To say that winters are cold in Winnipeg is an understatement. From December through February, the temperature regularly dips below 0° F, with vicious winds adding more chill. According to Environment Canada, Winnipeg ranks as the coldest city of its size (population: 600,000) outside of Siberia. But there’s some good news for residents: The intersection of the Red and the Asinniboine rivers freeze over to form a winter playground, with cross-country skiing trails and makeshift ice-skating rinks. To complete the wonderland, the city commissioned Patkau Architects, a Vancouver-based firm, to build a cluster of temporary public skating shelters that rise from the snow like wooden barnacles.
Each structure is made from thin, flexible sheets of plywood that have been bent over a timber framework consisting of a triangular base, a wedge-shaped spine, and ridge members (lines that negate the gravity loads of snow). The architects built a full-scale prototype in their workshop to map the stresses of bending and added a series of cuts and openings to relieve them. “The form of the shelter,” Patkau writes, “is a resultant of this process of stressing/deforming and then releasing stress.”
Patkau then carefully arranged the pods to create “dynamic solar and wind relationships that shift according to specific orientation, time of day and environmental circumstance.” Their delicate structure causes them to sway and creak on the frozen surface of the water. According to the architects: “Their fragile and tenuous nature makes those sheltered by them supremely aware of the inevitability, ferocity and beauty of winter on the Canadian prairies.”