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University of Manitoba, 2012: An ambitious university campus project under high organization
by Carmela Cucuzzella et Camille Crossman, published 2014-01-23
At a time when universities are summoned to assume their responsibilities in the shaping of major urban areas, in an era of ferocious educational competitions in which benchmarking and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) released by Shanghai Jiao Tong University rule the educational market, some universities have decided to take the potential power of competitions to seek excellence in a very serious manner. This was the case when the University of Manitoba launched their competition for a new campus in December 2012.

The “Visionary (re)Generation” competition was an open, international, anonymous two phases competition. In the first stage, 45 teams participated from all over the world, including Canada, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, and Germany. Of these 45 projects, only 6 were selected, although the original plan was to select 7 finalists.

The stakes were high as were the expectations of the academic community and ambitions of the university’s president. With a ratio of 15%, Manitoba is by far the Canadian province in which First Nations have become an integral part of the community. It was no surprise that the “spirit of place” and the responsibility towards the people of the First Nations was at once a central and extremely sensitive issue during the entire process. Furthermore, the extreme climate conditions required rigorous consideration to render the campus walkable. And finally, the complexity of the urban scale required teams to reflect on the connection of the somewhat isolated campus to the city. In order to tackle such difficult and complex expectations and issues, the University of Manitoba requested the services of an internationally renowned German firm that specializes in the organization of competitions called, [phaseeins] (http://phase1.de).

In this entire redesigned public interface of the Canadian Competitions Catalogue, and thanks to the organisers of this competition, we can now display substantial data about all 45 proposals. As a way to suggest a possible categorization of this variety of ideas coming from 17 countries we propose to follow a spread summarized in the jury report. Indeed, the proposals ranged from the more conventional master plans that favoured an orthogonal grid plan to the more innovative that proposed less conventional strategies with grids that functioned autonomously as a city within a city while linking to the main existing circulation system.

In what the jury called the more traditional category, the team Perkins and Will + 1X1 Architecture + PFS proposed a project that was highly praised by the jury yet provoked controversial discussions. The jury report praised this project because of “its feasible reflection on major parts of the brief, creating a well-balanced urban pattern with traditional blocks and defining a center with the potential for establishing a new heart or neighbourhood at the edge of the core campus.” Yet the most discussed issue by the jury pertained to the project’s vision, “which relies on a traditional adaptation of an urban type form that might appear foreign to the existing physical and cultural context.” (Extracted from the jury report).

The winning scheme by Janet Rosenberg and Studio Inc. + Cibinel Architects Ltd. + Landmark Planning and Design Inc. proposed a project that was considered by the jury as a promising long-term strategy conducive to the re-generation of the site. The clarity of this concept, which proposed the densification of the existing campus plus a series of new distinct neighbourhoods, also triggered insightful discussion within the jury regarding the, “relation between fundamental principles of urban design and the value of visionary strategies for the creation of discrete places for living and working”. This project was considered by the jury as the most appropriate because it sought to connect to the river both spatially and visually and proposed an atypical neighbourhood plan sensitive to place and space.

In closing, one can wonder why – with an increasing number of competitions organized every year in Canada – the University of Manitoba decided to hire the services of the European group [phaseeins] to help them in organizing an international competition. As we were invited as scientific observers, we can offer a few clues to such a question. First, the issue of transparency was never compromised, on the contrary, and the fact that we were warmly welcomed to observe the two phases of the jury deliberation process is in itself uncharacteristic to most competition processes in Canada. As regular contributors and analysts of the CCC, we could also see that this organisation was not a ‘copy and paste’ process from another competition, but rather a serious and meticulously planned process of both quantitative and qualitative judgement. The European team of experts pre-analyzed all projects, provided a diversity of very informative statistics to the jurors, and provided all these in a very organized and comparable manner. Last but not least, the organisers not only agreed but insisted to display all the proposals as soon as possible of the CCC. At a time when universities have the possibility to assume their role in the re-shaping of public space, it certainly takes a high degree of organisation to deliver the 3 pillars of competitions: quality, fairness and transparency.

Carmela Cucuzzella and Camille Crossman.
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