James Avenue Pumping Station, Winnipeg

5468796 Architecture, Winnipeg

Photography by James Brittain 

Built in 1907 to house a high-pressure water system for downtown area firefighting, this historic landmark has been sitting vacant since 1986. But to the City of Winnipeg’s credit, a new attempt to preserve the building (17th attempt in 14 years) was undertaken, with architects taking on the challenge to find a new future for it. The result is a tapestry of uses that feed off the machine aesthetic landscape anchored and energized by the existing pumps. New entries at the east and west ends, connected to residential buildings via exterior bridges, provide access to a new office plate suspended eight feet above grade and 20 feet above the Great Pump Hall on existing gantry crane rails, complete with new stair and elevator access and a restaurant on the lower level. To keep costs down, the developer hired daily labourers to construct the interior and the architects helped by designing a repetitive wall and ceiling system that could be precisely surveyed and then constructed using less skilled labour. Ultimately, improvement costs came in at $50 per square foot, 75 per cent of the projected budget and well below industry standard.