Winnipeg | A beacon of hope: the CMHR

Place: Winnipeg, Country: Canada
Owner: Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Architectural design:
Antoine Predock architect
Exhibition design:
Ralph Appelbaum Associates
Text by Riccardo Bianchini, Inexhibit
Thanks to Maureen Fitzhenry, CMHR, for her great collaboration.
Photos courtesy CMHR

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A beacon of hope: the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Designing a museum that presents ideas more than a physical collection could be an intriguing, yet demanding, challenge for an architect.
Indeed, the integration between a building and the concept it embodies can be pushed to the limit. On the other hand, such complete integration requires a particularly skilful, and somehow aslant, approach to museum design.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMRH) in Winnipeg, the capital of the province of Manitoba, is the only museum in the world “dedicated to exploring the concept of human rights as a force for positive change”.

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The museum is located in a historically important site, called The Forks, at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers; a meeting place for thousands of years for diverse groups of people,  including First Nations. It is also the homeland of the Métis, who are the descendants of Aboriginal Peoples and Europeans. An on-site archeological excavation unearthed more than 400,000 artifacts, dating from the 12th century onward.

The architecture of the museum, conceived by American architect Antoine Predock, deeply reflects the historical and ideal complexity of its site as well as the principles behind the CMHR.

The 24,000-square-metre building is set upon four massive, limestone-clad “roots” that are seeded with Prairie tall grass.

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The Museum’s galleries are housed inside a metaphorical “mountain” made of Tyndall stone – a 400 million-year-old type of limestone quarried from the  Ordovician Red River Formation nearby.
The mountain houses eleven core galleries, stacked atop and alongside one another, connected through an impressive 800-metre long zig-zagging ramp system clad in translucent alabaster. The building’s mountain feature is “wrapped” with a cloud-shaped glass envelope, conceived to transmit natural light from the southwest into the open interior space of the museum; the visual result is quite imposing.

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The museum building is topped by the Israel Asper Tower of Hope, a glass spire that rises 100 metres above the ground, from which the visitors get a 360-degree overview of the surrounding landscape from an observation deck. Just beneath the tower, the visitors can immerse themselves in the “Garden of Contemplation”, a captivating interior garden made of basalt rock with pools of water and vegetation, inspired by the “Giant’s Causeway” volcanic formation in Northern Ireland.

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The eleven thematic exhibition galleries, designed by renowned firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates, feature a fascinating ensemble of physical installations, such as the circular wooden theatre that presents perspectives of Indigenous Peoples in Canada about rights and responsibilities to humanity and the land. Photographs, immersive multimedia environments, interactive exhibits, soundscapes, 100 hours of full-length films and video-clips, artifacts and works of art are also used to relay powerful human rights stories.

Live performances, debates and learning programs are also integral part of the museum experience and will be featured in the theaters and educational spaces of the museum.

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Text by Riccardo Bianchini, Inexhibit
Thanks to Maureen Fitzhenry, CMHR, for her great collaboration
Photos courtesy CMHR.


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copyright Inexhibit 2020 - ISSN: 2283-5474