment and don’t consider the winter environment, so people don’t use it.”

The exhibit showcases 21 projects – including installations, conceptual projects and public artworks – that illustrate how architecture and design can improve winter life. The works included in the exhibit were selected by a jury, which included Laptiste and Top 40 Under 40 alumna Nola Kilmartin, and were selected based off five criteria from the City of Edmonton’s Winter City Design Guidelines, which deal with lighting, colour, wind, sunshine and infrastructure. 

“The main idea is how can buildings allow people to better inhabit winter and how can they encourage people to go outside,” says Laptiste. “Every project we selected is a balance of those two – shelter and exposure.”

In addition, the exhibit demonstrates that strong winter design principles can make winter cities like Edmonton livable year-round. One such example is the Eau Claire Plaza in Calgary. Designed by Calgary-based architect Marc Boutin, the plaza is an example of how a public space can be transformed to a space with both winter and summer considerations.

“It’s a four-season public space that understands its urban environment,” says Laptiste, adding that the plaza has various design features that can provide shade in the summer and heat in the winter, as well as protect from the winter elements. 

Laptiste notes that not all of the works shown in the exhibit are entirely winter-focused. The Neon Light Museum on 104th street has been included as it provides an outdoor experience and light and colour to the dark winter days, he explains.  

 “When it’s minus 10 outside, it’s not that uncomfortable if you prepare for it,” Laptiste says. “It’s all about a shift in perspective and appreciation for how you live in winter and how people should and could experience winter. For the longest time, the default idea was that the way to confront winter is to isolate yourself from it and now people want to engage with it. I think people are seeing the drawbacks of being isolated from the environment and from each other.”

Sheltered + Exposed will be presented in conjunction with Vivre et concevoir avec la neige au Qubec, produced by Montreal’s Maison de l’architecture du Qubec (MAQ), running until April 1 at Latitude 53.

 This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.

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