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Red Hot River Blankets: A Warming Hut Installation

1059 words - 4 pages

Red straps of felted wool descend from the bottom of a bridge upon the snow on the frozen Assiniboine River, just before it merges with the broad Red River. Hung in two rows, they are intended for skaters and passersby to take a break from the cold by enveloping themselves in them. This is an installation by Workshop Architecture of Toronto called “Red Blanket” (Burshtein, Karen), and it is part of the current winter’s Warming Huts event, an initiative which takes place annually since 2010 on the Red River Mutual Trail in Winnipeg. Firms and individuals from all over the world, including Canada, seize the opportunity to propose a design for the competition, often redefining the concept of a “warming hut” – a structure usually found along ski trails (wise geek).
The rivers’ level is lower than the city surface. Their banks are embroidered by vegetation, which even in winter, without its foliage, continues to shed the area from the houses on both sides. Distanced from traffic and buildings, the trail along the river has a feeling of detachment from the city to it. On the frozen river, a flow of skaters and strollers in two directions substitutes the flow of water. Set under the Forks Historic Rail Bridge, adjacent to the Forks Market, the “Red Blanket” project is located in a central area of the Mutual Trail (the Forks). However, residing on the side of the skating and walking routes, it is not obligatory to pass through it; one is given the choice whether to approach it or not. People of all ages were approaching it, some on skates, and others on foot.
According to Clair MacKay, vice-president of marketing and communications at The Forks, the designs participating in the Warming Huts event constitute a “combination of an art and architectural component, elevating the basic structure of a warming hut into something spectacular” (Winnipeg Free Press). The Red Blanket project disassembles the familiar, common warming hut, as it separates the covering material from the structure. Using an existing structure, the material is simply hung on it, and constitutes the actual “warming hut” which shelters and warms people. The chosen material for the “blankets”, felted wool, is dense and certainly warming. It maintains a balance between roughness and softness: apt to endure the outdoor conditions, while keeping the elastic qualities of fabric. Heavy enough not to blow too high into the air, the straps were often have to be seized before they could be used. In fact, the wind seemed to be an additional component, enhancing the installation by animating it. Blowing the crimson sheets like sails, or flags, the wind made them mesmerizing to behold.
The installation is aesthetically compelling, and the quantity of people who were taking photos of it seconds that. The contrast between red lips and pale skin accentuated Snowhite’s beauty; the bright red fabric bore beautiful contrast to the whiteness of snow. A possible allusion to the...

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