Freshwater Institute, University of Manitoba

Address:501 University Crescent
Original Use:offices and laboratories
Constructed:1970 – 1972
Architects:Green Blankstein Russell and Associates
Firms:Green Blankstein Russell and Associates
Tours:Part of the QR Code Tour

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The Freshwater Institute was built to house the operations of Fisheries and Marine Service of the Federal Department of the Environment. The institute serves as one of the world's leading research centres for freshwater and Arctic fisheries research, as well as the regional headquarters of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for an enormous area spanning Ontario, the Prairie provinces, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, a portion of Yukon, and Canada’s Arctic Ocean territorial waters.

The building is divided into numerous volumes, based upon function. The low foreground building to the left of the main entrance houses the administrative wing, the small block to the right houses the auditorium, and the separate five-storey structure houses laboratory and research facilities, and accommodations for scientific and technical personnel. It is built of a reinforced concrete superstructure with a building envelope clad in precast concrete panels.

The rough finishes of the Freshwater Institute reflect the emphasis of Brutalist style architecture, one defined by the unconcealed use of materials. Exposed poured concrete, along with vertically-raked precast concrete panels and quarry tiled pavers, create continuity from interior to exterior.

Atop the entry to the building, a steep, pitched roof form stretches upward. Inside, this form creates a soaring but still intimate foyer space. An impressive floating staircase with heavy oak railings and fittings is the highlight of this four-storey entry area. The entry was originally further enhanced by a glass-enclosed fountain sculpture by George Norris that recycles glycol rather than water. Still present are circular artistic disc-forms designed by Winnipeg artist Tony Tascona. These pieces recall colourful microscopic organisms in a petri dish, further decorating the entry space, suspended above the staircase.

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