Winnipeg's Coolest 'Warming Huts' Aren't Huts At All - Atlas Obscura
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Winnipeg’s Coolest ‘Warming Huts’ Aren’t Huts At All

Every year, architects design new structures to warm the heart and the fingers.

The shape of 2014's "Voyageur Hut" was inspired by an upside-down pair of pants.
The shape of 2014's "Voyageur Hut" was inspired by an upside-down pair of pants. All photos courtesy Warming Huts: An Arts + Architecture Competition On Ice

Over the next couple of months, hundreds of thousands of adventurers will zip up their coats, pull on their gloves, and glide up and down the Red River Mutual Trail, a four-mile skating route in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Those first two steps are essential: Winter temperatures in Winnipeg average decidedly below freezing. But if the skaters do get cold, no worries. They can just take a break in the belly of the giant cocoa mug, or step inside the larger-than-life golden bison.

These unusual shelters are two of the winners of this year’s Warming Huts competition, an annual contest that dots the frozen landscape with beautiful, whimsical places to rest. Over the past 12 years, the project, started by architect Peter Hargraves, has added a number of structures to the ice, including a tropical-themed “reverse snowglobe,” a massive tower made of stacked hay bales, and a frozen, kid-sized labyrinth. Some have stayed put, while others have been taken down, traveled to other cities, or simply melted away.

Hargraves, who has two daughters, says he first wanted to add warming huts for “selfish reasons.” “I would be out there tying three sets of skates and my fingers would freeze,” he says. “I kind of looked around and thought, well, let’s figure out a way of creating shelters on the ice that would be both interesting and functional.”

"Five Hole," by Gehry Partners, melted at the end of the season.
“Five Hole,” by Gehry Partners, melted at the end of the season.

The first year, 2006, Hargraves and some architect friends designed and built the huts themselves. For more recent incarnations, they’ve fielded entries from groups, schools, design firms, and individuals. Big names have also contributed designs. In 2012, Frank Gehry’s firm made a “sculpturally casual” igloo.

This year’s celebrity hut, by avant-garde film director Guy Maddin, is called “The Temple of Lost Things,” and is made of ice and driftwood. When the river melts in the spring, the whole structure—pictured below—will float away.

“Warming” and “hut” are both loose terms. “Red Blanket,” from 2014, wasn’t a hut at all: It was made of long strips of red wool, which skaters could either swing around on or wrap themselves up in.

And while each structure is meant to provide a pick-me-up, they don’t want to be too comfortable: “If we create warm little cabins out there, the danger is that people will [stay in them],” says Hargraves. “We don’t want people to stay inside.”

"Red Blanket," from 2014.
“Red Blanket,” from 2014.

This strategy—warming hearts and bodies—works like a charm, Hargraves says: “You can go out at 2:30 in the morning, and there are still sometimes hundreds of people skating.”

See more Warming Huts winners from years past below:

"Ice Maze" from 2016 provides fun and a break from the wind.
“Ice Maze” from 2016 provides fun and a break from the wind.
One of Hargraves's favorite designs, 2011's "Woodpile" slowly consumed itself over the course of the season.
One of Hargraves’s favorite designs, 2011’s “Woodpile” slowly consumed itself over the course of the season.
"Mirror Cloaking," from 2015, uses the landscape as decoration.
“Mirror Cloaking,” from 2015, uses the landscape as decoration.
"Greetings from Bubble Beach" brings the tropics to Winnipeg in 2017.
“Greetings from Bubble Beach” brings the tropics to Winnipeg in 2017.
"Nuzzles," from 2014, isn't really a hut at all.
“Nuzzles,” from 2014, isn’t really a hut at all.
"Hygge House," from 2013, puts comfort on display.
“Hygge House,” from 2013, puts comfort on display.
2013's "Big City" puts familiar materials in a new context.
2013’s “Big City” puts familiar materials in a new context.
For "Ice Pillows," from 2012, water from sprinklers freezes to create a sheltering arch.
For “Ice Pillows,” from 2012, water from sprinklers freezes to create a sheltering arch.
"Ha(y)ven" baled people out in 2011.
“Ha(y)ven” baled people out in 2011.
"Jellyfish," from 2011, provided some privacy for small groups.
“Jellyfish,” from 2011, provided some privacy for small groups.
"Shelterbelt," from 2016, imitates the bare trees of winter.
“Shelterbelt,” from 2016, imitates the bare trees of winter.
"The Hole Idea," from 2015, was partly inspired by Roadrunner cartoons.
“The Hole Idea,” from 2015, was partly inspired by Roadrunner cartoons.