Interview: 5468796 Architecture

Tuesday 27 May 2014

WAN talks to 5468796 Architecture as they drive design culture forward in Winnipeg

WAN recently interviewed emerging Canadian design studio 5468796 Architecture, a 21 for 21 Award-winner based in Winnipeg. Headed by Sasa Radulovic, Johanna Hurme and Colin Neufeld, this determined practice gains most of its work through word of mouth, although they admit that ‘doing our work well, being everywhere and embracing whatever comes out of left field’ also helps.

Rather than locating their firm in a more cutting-edge city, the partners at 5468796 resolved to try to alter local perceptions about the importance of quality design in Winnipeg. In the following interview, the team considers the importance of stimulating debate and how contentment truly is the enemy…

Driving architecture culture forward in Winnipeg

5468796 Architecture was established in 2007 as a reaction to the stale architectural climate that existed in Winnipeg at the time. Most of our peers had left the city for places where it seemed like architecture was more appreciated and firms were producing quality work. As immigrants to Canada, we had already uprooted ourselves once from our respective homes (Sasa as a refugee from Serbia and Johanna as an exchange student from Finland) and decided to stay in Winnipeg and see if we could instigate change.

We were fortunate to find a few clients that were open to trying us out, but we also worked extremely hard to try to prove that 'good' design does not need to cost more. Within the first year our practice grew to ten people, and we were joined by many of our key team members, including Colin Neufeld, who is now our third partner. 

The beginning 5468796 was reactionary to our conditions where every new idea was tested against cheaper and more conventional models. Having to prove our value over and over again to our clients (the majority of whom are private developers), taught us to speak their language, focus on the numbers and to use innovation and resourcefulness to overcome any financial challenges. At the same time we made it our mandate to advance architecture with every new project that we took on. 

Stimulating debate

We were granted the 2013 Professional Prix de Rome for Canada for a project entitled 'Table for Twelve', which allowed us to research well-developed architecture cultures around the world and bring these lessons back to Canada. From the beginning of 5468796, we have seen it as one of our responsibilities and modes of survival to build architecture culture within our city and country.

We know that a strong design/architecture culture helps to support and create great cities, as well as better and more exciting places to live, and this goes well beyond just benefitting our profession. We also believe that in order for us to become better practitioners, we need to constantly pursue research as a way to build a theoretical foundation and advance our work. Table for 12 is one such project and also a continuum of Migrating Landscapes, our 2012 Venice Biennale of Architecture project with Jae-Sung Chon. 

On the one hand, Table for Twelve has allowed us to research architecture cultures on a global level - what/who/how they are built - and use that knowledge to understand what creates a relevant architectural response in today's world. On the other hand, the project - especially the Table for 1200 finale that will take place in Winnipeg on 31 May - can go a long way in building that culture in our city and country.

Contentment is the enemy

Of course everyone faces different situations and challenges, but for us contentment is the enemy. We never want to stop or settle. Our favourite project is always the next one. We are excited and motivated by the limitless opportunities that exist within every project brief - even or especially those that may seem to be mundane or unremarkable because the limitations force us to be resourceful.

We are constantly reminded of how much we have learned, harnessed or created just by having a discussion in and outside of the office. It is amazing what new avenues are opened as a result. This is a big reason why we believe in the group approach, saying YES as opposed to no, being generous and open, and meeting at least one new person every day. Honesty often saves time and almost always generates respect.

We are inspired by those who are great at what they do and have something original to say. Curiosity drives the world forward and innovation exists where traditional borders and boundaries do not. We appreciate ideas, products and solutions that are fearless and smart, and we admire the people who have the drive to realize them. In addition, knowing that we could have done better in the past inspires us to try harder in the future.

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