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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Designing a great building starts at the street level

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I took this photograph of 104 ave (above) just a couple days ago. After walking up and down several times, I’ve come to realize that this street is not made for pedestrians. Instead it is a road with sidewalks, which are not great to walk on. Along this road, there is a strange mix of residential buildings and strips of commercial “boxes” that seem to go on and on until 124 st. The walk down 104 ave just to get to Staples, London Drugs, or even the bank is quite depressing.

When it comes down to it, streets are the most fascinating urban spaces of all. They’re so simple, but they create the most interactions with people. Think about streets in Brazil, Hong Kong, or New York: these are cities that have generated so many different kinds of cultures and subcultures from the streets.

I think the architecture firm 5468796 has got it right. Based in Winnipeg, the firm addresses the “horizontality” of their home city. Having lived there for 4 years for school, I found the city to be quite flat. The winds blow up against your face and there’s no escaping the vast pockets of space between each neighbourhood. Yet I think that the richness of my experience in Winnipeg comes from firms like this one which embraces the sites and complexities within their city.

Their project, “The Avenue on Portage”, could be an excellent precedent in addressing some of my concerns that I have with 104 ave. Here are a few sample images:

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 10.12.20 AM
From L to R: Perspective. Design concept. Street view of building.
Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 10.55.48 AM
From L to R: Protruding balcony from a unit. Plan view. Upward view of building.

For a bit of context, Portage Avenue began as a congregation of government buildings which grown to include commercial/retail spaces. Over time, many businesses moved or closed down due to the growth in the Exchange District just situated a block away. 5468796 succeeded in reintroducing an elegant street with an appropriate interface to its pedestrians and the busy road of Portage. This is in contrast to many new residential developments that are being proposed on 104 ave. Naturally, we would like to flock to where the “action” is happening. We like to be where everyone is… and that is why, if the building program and design is implemented correctly on the right locale, people will naturally come.

The Avenue on Portage. Photo: Joe Bryksa

Similarly, I made a proposal for the same site when I was in school.  This was my concept drawing:

rendered concept elevation

My creativity may have went overboard with this drawing when I was imagining vertical streets for the prairie plains of Winnipeg. Still, the street interface itself was important to the overall design of the building… which parallels 5468796’s work.

Like Winnipeg’s downtown, there is also a large push for new residential development in Edmotnon’s city core.  This is big step forward because bringing people to our central neighbourhoods is a great way to reveal the culture of our city. However, what needs to be considered quite significantly is that interface between the pedestrian and the “wall” that we walk beside.

To check out more of 5468796 Architecture’s work, click here.



  1. You had to walk 104 multiple times to realize it isn’t designed for the pedestrian?? 🙂

    The big box stores don’t quite stretch to 124 St yet.. but once the Molson development gets pushed through, this big box street will finally be complete!

  2. 104 Ave. is the worst.

    We live on 121 St, and we always walk down 103 Ave. instead, crossing over to 104 only at the last possible moment to get to our destination. I’m always stunned by the stark difference between the two – within 100m you can go from a charming leafy street to pedestrian-antagonistic madness.