Growing idyllically out on a snowy site at the edge of downtown Winnipeg and the Red River in Canada, 62M designed by 5468796 Architecture is a residential development that owes its circular built form to the site that was deemed unusable due to its restricted views. Unofficially taking on nicknames like ‘flying saucer’ and ‘UFO’ due to its shape, the project fans out atop columns to emerge distinct and salient against the skyline, rising as a pleasing addition between the adjacent freeway and the backs of neighbouring properties. By lifting the building and resting it atop 11 m high stilts, the architects ensured tenants unprecedented views of the city. The project’s moniker was derived from, and pays homage to its former address, at 62 MacDonald Avenue, adopting it to make sure that it remains a part of the building’s history.
The residential design’s marginal site was considered undesirable because of its industrial nature, restricted views out of the site, as well as a general lack of street frontage. This presented the Canadian firm as a unique opportunity disguised as a challenge, requiring 5468796 to devise a design that would simply flip perceptions and capitalise on the building’s proximity to the river and the Historic Exchange District. The round shape also offset the costs of elevating the building as well as its pie-shaped units, which were fitted with operable partitions with flexible configurations. “Lifting the building upon 35’ high columns, the design overcomes the limitations of the surrounding area while generating unprecedented sightlines,” explains the design team.
Maximising every inch of available space, the Canadian architects added a micro-glass penthouse over the central elevator, comprising a sauna, bathroom, kitchen, sunken living room, bed and bath and a roof deck. Each of the 40 entry-level studio units below have been accomplished under 57 sqm of space. Described as “a glass box jewel”, the penthouse emits a glow reminiscent of hung lanterns, above the “saucer” plate below. The interior design is kept minimal, clean and stoic, with mirror polished columns supporting the pre-fabricated roof structure, refracting light as well as the surrounding landscape into the living area, and giving off the illusion of 360 degrees of uninterrupted vistas of the city and the prairie horizon beyond.
A centralised concrete core hosting a stairwell, elevator and service shaft forms preamble to 62M, in tandem with providing all of the lateral stability for the structure. Upon entering the site, one gets a peek of the building through the adjacent industrial fabric. Understandably, the entrance is perceived to be somewhere underneath the hovering form but remains to be actually discovered.
Unusual for a cold country like Canada, particularly in the city of Winnipeg, where temperatures can drop up to minus 40 degrees Celsius, the covered corridors are semi-open-air, with concrete surfaces and chain link fencing borrowed from the ubiquitous industrial nature of the building’s surroundings. “Devised to combat alienation induced by endless nondescript corridors, the suites are accessed through a circular ‘agora’ – where one can see more than half of all the suite entry doors – creating opportunities for contact and the potential to meet one’s neighbours,” share Sasa Radulovic and Johanna Hurme, Founding Partners of 5468796 Architecture.
“The process exposed another important inspiration — the idea of Radical Pragmatism — as evidenced in both elevating the building and subsequent formal studies. For 62M, the radial form of the primary structure results in pie-shaped dwelling suites, with the widest part at the exterior wall. This offers not only panoramic views through floor-to-ceiling glass, but also ensures that each suite only requires 2.3 metres of the common corridor at the narrow end — an example of Radical Pragmatism,” Radulovic continues.
What are the most indicative element and use of the adopted radial form? This spatial planning is able to ensure a concentration of all services – from mechanical ducts and drains, electrical service, elevator, lobby and scissor stairs, in the centre of the building. “This is not that uncommon but is rarely this compact. In Canada, we are required to have two exit staircases connected with a hallway. The circular hallway connects the exits in a unique way — making the length of the hallway shorter than that of a typical rectilinear building. From the hallway, the suites are shaped in a way that allocates minimised 2.3m of frontage to the entrance and maximised 5.9m for the windows, and optimising the area to exterior wall ratio which is critical livability measure in multifamily residential construction. Ultimately, one can see at least one-half of all entry doors from any point in the hallway — creating an opportunity to get to know one’s neighbours, something that is also non-existent in conventional mid or high-rise projects, where disassociation with one’s neighbours is, unfortunately, an accepted norm,” the architect clarifies.
Twenty unadorned, pre-cast concrete columns spaced between double parking stalls form a ring just inside the building’s perimeter at the ground level. The slender columns become clear counterpoints to the band of housing above, emphasising its weight and mass. To shorten construction timelines and adhere to a tight budget, 62M was conceived as a prefabricated architecture. Prepared off-site over the winter and arranged along a radial grid in the spring, these rectangular supports are shaped to offer ledges for lighting as well as creating pockets for parking. “Once the cast-in-place core was built to the height of the columns, the radial grid of steel beams aligning to the suite-demising walls link the columns to the core,” Radulovic elaborates.
The design wholeheartedly embraces the parking area as a public agora, and as an extension of the industrial landscapes surrounding the building. “However, by virtue of its height, it premeditates a potential for future uses once a need for private vehicles diminishes,” says 5468796 Architecture.
The lobby carries a pared-back aesthetic, and is minimal in footprint, being 11-meters high and marked by two custom circular neon light fixtures flanking the entry door. From there, one can reach the upper floors via stairs or elevator, that arrive at the open-air corridor “— a sensation that always prompts surprise and excitement,” adds Radulovic. Hallways connect the residents to each other as well as to the climate outside. “We deliberately decided to break down tropes of stuffy corridors that define standard multifamily building experience. Entry to each dwelling maintains views to the floor-to-ceiling windows connecting residents and visitors to the experience of ‘elevated’ living. The dwellings are created in two compact yet airy configurations, capitalising on modular furniture that maximises the all-white, clean living space throughout the day while enabling privacy in the evening. “The suites are purposefully designed to make the views a quotidian sensation — taking us back to initial tenets of the building brief,” she adds.
According to the architects, the radial design forms the heart of the project’s definition. “Reducing the constructed exterior envelope by 30 per cent relative to a comparably sized rectilinear building, it was devised to offset the costs of elevating the building itself,” reiterates the studio. The 360-degree plan remains spatially efficient and cost-effective, providing a narrow circumference dedicated to communal corridors and the widest possible perimeter for suite windows. After the platform was assembled ‘in the air’, the construction proceeded as for a standard two-storey building. Two layers of 20 pie-shaped layouts also simplified assembly. Each suite is arranged such that its entry and utility spaces occupy the narrow end of the pie-shaped plan, resting closest to the circulation core. “This configuration frees the remaining square footage for a flexible and airy open living area that culminates in an expansive wall of six-metre floor-to-ceiling glass,” they continue.
Pre-fabricated wall and wood floor sections in the shape of wedges were craned into place, to form the doughnut-shaped, two-storey building. A pre-fabricated unitised system of conventional windows was also developed to complete the envelope around the entire building. Custom-formed fins align themselves in a series, fitted in the breaks between these windows and weathered steel cladding, enjoying the benefit of concealed faceting. “The resulting building breaks all conventions for entry-level developer housing while making use of a derelict site to provide a striking new addition to the Winnipeg skyline,” Radulovic restates.
Finishes were kept intentionally raw and plain to further simplify construction and minimise future maintenance costs for the condominium. The primary material palette comprises cast-in-place concrete, weathering steel and glass in a conscious, conspicuous attempt to prove an alternative to typical product-library-composed façades. According to Radulovic, the material palette was another exercise in Radical Pragmatism – “Each structural element is made of a material best suited for its particular function: a cast in place core provides lateral stability and is connected to the precast slender columns via ductile steel beams; wood was selected as a readily available and renewable material for a prefabricated modular floor and wall structure. Together, all these elements contribute to the clarity of the building’s tectonics and one could almost understand this by looking at the finished project. The finishing of the building exterior further follows the overall approach — inexpensive residential roof shingles are used as a soffit material providing a continuous surface with the right amount of texture, alternating window and mechanical grilles are deliberately configured in a way that does not divide the ‘single’ building elevation into segments but emphasises the circular form. The solid portions of the facade between windows are clad in lightweight weathering steel that does not show oil-canning, and inexpensive chain-link fence material is used to provide fall protection in the open-air hallways.”
Speaking about the firm’s atypical moniker, Radulovic reveals, “There are several reasons for the name: We did not want an eponymous firm name, and we did not want our future team to feel as though they were working for us, but rather, adopt a name greater than any of us individually. The fact that our last names — Hurme and Radulovic — had no zing in English made the decision that much easier. The day we registered our corporation we still did not have a name. Walking out of the corporate office we looked at the papers and realised how unique the number we were assigned was — if we came a day earlier or later or went to a different office, we would have gotten a different number. So, we realised that 5468796 was unique both in terms of place and time — ascribing the number a unique meaning. Clients used to bring it up all the time as the ‘worst name ever’, however, we were happy that they were discussing it.”
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Area: 2,601.28 sqm
Unit Area: 56.67 sqm (approximately)
Year of completion:
Client: Green Seed Development Corporation + Ranjjan Development Corporation
Architect: 5468796 Architecture