I’m always interested in buildings that get nicknames. Usually these monikers indicate affection, occasionally the opposite, but they always mean people are paying attention.
The circular condo project near the Disraeli Bridge certainly gets notice. It’s been called the Flying Saucer, the UFO, the Spaceship. It’s been compared to a hockey puck, a chocolate layer cake, a doughnut and a Trivial Pursuit playing piece.
Its official name is 62M, after its street address, 62 MacDonald Ave. It rises dramatically on 10-metre concrete stilts, seemingly hovering near the bridge, and when its windows are glowing against the night sky, this contemporary structure can seem spacey.
In fact, 62M is a grounded structure, its super-cool futuristic form rooted in practical issues of building efficiency, cost effectiveness and old-fashioned Prairie thrift.
Designed by 5468796 Architecture, a Winnipeg firm that has gained national and international attention and awards since its founding in 2007, 62M’s shape is a considered response to its unprepossessing site.
Though it’s located near the recent surge of swanky development along Waterfront Drive, the structure sits on a leftover bit of industrial ground, on an awkward, scrubby site crammed up against the freeway.
To get the light and views needed for a residential project, the architects had to go up, and once they went up, they had to build as efficiently as possible to keep costs down for these entry-level condos.
They ended up with a two-level circle with 40 identically shaped triangular units, plus one fab penthouse on top. (It rents out on Airbnb.)
Ken Borton, an associate with the 546 firm, was the project architect, seeing 62M through from design to completion in 2017, and he also happens to live there now with his family. He acknowledges that the building’s unusual shape makes it a recognizable landmark.
"When you say, ‘I’m in the spaceship over the bridge,’ people know exactly where it is."
“When you say, ‘I’m in the spaceship over the bridge,’ people know exactly where it is.” – Ken Borton, project architect
But it’s not meant as a look-at-me stunt.
"We didn’t just do a big circle and put it on legs to call attention to it," Borton explains. "We actually didn’t go into the project with that in mind."
The final design was determined by the strange size and shape of the site, by budget constraints and by the number of units the developers wanted.
Borton recalls a late-night session: "It was three in the morning, and I was just testing every option to see what worked on the site, and more and more the circle was fitting the best."
The disc shape allowed for the most square footage with the least amount of building envelope and helped keep building and maintenance costs down. And because the units were identical in shape, a lot of modular elements could be prefabricated offsite.
Referencing the neighbourhood’s historical and industrial vibe, the materials are wood, raw concrete and weathering steel. (If there’s one thing Winnipeg gets a lot of, it’s weather, and — as the name suggests — weathering steel is designed to gradually develop a dark, textured patina as it’s exposed to the elements.)
Landmarks: Unique and iconic Winnipeg locationsClick to Expand
Posted: 11:11 AM Dec. 2, 2021
Landmarks is a monthly feature in which columnist Alison Gillmor explores unique and iconic Winnipeg buildings and locations.
Inside, things feel very contemporary. Each unit is basically one long space, a setup associated with modest domiciles like railway apartments and shotgun shacks, but here given some significant upgrades, allowing residents to live in a wedged-shape space without feeling wedged in.
The 610-square-foot space starts narrow at the entrance and then fans out to a wide vista along the expansive exterior window.
"The services and utilities are all at the skinny end, and the wide part of the pie is where you spend most of your time — in the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the living space," Borton explains.
Some units have taken a "Swiss-army knife approach," Borton says, placing the necessities of living in a dense, concealed bank along one wall, which involves a lot of "fancy cabinetry" and ingenious pull-outs.
The space is compact but comes off as bigger. "It’s wide where you want it to be, and you don’t really notice the angle," Borton suggests. "And it feels generous because of the large, flexible, open space and all that window."
More than 20 feet wide, with floor-to-ceiling glass, the window opens up the space to the city skyline.
Borton’s small daughter is going through "a car phase," he says, and loves to watch the traffic streaming by on the busy Disraeli.
And clearly, a lot of the people in those cars are looking back at the building. That very distinctive shape does act as a kind of architectural beacon.
"There’s a good buzz to it," says Borton. "It’s primarily a younger crowd that lives here.
"Some people have wanted to live here ever since they saw it."
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.