Client: Red River College Polytech (RRC Polytech)
Location: Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Completion date: 2021
Number TEN Architectural Group
Artwork - Soffit and Ceiling Painting
Artwork - Roundhouse Auditorium, 'Morning Star'
The expansion of Manitoba’s RRC Polytech—the adaptive reuse of an entire city block—from its downtown campus, carries a legacy of innovation to Winnipeg’s inner city. The campus continues to grow with the completion of Manitou a bi Bii daziigae. The 100,000 sf facility unites a repurposed heritage building and new construction, and makes significant strides in urban, cultural, sustainable and interior design, creating an engaging crossroads in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District.
As the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe peoples and the homeland of the Métis Nation, Winnipeg is home to Canada’s largest urban Indigenous population. One of the goals of Manitou a bi Bii daziigae is to create a hub where students, businesses, and community members can come together and collaborate on ideas.
As part of the renewal, RRC Polytech engaged with the Winnipeg Arts Council to consult and collaborate on the integration of artwork into the building’s design. Aligning with the College’s commitment to advancing Indigenous achievement and works, the public art opportunity invited Indigenous artists residing in Canada to submit proposals for the building’s 1,000 sf fourth floor ceiling and exterior soffit, with the possibility of other opportunities for design elements arising.
The design of Manitou a bi Bii daziigae is focused on ‘innovation rooted in place.’ RRC Polytech chose art that responded conceptually to this.
A painting by Anishinabe artist Jackie Traverse spans across the building’s overhanging parapet and fourth floor ceiling. Inspired by The Forks—where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet—nearby, it depicts the 13 moons, people, bear paws, and Oodena Celebration Circle that speak to the history of Indigenous people in Winnipeg. Greens, golds and reds, reference the sun and compliment the façade’s bronze-gold photovoltaic cladding. Projecting sharply over the street, it is an intensely urban gesture, seen from blocks away. The imagery illustrates a traditional gathering place and speaks to the College’s goals of creating a hub where students, businesses, and the community can come together and collaborate.
‘Morning Star’ by Anishinaabe/Nêhiyaw/British artist KC Adams suggests a story about the Indigenous art of birchbark biting arranged in a pattern that represents new beginnings. Embedded into the floor of the College’s 210-seat Roundhouse Auditorium, it celebrates traditional Indigenous technologies with emerging ones, in a space designed to bring people together to learn and innovate.
The architects worked with Indigenous elders on the design of the artworks to ensure they were thoughtfully integrated into the building. After reviewing Jackie’s initial concepts, architect Haley Zhou worked with her to create a piece that could be enlarged and printed on high-pressure laminate panel with a custom layer for artwork. Her painting was scaled to show the motifs from the exterior and interior of the building at different proportions—a canvas of colour representing traditional Indigenous teachings and local history.
While Adams’ ‘Morning Star’ was not suited for the soffit, it lent itself well to the Roundhouse Auditorium. The team worked to make the piece site specific, using it to denote cardinal directions and help orient you within the room. Various methods and materials were prototyped (mosaic tiles, laser cutting, etching), but our floor trade offered the solution of custom moulds to replicate the bite mark patterns, simplifying the process of repeating the motifs on each panel. Terrazzo is inlaid with copper forms referencing integrated circuits, Inuit tattoos, the weaving of a Métis sash, and bite mark patterns. Carefully selected colours and aggregate completed the fabrication process, and the terrazzo was finished to seamlessly integrate into the floor.
The name Manitou a bi Bii daziigae, comes from the Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway) language and translates to “Where the Creator sits / Brings light.” The building is unique and much like how we live, powered by nature and the sun. It brings warmth, growth, light, and hope. The sun shines on the building in a multitude of ways. Solar power is a key energy strategy, as the design employs both rooftop and building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels. The cultural dimension of the sun is just as significant, as the building is filled with light and gleams with it. Solar panels on the exterior of the building vary from bronze to gold depending on the viewing angle and lighting conditions. The solar panel skin of the building references the gleaming scales of a dragon or turtle, figures which resonate not only with Indigenous tradition but also another cultural presence in the area, the nearby Chinatown. The innovative BIPV concept—a first in Canada—conceals solar cells behind nano-coated glass panels. Their shape-shifting appearance animates the building and conveys a sense of wonder and delight that in itself is an outward expression of the path of learning and innovation.