The Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Thursday 21 Aug 2014


The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is strategically located in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, conceived of as a centre for learning about human justice and liberty. The architectural form is inspired by universal themes, local culture, and the Canadian landscape. Roots, dove wings, ice shards and clouds find their form in architectural elements enriched by light. A succession of spaces and dramatic use of light and shadow direct visitors along the narrative path and help form the building's iconic night time identity.

Visitors enter the museum between the outstretched ‘roots'-a framework of stone arms with roof terraces and outdoor seating that stretches into the landscape. These wedge-shaped profiles are lit with a composed layered effect of light and shadow. The landscape illumination is kept visually silent with only the ground surface gently lit for safety and orientation, so that the building remains a luminous focal point at night. The use of contrast characterises the cavernous entrance. Dark finishes cover the walls, while narrow beams of light focused on the floor intuitively draw visitors to the entrance lobby, providing wayfinding and orientation.

Within the lobby's rough concrete interior, recessed lights with shielded lamp filaments in low ceilings provide an intimate atmosphere. The space shifts dramatically and opens up to the soaring daylight-filled atrium, where the Garden of Reflection is situated. Lights camouflaged within the surrounding structural framework supplement the ambient light when needed. At night, the path is activated by a field of steplights incorporated within low-height basalt columns that act as bollards.

Continuing into the museum, visitors walk along glowing, alabaster bridges that cascade up through the Hall of Hope atrium and lead to coloured portals of light that mark entrances to galleries. At the apex of the space, visitors ascend to the 23 storey high Tower of Hope, a crystalline, ice-shard inspired structure. The tower's glass structure appears as a beacon illuminated by brilliant, sparkling points of light, melding with the night sky. Meanwhile, the cascading glass panels of the spiralling stairs are internally lit, creating a glowing, swirling form that reinforces the verticality of the tower.

The light-filled glass structure accommodates offices and the functional support spaces for the museum. Both architecture and lighting are entwined to give this volume a buoyant appearance from inside and out, in sharp contrast to the weighty atmosphere of the ‘roots' and galleries. In early design stages, various lighting strategies were explored for shaping the museum's night time image. Lighting the tower brightly would create a lone beacon of light, while emphasizing the cloud-like cladding would render the museum as a luminous mass. A combination between these two strategies balances the brightness of both major building elements. At the tower, narrow-beam metal halide floodlights are mounted to the structural framework to achieve a sparkle effect. To maintain the integrity of the translucent glass volume, the ceiling is kept visually clean, and receives a soft bounce of light from furniture-integrated fluorescent uplights. This creates a soft glow of light at the undulating façade with no direct view of luminaires.

Office for Visual Interaction, Inc.