All aboard the mothership

Waterfront condo and rental project addresses spatial challenges in style

An artist’s drawing of 62M, a 40-suite, mixed condo and rental project scheduled to be built near the corner of MacDonald Avenue and Waterfront. The project will sit on stilts 35 feet above the ground. 5468796 Architecture

A residential development fit for E.T. will soon join the ranks of the many swanky condos comprising Waterfront Drive’s recent building boom.

The 40-suite, mixed condo and rental project located near the corner of MacDonald Avenue and Waterfront, dubbed 62M, promises to be among the city’s most unique living spaces when construction on its elevated disc-form begins this spring.

Ken Borton, who worked on the design as part of a team at local firm 5468796 Architecture, says the building is poised to become “an icon in the city” - a city whose tastes are on the verge of changing.

“A lot of the time in Winnipeg you see projects like this hit the papers, but nobody thinks it’s actually going to happen,” he said.

“It gets discounted as, ‘Oh, that’s a neat idea, but good luck building it.’ That’s the type of sentiment we hope is kind of going to be put to rest when this thing starts construction in the spring.”

However, the project, which will sit on stilts 35 feet off the ground, stems from more than just a desire to shock sensibilities.

When 62M’s developer, Green Seed Development Corporation, first approached 5468796, designers faced the challenge of working with a property sandwiched directly between the Disraeli freeway, a number of industrial and warehouse buildings and a single-family home, leaving no street frontage for a new project.

Their solution? Build up - but skip the first few floors.

The two-storey circular building, being built at a cost of $6 million, is another case of form following function.

It’s not for your grandparents.

Mark Penner, president, Green Seed Development Corp.

“We figured we’d blown the budget on putting it up in the air, so from there we had to do everything we could to make the building as efficient as possible,” Borton explained, noting how the design’s pie slice-shaped suites, which radiate from a “central core” housing stairs and an elevator, will be relatively simple to construct due to their symmetry.

The project’s floating configuration also addresses parking needs by providing space for tenants’ vehicles within the structure’s footprint, eliminating the need for spatially inefficient and unattractive surface lots adjacent to the building.

Green Seed president Mark Penner says 62M is meant to attract a new generation of Winnipeggers to the area, which borders the east Exchange District.

“In terms of the demographic we’re going after, when you look at this sort of strange, spaceship-looking building, it’s easy to see it’s not for your grandparents.”

According to Penner, over 50 per cent of the project’s suites have been pre-sold.

“There’s a lot of buzz about the project,” he said, pointing to substantial attention from the national architectural community. “Other cities seem to be taking notice of what we’re doing here.”

While they might be a bit pricey for university students, the 608 sq. ft. units are selling for just under $200,000, taking a place on the less expensive end on the spectrum of core area condos.

Rates for the development’s rental units, at least 25 per cent of its suites, have not yet been announced by the developer.

As for prospective disc-dwellers concerned about Waterfront Drive’s current lack of commercial development - the strip is virtually devoid of cafés, pubs, restaurants and other amenities conducive to street vibrancy - they’ll still have some waiting to do.

But, hopefully, not for too long.

Jino Distasio, director of the University of Winnipeg’s Institute for Urban Studies, suggests the dissonance between residential and commercial development in the area is a sign of better things to come.

“We’re only talking about (a boom in residential) development over the last few years, and it does take some time for (services and amenities) to develop behind that,” he said.

Distasio points to the number of vacant, street-level commercial spaces of recent Waterfront residential projects as evidence that developers may have underestimated the delay.

“Maybe the demand wasn’t quite there yet and we still had and have some more work to do in the older part of the Exchange to fill in some retail.”
Penner, like Distasio, remains confident the strip will look less like a well-designed ghost town in due time.

“It’s not here yet, but I have supreme confidence it’s going to evolve and turn into something really amazing,” he said.

“I think there are people that are keeping an eye on the opportunities the area presents, commercially speaking.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 21, 2013)

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