Cutting edge urban gardens

Cool Gardens offer summer complement to warming huts

This summer, keep your eye out for some contemporary urban gardens in downtown Winnipeg. Cool Gardens, presented by StorefrontMB, The Forks and La Maison Des Artistes, is the summer complement to the winter Warming Huts that are found on the frozen rivers in Winnipeg. 

It is a series of projects installed from Main Street to Provencher Boulevard, The Forks, and Waterfront Drive, as well as one in Brandon at the Riverbank Discovery Centre. The installations are designed by architects, landscape architects and creative visionaries both local and international.

Jason Syvixay, managing director with the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, one of the project stewards, supports the Cool Gardens initiative and its potential for attracting visitors.

“This international design competition builds on our city’s current architectural momentum with a push towards increased design excellence in Winnipeg. By looking at our city centre through the lens of innovative design, under-utilized spaces will be transformed this summer with unique and playful landscapes,” Syvixay says.

Eric Plamondon, from La Maison Des Artistes, was on the jury for selecting the finalists. He says the jury looked for projects that best answered the question, “In spaces we know well, how can you recreate interest and re-engage space?” They also looked for interactive projects.

“Contemporary art is meant to be experienced,” Plamondon says. 

An example of one such project is 2°. This Provencher Boulevard garden features cow forms and cubes symbolizing greenhouse gas emissions that move in a timeline along the history of agriculture into the future. 

“The fact that it is very close to a main artery, if not the main artery of St. Boniface, to throw it back a bit into our rural connection/roots and explain rural landscape in a very urban setting, it forces us to understand space in (a new way),” Plamondon says.

Despite the name “Cool Gardens” many of the projects are far from the conventional understanding of the word “garden.” The term is used quite liberally, and taken to encompass a contemporary form that still brings attention and interaction to landscape and culture, but in a 21st century way.

David Penner, an architect and co-founder of StorefrontMB, hopes the projects will challenge people’s conceptions about landscape design.

“Much of landscape is in the public realm so we all experience it, whereas other design environments, buildings and interiors, etc. are much more limiting. In that way landscape has a greater effect on how we see ourselves and our city. The projects are meant to call attention to the landscape and the potential for landscape,” Penner says.

Plamondon hopes this attention might inspire people, and possibly bring about more long-term projects in Winnipeg. 

“I think the whole importance in the project is that we have some great underutilized spaces in Winnipeg, that we want to get people to start thinking and seeing the value of it.”

Some projects will change with time based on audience interaction. For instance, the “Big Red” project at The Forks is a red X created out of movable red sandbags. Plamondon says transformation is welcome. 

“It’s fun to let the public influence what it will become, and how they take ownership of public art,” he says.

Published in Volume 70, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 3, 2016)

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