The Avenue on Portage, Winnipeg, Canada

The Avenue on Portage revives two historic commercial buildings from the turn of the century located one block west of Winnipeg’s most famous corner, Portage and Main. Once major retail destinations in the city, the Avenue and Hample Buildings experienced a slow decline, becoming blights to the street and downtown. In 2010 our client purchased the site to develop the derelict properties into 75 rental apartments and 22,500 square feet of commercial space.

A series of formally simple moves dramatically transform the original façades, shifting public perception of the buildings from eyesores to a unified urban landmark. Hovering above the sidewalk, steel balconies cantilever from existing window openings and provide outdoor access for apartment dwellers. Clad in mirror-finish aluminum, the balconiesbecome camouflaged against their surroundings, reflecting at turns the sky, the façade and the street below.

While the balconies push residents out beyond the façade, the main floor pulls pedestrians in, softening the boundary between the public streetscape and the private interiors. Inside, apartments sized between 430 and 1020 s.f. fill the upper four floors of the Avenue, as well as a new, three-storey addition to the Hample. In order to address the deep building footprint and provide windows for interior units, two existing light wells are carried down through all residential floors, while a third is extended into the new addition.

The main floor is occupied by Manitoba Start, a non-profit organization that provides services for new immigrants in Winnipeg. At street level a wall of glass folds back into the building to create a deep, V-shaped entrance that broadens the width of the sidewalk. Overhead, a faceted, mirror-finish canopy angles outward 13 feet from the face of the Hample before returning to meet the edge of the Avenue, unifying the two façades. Together, these elements draw the city into the building’s expression, making it an active participant in the life of the street.

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