Architecture, Design & Style

Winnipeg’s top 5 apartment buildings: Exterior edition

A couple weeks ago I rated Winnipeg’s top 5 spaces based on their spectacular interiors. Since apartment buildings tend to be private residences with no public access, I am instead evaluating the design based on the exteriors alone.  You know, those buildings you pass by every day and think, “Wow, I wonder what it would be like to live in that building?”

These are the ones that bring life and character to our neighborhoods and streetscapes.

1. Ambassador Apartments (aka the Breadalbane)

Location: Hargrave and Cumberland

Built: 1909

One of my favourite things about the city is its radial grid street pattern, which results in wedge-shaped buildings like the Ambassador.  This is an underappreciated building in an underappreciated neighborhood of Central Park.  I’m not sure what the floor plan is like, but I imagine that the curved room on the corner would be a lovely sitting area or dining room.

The building also has a welcoming main entrance off Hargrave, with symmetrical front steps and a Romanesque arcade to provide shelter and a gentle transition between indoors and out.   Imagine some potted cedars and a wrought iron bench out front instead of the metal rubbish bin.


Photo credit: Bryan Scott (see more of his photos here)

2.  The Highgate

Location: 626 Wardlaw

Built: 1913

Those who walk around this lovely area have certainly stolen a second peek into the enchanting courtyard of the Highgate.  Brick, bay windows, and sinuous trees characterize the way this building meets the sidewalk.  The spired conical roof and gables that characterize the Queen Anne revival style create a roofline that is distinguished from other character buildings in the neighborhood.

Even though the building essentially occupies a rectangular footplate, you would never think it by experiencing it from the street. The penetrating courtyard creates a very unique choreography of approach and lures you into the undulating folds of brick and mortar to the central entrance.  The architect even has you passing by an arched gated threshold, cueing you in that you have just entered a very grand residence.

Photo by Bryan Scott
Photo credit: Bryan Scott  (see more of his photos here)

 3. The Roslyn

Location: Roslyn at Osborne

Built: 1909

Arguably Winnipeg’s most famous apartment building, the Roslyn deserves every one of it’s many accolades.  Simultaneously stately and creepy, it anchors the street corner and provides us with plentiful stories about hauntings, crazy parties, famous tenants of yore, and one insane architect who included secret passageways and hidden compartments still not discovered a hundred years later.  (My favourite highlights are the original elevator and the bizarre tiled basement).  Visiting a friend for the first five times you will need directions from the lobby to their suite.

Like the Highgate, the Roslyn is a perfect example of the Queen Anne Revival style.  Here too, each apartment is unique, many of them larger than a house in Fort Rouge.  It is registered as a Canadian Heritage Building due to its complex design and near-perfect preservation of interiors including gorgeous woodwork.

Photo courtesy of Virtual Heritage Winnipeg
Photo circa 1910 courtesy of Virtual Heritage Winnipeg (Note the lovely house on the right where now exists the low rise Mac’s/A&W/Subway strip mall).


4.  Center Village

Location: 500 Block of Balmoral Street

Built: 2010

We sure don’t build ‘em like we used to, so why try to replicate the past with cheesy Romanesque-replica caricatures of traditional architecture (I’m looking at you, Fort Garry Place)?  Center Village is significant because it demonstrates that creative, well-designed housing can be built on today’s extremely tight construction budgets.  Center village is an award-winning affordable housing project by 5468796 Architecture. It gracefully injects some much needed interest to the maligned Balmoral/Isabel area.

Take a moment to wander through the development and experience the interesting spaces and courtyards created by the modular block components.  When viewed from across the street, Center Village reminds me of Canada’s most famous piece of architecture, Habitat 67 in Montreal, which is also a pleasure to walk through.


5.  And number five. . . well there is no number five.

I deliberated for days and asked several people for suggestions. (I limited my options to buildings originally built as residences, and I’m also excluding townhouses).

There was a very dark era of apartment design from post-WWII to, well, the 21st century. Mid-century modern architecture yielded many incredible single-family houses, and also some great civic and commercial buildings in Winnipeg, but apartments got the shaft.  Perhaps some of you love your 60’s or 70’s apartment building, but in my opinion, the tenets of mid-century housing design (connection to outdoors, open concept floor plans, etc) could not be easily translated to multi-unit residential.  Which is the perfect segue to. . .

6. (Dis)honourable Mention: Executive House

Location: 390 Wellington

Built: 1959

For those who have an art history or architecture education from a local institution, you will have heard professors extol the virtues of Executive House on Wellington Crescent.  They also extolled the virtues of critical thinking, and critical I shall be.

I’m not an anti-modernist by any means.  I’m just pro-good-design.  And to me, good design is not putting a Le Corbusier box on some legs and creating the heaviest surface parking lot in the neighborhood.

You can forget about climatic sensitivity, with a cold wall of glass on the north face of the building and cavernous balconies that never see sunlight.  Suggestion: if you feel the need for some Le Corbusier design in your home, stick to his furniture designs, rather than emulating his residential architecture and city planning concepts.


Jaclyn Wiebe is the co-founder of FIRESIDE DESIGN BUILD INC., a Winnipeg based full-service design build company with a focus on custom residential renovation: