62M Apartments / 5468796 Architecture

62M Apartments / 5468796 Architecture

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© James Brittain

Text description provided by the architects. 62M is a residential development located at the edge of downtown Winnipeg and the Red River. Unofficially dubbed the “flying saucer” or “UFO” due to its circular shape rising over the city, the condominium emerges on the skyline with a distinctive presence, rising from between the adjacent freeway and the backs of neighboring properties.

© James Brittain
© James Brittain

The building’s marginal site was considered undesirable due to its industrial nature, restricted views out of the site, and lack of street frontage. This resulted in a unique opportunity and challenge, requiring 5468796 to devise a design that would flip perceptions and capitalize on the project’s close proximity to the Red River and Historic Exchange District. Designed for a budget equal to that of standard wood-frame building construction, each of the 40 entry-level studio units is under 57 square meters.

Site diagram
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62M’s unique form results from practical solutions to the challenges of both site and budget. Lifting the building upon 35’ high columns, the design overcomes the limitations of the surrounding area while generating unprecedented sightlines. Entry to the building is through a centralized concrete core. Housing a stairwell, elevator, and service shaft, also provides all of the lateral stability for the structure. Unusual for Canada, and particularly Winnipeg where temperatures can reach minus 40 degrees Celsius, the corridors are covered but open-air, with concrete surfaces and chain link fencing borrowed from the pervasive industrial nature of the project’s surroundings.

© James Brittain

A circular design is the project’s defining innovation. Reducing the constructed exterior envelope by 30 percent relative to a comparably sized rectilinear building, was devised to offset the costs of elevating the building itself. The 360º plan is spatially efficient and cost-effective, providing a narrow circumference/area dedicated to communal corridors and the widest possible perimeter for suite windows in order to optimize construction costs. Once the platform was constructed ‘in the air,’ the construction proceeded as for a standard two-story building. 

© James Brittain

Two layers of 20 pie-shaped layouts also simplified assembly. Each suite is arranged so that the entry and utility spaces occupy the narrow end, 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-meter floor-to-ceiling glass.

© James Brittain

At ground level, 20 supporting columns spaced between double parking stalls form a ring just inside the building’s perimeter. The columns’ thinness is a clear counterpoint to the band of housing above, emphasizing its weight and mass. In order to reduce construction timelines and stick to a very tight budget, the building was conceived as a pre-fabricated structure. The pre-cast concrete columns – shaped to provide ledges for lighting and space for parking – were made off-site over the winter and arranged along a radial grid in the spring. 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. 

© James Brittain
© James Brittain

Pre-fabricated wall and wood floor sections in the shape of wedges were craned into place to form the doughnut-shaped two-story building. A pre-fabricated unitized system of conventional windows was developed to complete the envelope around the full building perimeter. A series of custom-formed fins align in the breaks between the windows and weathering steel cladding, with the benefit of concealing 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.

Courtesy of 5468796 Architecture
Courtesy of 5468796 Architecture
Courtesy of 5468796 Architecture

Partway through the project, 5468796 recognized the potential of the central core and the uniqueness of the address to construct an efficient, micro penthouse over the elevator. Making use of every inch of available space, the fully functioning guest suite includes a bathroom with a sauna, a kitchen with a sunken living room, a bed and bath, and a roof deck. A glass box jewel, the penthouse glows like a lantern above the “saucer.” Inside, mirror polished columns support the pre-fabricated roof structure, refracting light and surrounding landscape into the living space and giving the illusion of 360º uninterrupted views of the city and the prairie horizon beyond.

© James Brittain
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