The Winnipeg Convention Centre (WCC) was completed in 1974, the first purpose-built convention centre in Canada at the time. It was one component of a massive two block urban renewal project that included the Delta Hotel and Lakeview Square and was intended to be a catalyst for the redevelopment of that area of downtown. Designed by the consortium firm of Libling Michener & Associates (now LM Architectural Group) and Number Ten Architectural Group, from its inception the Convention Centre has been a huge success, attracting visitors and new business to the city. Other cities soon followed suit with their own bigger, better versions. The WCC held its own for many years, still successful in an ever increasingly competitive market, but was eventually overcome by limitations of its size relative to the growing needs for space in the convention marketplace. The WCC responded by converting its second floor retail area into meeting spaces, as well as by updating both its interior and exterior appearance. LM Architectural Group and Environmental Space Planning were involved in all of the changes that occurred from 1985 – 2005.
The Germ of an Idea
It was following the completion of the cladding replacement in 2000 that the WCC CEO first shared his vision with our firm: expand the Convention Centre, or face the reality of declining stature (and income) within the market sector. We worked with the WCC to develop an idea of an expanded facility that would cross York Avenue to the vacant land to the south, nearly doubling the size of the third floor exhibition hall and providing new semi-trailer loading facilities to the south. Planning and design work advanced, renderings and cost estimates were prepared, and a business plan was developed while the WCC met with politicians and special interest groups to solicit support.
And then we waited.
Other priorities for the City and the Province took precedence, but in 2010 interest in the WCC expansion project slowly began to gather momentum.
The Design/Build Team
LM Architectural Group approached Number Ten Architectural Group to form a strategic joint venture firm to pursue this opportunity, ultimately creating a design build team led by construction managers Stewart Olson Construction Ltd. that also included LMN Architects from Seattle, as well as numerous consultants from across North America. Through a competitive design/build process that required both a design and a guaranteed maximum upset price, in 2012 the team was selected by the RBC CC to design and build the expansion/renovation project.
And then we waited.
Budget and program needed to be reconciled. It took six months to align these two priorities with the completion date remaining unchanged.
The prime motivations for the 340,000 square foot addition project were to increase the size of the third floor exhibition hall, and to provide contiguous, uninterrupted space. As a result, the 52,000 square foot exhibition hall expansion would be required to fully span across York Avenue and on to the vacant property to the south. This creates a 132,000 square foot, uninterrupted exhibition hall (the fourth largest convention centre facility in Canada), putting Winnipeg back on the map as a destination place for major North American conventions. In addition to the exhibition hall, the program called for a 24,000 square foot main floor ballroom with a full commercial kitchen and loading facilities, semi-trailer loading facilities to the third floor exhibition hall, large prefunction halls, underground parking to accommodate 138 vehicles, as well as other associated service and support spaces.
LMAG’s primary responsibility was to manage the planning and design process so as to ensure design quality and functional, operational, and budgetary compliance. We worked closely with the design architects in the development of the concept to respond to its immediate context and to reflect the spirit of the city and province. We were then also responsible for the implementation of the design during the contract document and construction phases of the project.
There were numerous design, technical, construction, scheduling, and logistical challenges associated with the project. The greatest design challenge was fully spanning over York Avenue and the concern over the quality of the resulting covered exterior space. The design team toured several facilities in other US and Canadian cities that had created similar interventions; the resulting urban spaces were often oppressive and dismal. The challenge was to create an exterior space that was both interesting and dynamic, and that would contribute to a positive urban environment.
The central idea was the creation of the City View room, which spans over York Avenue. Part of the third floor exhibition hall, this massive space is fully glazed on its east and west elevations, allowing traffic to see into and through this room to the city beyond. An architectural ceiling is highlighted with dramatic lighting to create a unique visual experience for motorists passing beneath as well as for those attending events within the room. Unique panorama views of the city are provided from the interior, and the space will be able to host a variety of social events capable of accommodating up to 4000 people.
The covered area, through the use of transparency and the location of active program functions adjacent to York Avenue, along with the creative design and control of artificial lighting, becomes an outdoor room – a visual extension of the new main floor ballroom and pre-function areas. For special events, it is proposed that York Avenue will be closed down and the life of the city celebrated.
The second floor bridge that connects the new addition to the existing building will be lined with tables and chairs, serving a newly renovated café, creating a bit of urban theatre between pedestrians on the bridge and the traffic passing below.
The landscaped mini park located on Carlton Street, near the main entrance to the addition, will become an outdoor café in the summer, further animating the street.
The other major urban planning decision was to avoid the one-way, external truck ramps utilized in the existing building to access the third floor loading docks. A two-way, internal ramp winds its way through the interior of the building, freeing Edmonton and Carlton Streets to contribute to the public realm. A covered colonnade provides pedestrian protection on Edmonton Street, while the landscaped mini park on Carlton Street, adjacent to the main and third floor pre-function rooms, creates a new urban place just a block from the activity of Broadway.
Carlton Street was purposefully selected as the front door of the expansion project because of the potential for future development that exists as a result of vacant properties located between Broadway and Graham Avenue, contributing to the future urban quality of the street. The recent announcement of the proposed development of True North Square just two blocks north of the expansion, validates this decision. The infrastructure has been put in place to eventually link the RBC CC to both True North Square and the MTS Centre beyond-fulfilling the vision of Centre Venture’s Shed District.
All of the public pre-function spaces that serve the main floor ballroom and third floor exhibition hall are located along Carlton Street, and look out and over the new urban landscaped park through large expanses of glass. Open stairs, escalators, and elevators physically and visually connect all three pre-function levels of the addition, animating both the space and the street. A textured wood wall, 140 feet long and 30 feet high, defines the west wall of the main floor pre-function room, rising through the escalator/stair opening to become part of the same wall in the third floor pre-function area. From this vantage point, a view to the tower of the Museum for Human Rights is possible, connecting these two iconic buildings that will define the future success of the City.
With this project, Winnipeg now reasserts its position as a premier destination for large scale, international conventions. The planning and design decisions that were made will fulfill the vision of the original Convention Centre completed in 1974, becoming a catalyst for other development in the immediate surrounding area.
The rest of Canada must now again catch up to Winnipeg.
This news item was featured in our December 2015 eNewsletter along with:
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