For many of its stakeholders, it is an innovative, architectural marvel. For many performers and musicians, it is an impractical, dangerous structure similar to something from a science fiction movie.
It is The Cube, the $1.2 million stage built and designed by 5468796 Architects as an outdoor venue in the Exchange District’s Old Market Square park, most notably used for summer festivals.
“It looks uncannily like a (Star Trek) Borg cube,” said Brian James, 31, a local musician and creator of a Facebook group called, “Winnipeg Citizens Resisting The Cube,” rallying Winnipeggers against the structure. “It looks dangerous, like a big cheese grater.”
The ultra-modern structure is largely made up of interconnected chain mail and aluminum held together by cables, referred to as the “skin” of The Cube. “Curtains” in that skin can be retracted to reveal a concrete stage.
“We wanted something ... that could be used (for the majority of the year) when it is not a performance venue,” said Johanna Hurme, one of the key architects of The Cube.
She added that the 20,000 aluminum pieces on the skin will soon be able to create a reflective image with the help of a projector and state-of-the-art lighting within the structure, essentially making the cube a piece of art.
A committee comprising stakeholders from the Exchange District Business Improvement Zone (BIZ), Centre Venture, the Winnipeg Foundation and the City of Winnipeg picked The Cube over two more traditional designs, granting the architects the large budget required for the project.
Criticisms of the structure go beyond aesthetic preferences, however.
Darren Day, a local musician who performed in The Cube during this year’s Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, feels that there is a consensus among local performers against the stage.
“They took a small stage and made it even smaller,” he said, adding that he spent most of his performance trying not to bump into his bandmates. “The curtain is so low that it affects your posture ... it’s definitely not the safest feeling having those (aluminum pieces) looming over you.”
Others have pointed out that, where the stage was once an open and democratic space, it is now closed off by the chain mail skin.
In order to use the stage, performers now require a city permit, permission from the BIZ and someone to retract the large aluminum and cable curtains.
“The new design appears keen to obliterate potential for anything other than commercially sanctioned activity,” Milena Placentile, an independent art curator, said in an e-mail. “Rent the stage and it’s yours. Speak out from the stage? Um, not so much.”
Brian Timmerman, executive director of the Exchange District BIZ, said that the only activity The Cube limits is people climbing on the stage and using it without permission, which he has never found to be an issue anyway.
The same City of Winnipeg public use permit is required to use the stage, regardless of its physical structure, he said.
Published in Volume 65, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 23, 2010)