'Winterpeg': How are we adapting to our climate?

Article By:

Landscape Architect

I have lived in Winnipeg for most of life. It’s my home and my family’s home, and we take pride in its winters and lap up the sun in its summers. I love this city. However, it bugs me to hear people make negative comments about our weather—especially by people who don’t live here (Hi Rob Lowe!). I find negative epithets, like Winterpeg, to be especially cringe-worthy.  

While yes, I admit my eyebrows have frozen into tiny icicles, and frostbite has burned my ears, making them feel as if they might fall off, but I also think Winnipeg’s winters have made us stronger and heartier as people. It helps us appreciate the warm weather in spring and summer. I believe Winnipeg is a beautiful place to live all year long. How do we convey this to others who don’t have the chance to experience our climate year round and who read articles that proclaim how bloody cold it is here? 

There is more to Winnipeg than our cold winters

Five years ago, the Winnipeg made headlines for being a colder place than the planet Mars (not kidding). According to the CBC article, Winnipeg deep freeze as cold as an uninhabited planet, “Based on readings from the Curiosity Rover, it was reported that Mars reached a maximum temperature of -29C on Tuesday (December 31st, 2013), a temperature Winnipeg only reached shortly before 3 p.m.” Furthermore, on that day, the wind-chill made it feel like it was between minus 40 to minus 50 degrees Celsius—so I get it. It gets cold here, but to be fair, the article compared only daytime temperatures as the temperature on Mars drops dramatically in the evenings and overnight. So, wash? 

When factoring in wind-chill, Winnipeg’s winters are cold, but Winnipeg’s summer more than makes up for a few months of chilly weather. In fact, the city ranks second in the number of sunshine hours it receives a year out of all major Canadian cities. Winnipeg averages 2353 sunshine hours a year with an annual average of about 316 bright sunshine days. If you compare that with Toronto, which averages 2066 of sunshine hours a year and 305 annual bright sunshine days—it’s not too shabby here. 

Celebrating our climate through competitions, exhibits and innovative design

The people in Winnipeg’s design industry and arts community have embraced the nickname Winterpeg and celebrated the climate through design competitions like the Warming Huts supported by the Manitoba Association of Architects. The Warming Huts, which designers install along the frozen Red River in January and February, have become staples for skaters, locals and visitors to interact with and enjoy. Since its conception in 2009, the Warming Huts art and architecture competition has drawn international entries such as acclaimed artist Anish Kapoor, known for Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millenium Park, who submitted Stackhouse made from squares of ice in 2017. And architect Frank Gehry’s firm Gehry Partners that introduced Five-hole in 2012, which they designed as a deconstructed igloo, comprising of chiselled ice blocks. The Warming Huts competition has also caught the attention of the international architecture community and architourists alike, boosting Winnipeg’s design reputation worldwide. 

Equally, Storefront Manitoba holds its design competition Cool Gardens every spring where designers and artists submit a contemporary and avant-garde art installation that provides a cooling effect in the summertime for Winnipeggers. This year, Storefront Manitoba selected my colleague’s entry Shovel Garden as the 2018 competition winner. Their installation incorporated over 100 snow shovels painted white—an iconic nod to our winters—and are playfully arranged in front of St. Boniface’s former City Hall. I recommend checking it out.

What about our built infrastructure?

The way Winnipeg has adapted to extreme seasonal changes is not exclusive to art installations that celebrate our climate. We’ve also changed how we approach designing and developing our infrastructure. As a landscape design professional, I aim to create and imagine spaces and places that can adjust to our climate and its variable conditions. Simple adjustments, including using bright colours to lift people’s moods in colder and darker months or using lighting to feature buildings and outdoor spaces, can make a huge difference in how people experience the space. Furthermore, using resilient and innovative technologies and materials to retain heat in the wintertime and provide cooling spaces in the summertime can better protect us from extreme weather. 

I find Manitoba Hydro Place is a great example of designers and builders using the latest technology and innovation to address climate change in the infrastructure. Located in Downtown Winnipeg, the 22-story office tower is Manitoba Hydro’s head office and the first large office in Canada to receive LEED Platinum certification, which the building and design industry recognize as the mark of excellence for green and sustainable buildings.

According to iiSBE Canada, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, along with Architecture 49, and Prairie Architects, designed the Manitoba Hydro Place tower as “a unique climate responsive building that adapts to Winnipeg’s extreme weather conditions that range from -40C in the winter to +40C in the summer”. Furthermore, the building has a reportedly 75% reduction in energy use and is intended to have passive design features that include “south facing winter gardens, natural daylighting, solar chimney and geothermal heating and cooling, and a biodynamic façade” controlled by a computer system that is programmed to maximize the performance of the active systems.

Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects designed Manitoba Hydro Place to be climate responsible and adapt to Winnipeg extreme temperatures, serving as a model for future development. Moreover, while this building received the highest rating for LEED, I think that we should at least strive to ensure that all of our new building construction, including homes, meets (at least) LEED’s minimum standards. Therefore, as a city, should we incentivize new construction that is designed to be more energy efficient and better adapted to our climate?  

 What do you think? How can you contribute to make this city a great place to live? Leave a comment.

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